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Crabtree separating himself from Niners WR pack

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Dan Arkush
Executive editor

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By Dan Arkush

Entering the season after adding free-agent WRs Mario Manningham and Randy Moss to their receiving arsenal, the consensus among our 49ers sources seemed to be that there was a good possibility a different wide receiver could be the featured performer every week among Manningham, Moss and holdover Michael Crabtree.

But with the season entering the home stretch, there’s no doubt that Crabtree, who led the team last season with 72 catches for 874 yards (both career highs), has become the primary go-to guy for QBs Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith in the passing game.

Leading the team by a wide margin in both catches and receiving yards, Crabtree has gone out of his way to sing the praises of Kaepernick and has wasted no time developing a quick rapport with the fellow 25-year-old.

“And he’s been at his best in the clutch,” one close team observer said.

Entering Week 14, the former first-round pick in the 2009 draft (10th overall) was tied for first in the league with four TD passes on third down, according to the team. He is tied with TE Vernon Davis for the team lead with five TD catches.

Niners offensive coordinator Greg Roman recently offered his take on what makes Crabtree such a valuable performer on third down. “Well, Michael’s a really good football player,” Roman said. “Mike’s got great hands. I think Coach (Jim Harbaugh) said he’s got the best hands he’s ever seen. We marvel at his hands every day in practice. He’s a natural catcher; we can’t take credit for that.”

Crabtree has also excelled at picking up extra yardage after his catches.

“He’s running after the catch better than anybody I’ve seen, and I don’t want to invite people to tackle him better by saying that, but it’s a fact,” Roman said. “He is just running with a purpose and mission. He’s gotten us several first downs by just running tough. He’s a good all-around player that continues to improve.

“He’s still young in this league, and we’re counting on him to get better all the time.”

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