Late last night the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed former Green Bay TE Tom Crabtree, who played collegiately at Miami (Ohio) and entered the league as an undrafted free agent with Kansas City. This is a below-the-radar type of move, and there is a lot to like about it.
Crabtree, 27, who is listed at 6’ 4”, 245 lbs, has been a special teamer and role player for the Packers over the past few seasons. In 2012, he was widely viewed as the Packers’ best blocking TE, despite many debates over his blocking ability. At a minimum, his signing adds special teams’ quality to the Bucs and depth at the TE position. But since Dallas Clark will likely not be resigned, can Crabtree contribute in the passing game?
Crabtree caught only eight passes in 2012, but three of these went for TDs. One was on a fake FG attempt, so it does not tell us much about his skillset. On another, Crabtree snuck behind the Texans’ defense on a great Aaron Rogers play-action pass and romped for a 48 yard score. Again, without any coverage there it is hard to tell much about his abilities when locked up by a defender. On his highlight play of the season, in Week 9 vs. Arizona, Crabtree lined up in the backfield, sprinted up the seam and easily left Cardinals’ MLB Paris Lenon in the dust en route to a 72 yard (that is not a typo) TD. He can move for a big man, showing a good burst and nice finish to his run-after-catch. From the limited tape on him it looks like he could cause matchup problems for linebackers. He is especially effective in the play-action game, which bodes well for the Bucs since their running game has been consistently strong.
It is hard to say where this move will lead. On one hand, the limited opportunities Crabtree has been presented does not bode well for his prospects as a starter. However, coming from a small school it could simply be that he has taken several seasons to adjust to the pro game and improve on the small things that can turn a promising backup into a starter. Based on his 2012 performance, it looks like the Bucs have at minimum a second TE in Crabtree, and they may have a starter who turns into a Visanthe Shiancoe-type of player who can help in the running game and put up good numbers in the passing game. Given the Bucs lack of depth at the position, don’t be surprised to see Crabtree push to start in the fall.