Speed, schmeed – Seahawks should still take Crabtree

crabtree1A few days ago, the Seahawks’ first-round draft choice seemed like a no-brainer. Come April, they would select Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree with the fourth overall pick, addressing a conspicuous need (nine different wide receivers started at least one game for the Hawks last season) with the kind of talent that’s available once, oh, every decade or so.

Then Crabtree showed up at the pre-draft combine in Indianapolis. It hasn’t gone well.

First, he was measured at 6-foot-1, not the 6-3 he was listed at on the Red Raiders’ roster. Such discrepancies are not unusual – this is why there’s a combine – but, still, the 6-1 measurement puts a crimp on any comparisons between Crabtree and the legitimately 6-3 Larry Fitzgerald.

Worse was the discovery of a stress fracture in Crabtree’s left foot. It will require surgery, and the surgery will involve mending the fracture with screws.

Suddenly, the no-brainer selection of Crabtree becomes rife with issues about the prudence of investing hopes and dreams and millions of dollars in a fourth overall pick who has screws in his foot.

What to do?

Stay the course, is what to do. Crabtree, who will work out in front of scouts next month, hasn’t dropped a spiral since he showed up at the combine. He hasn’t lost a step. He’s still the same guy who in two college seasons caught 231 passes and scored 41 touchdowns.

True, he was a cog in a quick-strike, no-huddle spread system that left Big 12 defenses as exhausted as Big 12 statisticians. If the 79-year-old Al Davis changes out of his Evel Knievel costume and puts on a Texas Tech uniform, he’s worth five receptions in that offense.

Then again, wasn’t Jerry Rice a beneficiary of a wide-open offense at Mississippi Valley State? After finishing his college career with ridiculous numbers – 301 receptions for 4,693 yards and 50 touchdowns – Rice was a 1985 first-round selection of San Francisco, where the 13-time Pro Bowl player continued to produce ridiculous numbers.

You score 41 touchdowns in 25 games at Texas Tech, as Crabtree did, you can make an immediate contribution on a Seahawks team that last season managed a league-worst 18 passing touchdowns in 16 games.

But the debate about Crabtree’s worthiness as a No. 4 overall NFL pick will only intensify until he runs a 40-yard dash in front of scouts. With that in mind, Crabtree briefly met with reporters at the combine on Sunday to announce he was delaying the foot surgery – it will sideline him for 10 weeks – in order to give scouts a 40-yard time they can take back to the draft-day war room.

Crabtree insists that he has endured the stress fracture for the past year, that it’s never given him any pain, and that he could perform at an elite level, throughout his NFL career, if he decided not to have surgery.

So he’ll perform for scouts during his March 26 “pro day,” then go under the knife.

Crabtree’s determination is commendable, and his priorities are understandable: If he doesn’t run 40 yards as fast as he can on March 26, he falls to the middle of the first round, and figures to cost himself at least $10 million in guaranteed salary.

Still, something is wrong here. Despite the absence of pain, a hairline stress fracture means the foot is broken. Get the foot fixed. Who cares about the 40-yard dash without pads, without a ball to catch, without a cornerback to burn?

Study the films. Study his route running, his ability to achieve separation on a defender. Study each touchdown pass he caught at Texas Tech – there were 41 of them, so it’s not as though we’re talking about an insignificant sample size.

Chuck the stopwatches and look at the football player. Why is this complicated?

Nobody at an NFL scouting combine has ever completed a 40-yard dash more impressively than Eastern Kentucky’s Rondel Melendez, who was timed at a blistering 4.24 seconds in 1989.

Yep, Rondel Melendez. Have you heard of this person?

Some other wide receivers responsible for the fastest combine times since the advent of electronic timing devices in 1999: Jerome Mathis. Yamon Figures. Tim Carter.

Anybody in this group ring a bell?

The immortal Troy Williamson posted a time of 4.32 seconds in Indianapolis, where Vikings scouts were intrigued enough to make him the seventh overall selection of the 2005 draft. Although he’s scored only three touchdowns since then, Williamson in 2007 led the league in one unofficial statistic: Dropped passes (he dropped 11).

The Seahawks selected a combine burner, Auburn’s Karsten Bailey, in the third round of the 1999 draft. Bailey was timed at 4.33 seconds over 40 yards, not that the distance ever became relevant. Of the nine passes Bailey caught in his NFL career, the longest was for 22 yards.

Tyrone Calico, in addition to owning the Greatest Name Ever, was another combine revelation. In 2002, the Middle Tennessee State receiver was measured at 6-4 and 220, then ran a 4.34 in the 40. He lasted a few seasons with the Titans, then agreed to a contract a year ago with the Calgary Stampeders. He was released later that day.

And then there was Rice, whose 40-yard time of 4.71 was thought to be slow – even by 1985 standards.

Except 49ers coach Bill Walsh turned on his hotel TV the night before a game in Houston and saw highlights of Rice. That’s a player, Walsh concluded. That’s somebody we’ve got to have.

Walsh arranged a trade with New England, and San Francisco selected Rice with the 16th pick. The rest is Hall of Fame history.

A plea to Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell: Watch the films of Crabtree. Watch the moves, watch the routes, watch the touchdowns.

Don’t overthink this. It’s still a no-brainer.