What does Crabtree’s return mean for 49ers’ passing game?

Michael Crabtree had 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns last year.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The second-most publicized Achilles injury in sports — outside of Kobe Bryant — will likely come to an end Sunday.

And Michael Crabtree’s much-anticipated return to the San Francisco 49ers offense couldn’t come at a better time.

While the fifth-year wide receiver has rehabbed back from a torn Achilles, the 49ers’ passing game has flat-lined, ranking last in the NFL. Crabtree, who participated in practice for a third consecutive day on Friday, believes he’ll suit up against the St. Louis Rams.

"I’m really ready to play," Crabtree said according to the team’s website. "It’s been a long time coming.

"I feel comfortable enough to play. I feel great."

Although Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who returned from the same injury in 2012, injected life into last season’s Super Bowl defense, Crabtree wants to temper such expectations. 

"I don’t want to hype nothing up," he said. "I just want to play ball like I do every Sunday."

Each injury is a case-by-case scenario and wide receivers rely on their explosiveness and straight-line speed much more than linebackers. If there was a similar injury to study that offers hope to 49ers fans, Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas ruptured his Achilles in Feb. ’11. Seven months later he hit the ground running in Peyton Manning’s offense and logged career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns.

Crabtree, who was coming off a career year, underwent surgery to repair his torn Achilles in May.

His presence should earn the respect of the Rams secondary. If the 49ers utilize him as a decoy, he should be able to open things up for Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis.

It’s no secret that Crabtree was quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s favorite target in 2012 as the wideout doubled each offensive skill player’s production in targets, reception and yards. We’ll see if Crabtree is able to sustain the length of a 60-minute game or if he’ll be limited to a snap count.