“I buried it,” he said with a sly smile.
Crabtree’s surgically repaired left foot was mostly confined to a protective boot for five weeks, but Tuesday he had black sneakers on both feet as he strolled around a Manhattan office building, no limp in sight.
“The recovery is going real good,” the All-American receiver from Texas Tech said. “My foot is doing well. I feel like I’m taking it one step at a time.”
Crabtree arrived in New York on Monday night and spent Tuesday running around town to promote his first national endorsement deal. He recently became the latest star athlete to sign a deal with the sandwich shop Subway, joining Michael Strahan, Michael Phelps and Ryan Howard.
But the big day is Saturday, when he is expected to be among the first players selected in the NFL draft at Radio City Music Hall.
The 21-year-old receiver from Dallas spent two seasons in college, dominating defensive backs and averaging more than a touchdown per game. From the moment he declared for the draft in January, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Crabtree seemed a lock to be the first receiver drafted and a top-10 pick.
Not so fast.
At the scouting combine in February, a routine medical exam revealed Crabtree had a stress fracture in his left foot. No one was more surprised than Crabtree. He thought he was simply sore.
Suddenly the sure-thing had a huge question mark hanging over him.
“Tell you the truth I always face those kind of challenges. When I was going to college I had a minor setback and I had to sit out a year,” he said, referring to his redshirt freshman season brought on because the NCAA was slow to declare him academically eligible.
“I feel like when things are going too smooth, there’s something wrong. (The injury) was nothing but a challenge to me. Everybody made it a big deal. It wasn’t a big deal.”
After the fracture was revealed, Crabtree’s first move was to cancel his 40-yard dash at the combine. The next day he said he’d run at pro day in Lubbock, Texas, and put off having surgery.
Soon after he changed his mind, deciding it was more important to get the foot fixed quickly than to be timed running a 40 in shorts. On March 4, he had surgery.
“I had to make the best decision and the best decision was for me to go on and get surgery so I could be ready for training camp,” he said. “The only thing I want to do is play.”
It’d be an overstatement to say Crabtree’s stock has slipped, but that blank space next to his 40 time does leave at least one question unanswered.
“As exceptionally gifted as he is, having not run at all, I think there are some concerns with him,” said Todd McShay of Scouts Inc. and ESPN.
But because scouts weren’t expecting Crabtree to burn up the track, and he does so many other things well, the chances are good he’ll still be the first receiver taken Saturday.
“He’s big, strong, plays real good in the red area, catches with his hands, real good after the catch,” said Herm Edwards, the former Chiefs and Jets coach now working as an analyst for ESPN. “If you want a pure speed guy, this ain’t the guy. This guy is a T.O. (Terrell Owens) type of guy. A Michael Irvin kind of guy. A Dwayne Bowe type of guy.”
For all the crazy passing numbers Texas Tech has put up in Mike Leach’s nine years as coach — they have led the country in yards passing per game six of the past seven years — the program has never produced an NFL prospect at receiver or quarterback as highly touted as Crabtree.
In two seasons at Tech, Crabtree caught 231 passes for 3,127 yards and 41 touchdowns.
Although the pass-heavy system does inflate the numbers, it also provided Crabtree with plenty of repetitions.
“I feel I’ve ran every route there is to run,” he said. “We run more than any receivers in college football. I feel like I’ve been doing this since Day 1. Running routes. Blocking. I do everything a receiver is supposed to do.”
Crabtree has visited with so many NFL teams, he had a hard time remembering them all. St. Louis, San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Cleveland were the ones he rattled off. He said none of them seemed concerned about his injury.