While Michael Crabtree has become persona non grata around Santa Clara these days, the free agent wide receiver would be persona never exista as far as the San Francisco 49ers are concerned if ESPN NFL Draft Insider Mel Kiper Jr. had his way.
Kiper re-imagined the 2009 draft in an Insider article and only one of his Top 12 picks six years later remained the same -- No. 1 overall selection Matthew Stafford by the Detroit Lions as their franchise quarterback.
The Niners at No. 10? Knowing what he knows now, Kiper would have them bypass Crabtree and go with an offensive lineman -- Oregon right guard Max Unger.
Unger, who was actually drafted in the second round by the Seattle Seahawks, became a two-time Pro Bowl and one-time All-Pro center and was part of the package sent to the New Orleans Saints last week to land tight end Jimmy Graham.
But what if the Niners had selected Unger and converted him to center in 2009?
Eric Heitman was entering his final season of his NFL career. David Baas took over in 2010 before Jonathan Goodwin began his three-year run as the starting center. Then came Daniel Kilgore and Marcus Martin last season.
It should be noted that Unger was not converted into a center until his third season. The 49ers were already fortifying their O-line in the draft by then, taking right tackle Anthony Davis and left guard Mike Iupati with their first two picks in 2010, and Kilgore in the fifth round in 2011.
In Kiper’s re-imagined universe, and if Unger had developed as a standout center for the 49ers, the team's draft strategies might have changed mightily. Then again, Unger has dealt with injuries the past two years, missing a total of 13 regular-season games the past two seasons.
But what about Crabtree, who visited with the Miami Dolphins on Thursday? According to Pro Football Focus, he averaged a career-low 3.9 yards-after-the catch last season, which was tied for 71st among 110 wide receivers.
Kiper has him free-falling all the way to the Buffalo Bills at No. 28 overall, which would make him the sixth receiver taken, behind Julian Edelman (Seattle, No. 4), Mike Wallace (Oakland Raiders, No. 7), Jeremy Maclin (Houston Texans, No. 15), Hakeem Nicks (Cleveland Browns, No. 21) and Percy Harvin (Miami Dolphins, No. 25).
And he thought getting drafted in real life after Darrius Heyward-Bey stung.