SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- When Michael Crabtree unexpectedly slipped to the 10th pick in Saturday's NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers eagerly caught their highest-profile receiver since Terrell Owens left town.
Crabtree claimed he was delighted to join the 49ers after his record-setting career at Texas Tech, where he won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best college receiver after each of his two seasons. He was widely considered the best pass-catcher in the draft, and San Francisco was thrilled to address its longtime dearth of star talent at the position where Jerry Rice, Dwight Clark, John Taylor and Owens once excelled.
"We had no idea he would be there at 10," coach Mike Singletary said. "It was one of the last scenarios we thought we would end up with. He's been one of the best guys, the past couple of years in college football."
Crabtree is among the college game's most dynamic playmakers of recent years, catching 231 passes for 3,127 yards and 41 touchdowns in the Red Raiders' spread offense. Yet he clearly slipped in several teams' estimation when a stress fracture was discovered in his left foot at the combine.
He underwent surgery that scuttled much of his pre-draft workout schedule while he rested his foot in a protective boot, never running a 40-yard dash. He's not expected to participate fully in next weekend's minicamp while continuing his recovery, but should be ready for training camp.
Nine teams passed on him -- including the cross-Bay rival Oakland Raiders, who went with Maryland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey with the seventh pick. While Crabtree's statistics dwarf Heyward-Bey's accomplishments with the Terrapins, the Raiders apparently thought Crabtree wasn't fast enough to fit their needs.
"My whole thing was patience," Crabtree said. "I was just trying to be patient. I like the 49ers. I grew up watching the 49ers and Cowboys. It's a great history behind the 49ers. A lot of people have played there, and I have big shoes to fill."
The developments delighted the 49ers' draft room, where the club's selection process suddenly became easy when Jacksonville didn't choose Crabtree with the eighth pick.
"I really didn't think it would happen," general manager Scot McCloughan said. "That's a long way for a guy like that to fall, to 10. ... He's the closest thing I've seen to Anquan Boldin in college football. He's a highly competitive guy that's not afraid to make plays."
Crabtree was the 49ers' only selection on the draft's first day after they traded their second-round and fourth-round picks to Carolina for the Panthers' first-round pick in 2010. McCloughan said he didn't have a player on his draft board who justified the salary that would be required for the 43rd overall pick.
With remarkable catching skills, a solid blocking technique and what Texas Tech coach Mike Leach described as an inexhaustible work ethic, Crabtree clearly is the biggest addition to the 49ers' receiving corps since Owens left after the 2003 season.
Crabtree doesn't shy from praises of his talent.
"When I played quarterback, I always wanted a receiver ... where I could just throw it up and he could go get it," Crabtree said. "Or if I threw a pass, I knew he was going to cut in front of that DB and not let the interception happen, and make a play. I said I wanted to play receiver as soon as I got to college, and I kept that with me, and I'm never going to turn back."
San Francisco has had some of the NFL's least impressive groups of pass-catchers since then, struggling through five years with few solid receivers for quarterbacks Alex Smith and Shaun Hill, but their targets should be a whole lot more impressive next year. Isaac Bruce will be back for another season alongside Arnaz Battle, returning youngsters Josh Morgan and Jason Hill, and free-agent signee Brandon Jones.
Singletary doesn't yet know where Crabtree will play, although McCloughan sees him as a split end.
"We'll figure it out," Singletary said. "You've got a playmaker. He's going to have to earn his way on, but the most important thing is that we know we have a playmaker."
Leach was effusive about Crabtree's toughness and tenacity. He also responded harshly to pundits and unnamed NFL coaches who have labeled Crabtree as a high-maintenance prima donna.
"There's no diva in him, and part of that is because he's too shy to do that," Leach said. "He's got people around him that want to share in his experience and share in this moment, but when all that's over, Michael knows it's a whole lot of time in the film room by himself, a whole lot of time in the weight room. ... I've seen Michael Crabtree run from the spotlight more than I've seen him chase the spotlight."