The 2015 free agency period opened March 10. Within a week, the Raiders had added 11 new players. Veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree was not one of them. In fact, Crabtree wasn't added to the team until a month later, but it's as if he was here all along. Arguably, Crabtree and linebacker Malcom Smith have been the two most productive free agent signings so far this year. The Raiders may have had to wait a month to get him, but Crabtree was certainly worth the wait.
Crabtree is bigger than you think he is. The Texas Tech product is 6'1", 214 pounds, but seems taller than that. But what really stands out is his ability to adjust to the ball in flight. He'll run a circle around a defender and then high-point the ball. The pass could appear to be in no man's airspace and No. 15 flies through the frame and snags it.
He has been the perfect complement to rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper. Both players are former Top 10 NFL Draft picks. Both had high expectations placed on them fresh out of college. Army had Mr. Inside and Mr. Oustide with Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard in the 1940s. The Raiders have Mr. First Half and Mr. Second Half in Cooper and Crabtree.
Defenses seemingly have found a way to limit Cooper's effectiveness in the second half of ballgames and that's where Crabtree takes over. Throughout games so far this season, teams have found it difficult to contain both receivers.
Cooper leads the team with 28 catches for 386 yards, while Crabtree has 27 receptions for 318 yards.
"People are going to figure out 'Coop' real quick because he's extremely talented. They're going to try and double him or try and do certain things to roll his way and 'Crab' is going to continue to make plays," quarterback Derek Carr said. "'Crab' is going to be 'Crab.' Just like he did, big third-down conversions, running seam routes, big catches in crucial times. He's going to be that guy for us."
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave likes what Crabtree has brought to the locker room, the huddle, the playing field, and his toughness.
"He's been terrific. We hit him on a couple vertical routes in the last game, which were things that we hadn't done yet, so there was some growth there. We just want to keep building his role in the offense," Musgrave said. "He's been through some nicks, had a glute that was bothering him against Baltimore on that touchdown catch that he had. He worked through a calf injury, an ankle injury. He's been very available for us, even though he's nicked up."
Crabtree has made some catches during this recent stretch that make you say "wow." He came back after injuring his ankle in the Chicago game and sliced in front of the safety and snatched the ball out of the air just as it looked like the defender was going to jump the route and intercept the pass. He ran a route against Denver and converted on a play the Raiders had to have – Carr threw the ball well before Crabtree ever turned around and looked, and Crabtree was available to make the grab in the void in the secondary.
The seven-year veteran joined the Raiders with a reputation of having a bit of an attitude, wasn't friendly with the media, kind of aloof. To a man, Crabtree's teammates have raved about his locker room presence, his friendship, his professionalism and value as a teammate.
"A lot of guys want to count you out just because of the past. You bring a different attitude here and that attitude is to work. I just wanted to be a Raider just like a lot of the greats," Crabtree said on the Silver and Black Show. "A lot of people don't know Tim Brown is from my neighborhood. Just looking at Tim Brown in that 81 in that black and silver when I was little, it's a dream come true."
According to Pro Football Focus, so far this season he is No. 1 in the NFL in drop rate. He's been targeted 47 times with 27 catches on 27 catchable passes and zero drops.
As a member of the San Francisco 49ers, Crabtree played in numerous playoff games and a Super Bowl. Not much seems to bother or impress him. Carr has said that catching the ball comes easy to Crabtree. He's hard to tackle and he's good after the catch. No moment seems too big for him and he seems to come through when his quarterback needs him the most.
Crabtree has been a valuable addition for the Raiders so far this season. His route-running and ability to go get the ball in flight have been nothing short of impressive. He and Cooper make for a receiving duo the like of which we haven't seen around these parts since…oh…2002 or so.