Some key variables can be beyond a player's control. An ascending quarterback can have a tough time breaking through in the AFC if Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are playing well, for example. But in looking at the receiving landscape in the NFC, Clayton makes the case that Crabtree has a chance, and I would agree.
Miles Austin, DeSean Jackson, Sidney Rice and the New York Giants' Steve Smith were all first-time Pro Bowl choices at receiver in the NFC last season. Terrell Owens' departure from the Dallas Cowboys helped them. Anquan Boldin's departure from the Arizona Cardinals this offseason would seem to help Crabtree's chances. And quite a few of 2009 receiving leaders in the NFC -- Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez, Vernon Davis, Kellen Winslow, Brent Celek -- were tight ends.
Crabtree's consistency last year suggests he has a chance to catch 80 or 90 passes over a full season. He'll need to convert more of them into touchdowns (he had only two as a rookie), which could be tough with Davis and running back Frank Gore getting touches.
The 49ers' schedule could help Crabtree make a strong impression. The team plays the Cardinals on Monday night in Week 12 and the San Diego Chargers in a Thursday night game in Week 15. Players cast Pro Bowl ballots not long after those games, meaning strong prime-time performances could help put Crabtree over the top if his overall numbers are strong enough.