Tom Crabtree is painfully aware of how low the offensive expectations are for him. The Green Bay Packers tight end has a few family members and old college buddies who have him in their fantasy football starting lineups – but only out of a feeling of obligation.
"They do it as kind of a nice gesture," Crabtree said this week, as the Packers prepped for Sunday's game at St. Louis. "And they're pleasantly surprised when I actually score points for them."
Depending on what type of league you're in, Crabtree's five receptions for 111 yards and two touchdowns have delivered roughly 25 fantasy points through six games (he missed one game with a shoulder injury). But on an offense overflowing with skill-position players – all of whom want the ball thrown to them – Crabtree gives the Packers a valuable alternative: A hard-working, do-whatever's-asked working-class team player who's just happy to be part of it all.
"Offenses, defenses, special teams – you need guys that. I don't want to say ‘role player,' but guys who do the dirty work, do the stuff that doesn't always get recognized and if you need them to step up and make a play, they can do that, too," Crabtree said. "You need those guys all over the team."
And he's OK with being that guy?
"For sure. I'm cool with being any guy – just being a part of the team and helping the team out," Crabtree said. "Whether I'm asked to go out and catch 10 balls and make a bunch of big plays, great. Or if I catch one ball every few games. That's fine. As long as I'm helping out, contributing in some way, and we're winning games, it's fine with me."
The beauty of Crabtree's attitude is that it's 100 percent genuine. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has plenty of pass-catchers to keep happy – wide receivers Greg Jennings (when healthy), Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb and Donald Driver, plus Crabtree's fellow tight end Jermichael Finley – and having a low-maintenance teammate he can count on and who doesn't demand the ball is refreshing. That's why no one was happier for Crabtree's 48-yard touchdown catch-and-run against Houston last Sunday night than the guy who threw it to him.
"He can do whatever he is asked to do. He is a special guy," Rodgers said on his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com. "He is smart, understands his role in the offense and how to get open.
"It just depends on how much you give him. I think the more you give him, you can see more plays like that being made. If not, he is selfless enough and a good enough teammate, where I don't think he needs the ball all the time. That is fine, we have other guys who can make plays at the tight end position. Whenever he gets his opportunity, he seems to make the most of them."
Now in his third NFL season, Crabtree has caught 15 passes for 210 yards and three TDs in regular-season play and another two catches for 8 yards in postseason play. But among those 17 catches have been some memorable ones: A 7-yard touchdown in the NFC Wild Card playoffs at Philadelphia; a 27-yard TD on a fourth-and-26 fake field goal against Chicago on Sept. 13 and his two catches for 62 yards, including the 48-yard TD, against the Texans.
"As far as maximizing each and every opportunity, he's got to be at the top of the list," tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said Thursday. "That's the guy that I recognize because he does everything (you ask), he wants to know you want it done, he wants to know how it looks (after he does it). He's just a worker. He shows up each and every day, he doesn't complain about anything. You'd love to get him many more opportunities. We just have a lot of diversity in our offense, so you get him what you can.
"Everybody wants as many opportunities as they can get. That's the nature of professional sports. That's the nature of being a competitor. The reality is, I'm sure there are many guys on the team who aren't completely satiated by the amount of opportunities they get."
That's not to say that Crabtree is satisfied. It was his fault Tim Masthay's fourth-quarter punt was blocked for a touchdown, and Fontenot said Crabtree's run-blocking in the final few minutes of the game wasn't up to par. No wonder why coach Mike McCarthy, when asked if Crabtree's performance against the Texans merited more playing time, replied that Crabtree had "some things he can improve on, too, just like all of us. … But Tom does a lot of the dirty work for us, and that's something that he needs to continue to do and continue to do it well."
No matter how many or how few opportunities Crabtree gets going forward, that much McCarthy can count on, even if it doesn't lead to more playing time.
"I'm not worried about it. If so, then that's fine. If not, that's fine. Whatever. I'm not stressing over it. I just do what I do every week," Crabtree said. "You're going to have games where you don't get any opportunities, and then you're going to have games where you get a couple and you have to make the most of them.
"I'll go a few games without a catch or without them hearing my name or whatever, and I'm fine with that. But when it does happen, it does surprise some people. But I try to prepare every week in practice all the little things that people don't see. That prepares me for those moments if they do happen. I'm ready."
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on "Green & Gold Today," and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.