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Steelers

Fantasy: Crabtree's presence should open up Niners offense

| Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009

The 49ers need Michael Crabtree.

But what they need more is the threat of Crabtree.

The rookie from Texas Tech is slated to make his debut for San Francisco against Houston this Sunday and is likely to start opposite Isaac Bruce, according to incumbent split end Josh Morgan.

The 49ers have been reliant on running back Frank Gore and tight end Vernon Davis to drive their offense this season, with second-year man Morgan serving as the de facto deep threat.

But only three wide receivers have caught passes for the 49ers, combining for 31 receptions, which is10 fewer than Hines Ward alone. Bruce is old, Morgan is a complementary player but not a star, and Arnaz Battle is a never-was.

Those players need help getting open down the field -- help, such as a phenomenally talented potential star drawing attention somewhere else on the field.

Enter Crabtree. He fits every description you would want in a star receiver except one: he lacks experience after holding out of training camp and the first four weeks of the season. That probably will be enough to give Shaun Hill pause when deciding whether to trust Crabtree's route-running. It won't be enough to keep defenses from being wary of Crabtree's athleticism.

Then, there is this: In the hush-hush NFL, teams rarely announce their plans of how they would like to use players, choosing instead to stay secretive and surprise the opponent. The 49ers, though, have talked willingly about Crabtree at every turn. Even Morgan got into the act, announcing to the media that Crabtree would be taking his spot -- a proclamation that would be a no-no in many locker rooms.

Think they doth rejoice too much•

Crabtree should play plenty Sunday at Houston, and he might be a huge success for the 49ers and fantasy owners. His biggest impact, though, should be opening the field for Bruce and Morgan to make plays.

Don't be surprised if one of them approaches 100 yards with a half-dozen catches and gives the 49ers the appearance of a passing game for the first time this season.

Reel 'em in, rookie
Only five rookie wide receivers have made seven catches or more in their first game of the season:
Name, team Rec. Yds. TD
Anquan Boldin, Ari 10 217 2
Eddie Royal, Den 9 146 1
Bobby L. Johnson, NYG 8 137 2
Charley Taylor, Was 8 88 0
Michael Clayton, TB 7 53 0

Mendenhall a quality option despite Parker's presence

Mike Tomlin gave in to pressure and performance in naming Rashard Mendenhall the starter -- at least for this week -- at running back.

It may not look good this Sunday, but Mendenhall's play supports the move.

According to Football Outsiders, Mendenhall is tied for second in the NFL (among players with at least 50 rushes) with a 57-percent success rate on his runs and eighth in the NFL in average value per carry.

Parker is a dismal 22nd and 30th out of 34 running backs.

Even more important to fantasy owners, Mendenhall has proven himself the better option when the Steelers are near the goal line, scoring on all three of his attempts from inside the 4-yard line and picking up six carries inside the 10. Parker's two attempts inside the 4 both ended on the 1, and he has not been given the ball inside the 10 otherwise.

Mendenhall will not be a great start this week against the potent run-stoppers of the Minnesota Vikings. But even if Tomlin feels obligated to continue giving Parker the ball, the second-year back from Illinois is obviously the better fantasy play the rest of the season.

HOT PICKUPS

Justin Fargas - OakvRB

Laurence Maroney - NE - RB

Vince Young - Ten - QB

FREEZING COLD

Matt Forte - Chi - RB

Kerry Collins - Ten - QB

Steve Slaton - Hou - RB

WIDEOUTS TO WATCH

Kevin Walter, Texans -- A slow start has Walter with only the fourth-most catches on the Texans. The 49ers are one of two teams he has never faced, which gives him a slight edge.

Miles Austin, Cowboys -- As expected, Austin has emerged as the Cowboys' big-play receiver. Atlanta's defense has been soft, but the Falcons are one of only six teams not to give up a touchdown of 40 yards or more. They're due.

WEEK 1 WONDERS

A few players who surprised in Week 1 have turned out to be nothing more than fast starters, while others have continued their strong performances:

JOHN CARLSON, SEA, TE

- Rec. - Yds. - TD

Week 1: - 6 - 95 - 2

Weeks 2-6 avg.: - 3.6 - 39.8 - 0

JOE FLACCO, BAL, QB

- Yds. - TD - Int.

Week 1: - 307 - 3 - 1

Week 2-6 avg.: - 273.4 - 1.6 - 0.8

TIM HIGHTOWER, ARI, RB

- Tot. Yds. - Rec. - TD

Week 1: - 136 - 12 - 0

Weeks 2-6 avg.: - 62.5 - 4.3 - .8

JULIUS JONES, SEA, RB

- Tot. Yds. - Rec. - TD

Week 1: - 136 - 2 - 1

Weeks 2-6 avg.: - 44.2 - 2 - 0.4

CARNELL WILLIAMS, TB, RB

- Tot. Yds. - Rec. - TD

Week 1: - 97 - 0 - 1

Weeks 2-6 avg. - 53.6 - 3 - 0.4

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