Michael Crabtree: The Path to WR1 Fantasy Season
Editor’s Note: Check out The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season: Series Guide to see how our writers compile their projections and the methodology behind this series.
After examining Corey Davis‘ top-12 potential in the first Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season article, we now turn our attention to a veteran who switches teams entering his age-31 season. Andy recently highlighted Michael Crabtree in the ADP Price Check episode commenting on his sneaky PPR appeal based on his Reception Perception data. There’s an intriguing case to be made for his upside given that we’ve seen him take that top-12 pantheon before. Currently, Crabtree is the consensus WR25 in PPR leagues according to the Ballers rankings.
Could a jump into the top 12 tier be in the cards for Crabs? The task for looking at Crabtree’s upside is deciphering what happened in Oakland in 2017, assess his current skill set, and then project what a WR1 season would look like this year in Baltimore.
Want all the Reception Perception info on Michael Crabtree? Buy the Ultimate Draft Kit to get data on all the rest of the top 50 WRs.
2017 Season Recap
We can also add to his somewhat disappointing 2017 a 2 game suspension and an ongoing feud with Aqib Talib. After lighting up the Jets for 3 TDs in Week 2, Crabtree was a consistent PPR threat for much of the first half as he ranked as the WR9 through Week 7. In fact, before the brawl, Crabtree was the WR11 on a point per game basis. Things turned bitterly south the rest of the season despite seeing a combined 30 targets when he returned in Weeks 13 & 14. Owners had to have been infuriated with only 58 receptions, which still outpaced teammate Amari Cooper.
For a WR that scored 8 TDs in 2017, Crabtree’s WR30 finish in PPR was disappointing considering he’s a receiver who feeds on volume. What we can deduce from last season was Crabtree’s demand in the red zone. He saw 35% of the Raiders RZ targets in 2017, the 2nd highest percentage among pass catchers in the league. Not only did he see significant looks inside the 20 but he was targeted on 53.1% of the Raiders end-zone looks according to Player Profiler.
The Path for 2018
In order for Crabtree to ascend to the WR1 territory in 2018, there are a number of statistical benchmarks he must meet to overcome other WRs and be a major difference maker.
Target Share– With a new situation in Baltimore, it’s imperative that we analyze Joe Flacco‘s tendencies as well as the last time Crabtree was featured as THE WR1 on a team. In 2012, Crabtree was the alpha in San Francisco seeing 127 targets at 29% of Alex Smith & Colin Kaepernick‘s passing volume on the way to a Super Bowl run against these Ravens. Let’s look at Flacco’s best fantasy WR over his career dating all the way back to the Derrick Mason days:
|Season||Player||Targets||Market Share||PPR Finish|
|2012||Torrey Smith/Anquan Boldin||110/112||19.6%/20%||WR29 (*Tied)|
Already, there’s a glaring red flag in Crabtree’s 2018 prospects: Flacco has NEVER supported a WR1. Not even close. It doesn’t mean that he can’t as there’s a first time for everything. But in terms of targets and overall market share, there is a clear downward trend since Joe Cool got paid after that SB win. The encouraging sign is the precedence for volume as the Ravens surpassed 600 pass attempts in 2015 and 2016 giving Crabtree a chance. At a 55% pass ratio, the Ravens project to be middle of the pack. An even slight increase could produce 570 attempts. Crabtree was at 22% in 2017 on a low volume Raiders offense with Amari Cooper. Seeing him repeat a similar rate in Baltimore is more than acceptable.
Catch Rate– At this point in his career, Crabtree seems like a fairly reliable possession receiver although he’s known for some occasional bone-headed drops. His career catch rate is 60.2%, although he surpassed that only once while in Oakland. As stated in the WR1 series guide, catch rate is not necessarily a “sticky statistic” although it clearly matters when converting targets to receptions. Based on what you think of Joe Flacco and this Baltimore offensive system, Crabtree could see a low catch rate of 52%, a median projection of 57% and the high-end of 65%.
Receptions– According to Matt Harmon in the Ultimate Draft Kit, Crabtree still is “a strong possession receiver…He scored at the 84th percentile (72.8 percent) and 97th percentile (88.1 percent) in success rate vs. man and zone coverage.” Andy also recently highlighted this data about Crabtree in the ADP Price Check episode commenting that his success rate on 50/50 balls was down hence the reason his reception total was so low in 2017. Depending on how much percentage of the target share Crabtree receives, we could see a high-end projection of 135+ targets or 10 less than he saw in 2015 & 2016 with Derek Carr. I’m seeing 85+ receptions being in play given that type of volume.
Yards– Crabtree is never going to be a down-the-field guy at this point in his career. He has settled into averaging 10.8 yards per reception over the course of the last 4 years. On the other hand, he’s now dealing with another red flag situation in terms of his QB’s yardage. In 2017, Flacco became a “check-down Charlie” with an average yard per attempt (AY/A) of 5.3, 32nd in the league among 34 qualifying QBs. Yuck. That’s not going to help out our WR1 hopeful when we consider yards are a better predictor of TDs than we realize. If we’re continuing to forecast the ceiling of Crabtree, we must intersect with the Joe Flacco’s ceiling, which feels more like a small mud hut than an actual house ceiling. Based on my projections, IF Flacco increased his AY/A to a pedestrian mark of 6.7 with 570 attempts, we could see 3,800 total yards. I’m seeing Crabtree’s high-end not topping out more than 950 yards.
aDOT & Air Yards– Crabtree’s Reception Perception shows he’s “especially dominant on slants, curls, digs, and posts“. This is fitting considering his average depth of target is 10.5 yards. That total may look small but it was alongside other contemporaries Adam Thielen and Demaryius Thomas. It could dip even further given Crabtree’s age and Flacco’s propensity for 5-yard outs. At 1059 Air Yards in 2017, Crabtree had the EXACT same Air Yards per target mark (10.4) as 2016. Pair this with Harmon’s data and you realize Crabtree still looks like the same receiver despite Derek Carr, the Raider’s overall dismal season and his signing in Baltimore. We shouldn’t be shaken about the player but more the situation.
TDs– The variable in this equation is Joe Flacco, or if you believe Lamar Jackson supplants him at some point. What type of TD-pie are we dealing with in 2018? The pass catchers will need more than 20 total passing TDs to play with, something Flacco has done only ONCE in the past 5 years. For a fantasy receiver seeing the type of volume (130+ targets) we’re projecting in Crabtree’s high-end outcome, they have averaged 6.58 TDs over the course of the last 3 seasons. He has made his fantasy bones on being a consistent if unsexy red-zone TD threat but any more than that is hard to ask.
WR1 Possibility: Low Chance (Below 15%)
This percentage is based upon the combined average of the Fantasy Footballers writing staff. 15% is essentially saying Crabtree would hit WR1 PPR numbers 1.5 out of 10 times if we were to simulate 2018. In other words, he’s a dart throw at best. To put this in perspective, Antonio Brown would probably something be more like 95% given his consistency, team, and a mostly scratch-free medical record. Terrance Williams looks more like 2%.
In conclusion, Crabtree’s prospects for a top-12 WR season seem dim. The doubt that is casting our gloomy shadow is his QB, Joe Flacco. There’s no way around the fact that this offense has looked uninspiring for awhile with him at the helm and a fantasy wasteland for WRs recently. Crabtree’s skills as a close and intermediate route runner should bode well for this offense as long as a speed threat (John Brown? Breshad Perriman?) keeps defenses honest deep. At his current price as WR27 and the 6.03 in PPR leagues according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, he’s worth a shot if you’re looking for a WR2/3 with a proven floor.