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Michael Crabtree’s Achilles Tear Opens a Fantasy Football Void

Things changed for a whole bunch of fantasy football commodities yesterday, as Michael Crabtree’s Achilles tendon tore, stripping Colin Kaepernick of his prized target, boosting the values of San Francisco 49ers running backs, and altering the perceived fantasy value of borderline elite wide receivers taken after Crabtree in mock drafts: guys like Jordy Nelson and Hakeem Nicks.

Michael Crabtree Fantasy Football

Feb 3, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree (15) reaches for the ball on fourth down in the fourth quarter against Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed (20) in Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Things changed for a whole bunch of fantasy football commodities yesterday, as Michael Crabtree’s Achilles tendon tore, stripping Colin Kaepernick of his prized target, boosting the values of San Francisco 49ers running backs, and altering the perceived fantasy value of borderline elite wide receivers taken after Crabtree in mock drafts: guys like Jordy Nelson and Hakeem Nicks.

Today though, we’re going to learn about wide receiver A.J. Jenkins. 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh wants you to know about him too.

Crabtree, who went down in a heap during Tuesday’s practice and is expected to miss most – if not all – of the 2013 campaign, was on a fantasy scoring pace that rivaled Calvin Johnson over the last 10 games of 2012. Kaepernick threw 92 passes Crabtree’s way during that span – a glut of targets that put Crabtree on a 16-game pace of 1,382 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Though extrapolations are far from a perfect measurement, those numbers should make you lightheaded.

It should be noted that game film watchers have pointed out Kaepernick’s targeting of Crabtree was largely dictated by offensive schemes and game plans, not the young quarterback’s preference alone. The chemistry, however, was clear: Kaepernick targeted Crabtree 27 times on third down and 13 times in the red zone, more than three times as much as the next San Francisco pass catcher.

With Crabtree out for most of the 2013 season, and Mario Manningham yet to declare a return from his borderline catastrophic knee injury, there are 183 wide receiver targets up for grabs.

Changes are afoot when a team loaded with offensive talent loses a receiver who saw almost 30 percent of his team’s pass targets in 2012. Elder statesman Anquan Boldin will likely see many more targets with Crabtree out, but Boldin – despite a fine and dandy playoff run last year – is in the midst of a late-career decline. Would you like to know why pundits constantly praise Boldin’s uncanny ability to snag the ball out of a crowd of defenders? Because, well, Boldin can’t create separation. Defenders are always there, on his hip, because he can’t get away from them. He’s slow, and shouldn’t be vaulted too high on fantasy draft boards.

But now to Jenkins, who, in case you didn’t notice, is now listed as a starter.

Widely considered a first round bust, Jenkins dressed for all of five games in 2012 and couldn’t manage to upstage the ghost of Randy Moss. Jenkins, who scores well in rotoViz’s Productivity Score, was criticized for his supposed lazy ways last year – a problem likely solved when Jenkins joined the rabidly preparing Kaepernick in offseason workouts in Atlanta this winter.

“I’m a lot better than I was last year at this time,” Jenkins said.

(The Productivity Score, a product of Jon Moore‘s fevered mind, is calculated by taking a player’s percentage of team yardage and combining it with the percentage of team touchdowns. If the player combines for more than 60 — 30 percent of his team’s yardage plus 30 percent of his team’s scores, let’s say — he qualifies as a Productivity Score standout. Jenkins posted a collegiate Productivity Score of 110. Calvin Johnson was the only guy in that neighborhood since 2005.)

The 6’0” Jenkins put on much-needed weight and is now close to 200 pounds.The added bulk, he said in a recent interview, would allow him to run crossing patterns and underneath routes more effectively. It was short crossing routes, scouts said before Jenkins was drafted, where the wide receiver stood out in game film.

“With his burst and run skills, he was consistently able to get a lot of yards after the catch,” Greg Gabriel of the National Football Post wrote. “When the ball is in his hands he can look like a running back, showing elusiveness and power. I like the way he goes after the ball in traffic; he is not afraid to give up his body and take a big hit.”

Jenkins, coming out of the University of Illinois in 2011, was praised for his combination of speed and body control, as he ran an unofficial 40-time of 4.37 and displayed more than just straight line speed when he caught 90 passes for more than 1,200 yards for Illinois in 2011. Jenkins had everything you look for in a prospect: he improved every year at Illinois.

While local and national media ripped Jenkins for a variety of reasons – not knowing the playbook, the perception of him as lazy and detached – Harbaugh lashed out in defense of his first rounder. That, I think, is a good sign for anyone keeping an eye on how Jenkins might be used while Crabtree recovers from his injury. The 49ers is invested in Jenkins. He wasn’t a late-round flier; he was a first round pick.

“For those scribes, pundits, so-called experts who have gone as far to say that he is going to be a bust – just stop,” Harbaugh said in a transcript sent out by the team, according to the National Football Post. “I recommend that because they are making themselves look more clueless than they already did. To go on record, A.J.’s going to be an outstanding football player.”

Harbaugh stopped just short of promising to tattoo the names of Jenkins doubters onto his left butt cheek, as a reminder of those who deserve retribution.

“I’m going to keep track of some of these names of so-called experts who are making these comments, and there’s going to be an ‘I told you so,'” Harbaugh said. “I foresee that happening.”

Kaepernick, for what it’s worth, has displayed some chemistry with Jenkins. And yes, it was a preseason game. We don’t have a whole lot to work with, people.

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