NEW ORLEANS -- In meetings prior to the 2009 draft, former 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan told colleagues the player coming out of college who might become the best NFL player was Michael Crabtree.
And he also believed the 49ers could sit tight with the No. 10 overall pick and still land the Texas Tech wide receiver.
Crabtree was coming off foot surgery, which prevented him from taking part in the NFL scouting combine or working out for teams before the draft.
But what seemed to damage his draft stock more than his physical condition was a reputation that quickly developed in predraft visits to the Cleveland Browns, St. Louis Rams and the ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn.
Reports circulated that Crabtree rubbed people the wrong way on those visits. He widely became known as a "diva."
"Can you describe diva to me?" Crabtree said Tuesday, remembering his name associated with the unflattering term. "I don't understand.
"I can't see me being a diva. I've seen commercials where a guy eats a Snickers and he turns into a diva because he's hungry or something like that. But I don't know what a diva is."
The term diva is associated with a female performer who is extremely talented as well as being egocentric and high-maintenance. Those who know Crabtree maintain that he's more shy than aloof.
His reputation took a further hit when he was embroiled in a contract stalemate as a rookie and missed the first five games of his rookie season. When he finally signed, Crabtree reported to the 49ers in great shape and caught 48 passes in 11 games.
Crabtree has distinguished himself for his work ethic and being a good team player during his four seasons with the organization.
Aside from an on-field training camp argument that tight end Vernon Davis instigated in 2010, Crabtree has steered clear of controversy while with the 49ers. His biggest problem came recently when was accused of sexual assault.
Crabtree played in the NFC Championship Game against the Atlanta Falcons two days after being interviewed by San Francisco police. On Friday, the district attorney's office cleared Crabtree of any wrongdoing after an investigation.
[REWIND: No charges filed against Crabtree]
"I knew that whole time," Crabtree said. "But it was something that we had to deal with. I respect the system and whatever they had to do."
Crabtree said the situation was not on his mind in the 28-24 victory over the Falcons -- a game in which he caught six passes but also fumbled at the goal line in the fourth quarter.
"No, not at all," he said. "I was disappointed with the allegations, but at the same time I had to deal with it."
Crabtree dealt the first three seasons of his NFL career with the expectations that came with a storied college career and being a top-10 draft pick. Crabtree seemed to benefit more than anyone on the 49ers from the mid-sesason quarterback switch from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick.
Crabtree caught 85 passes for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns in the regular season. In two postseason games, Crabtree has 15 receptions for 176 yards and two touchdowns.
And, now, the player who clashed with Crabtree is happy to call him a teammate. Davis got on Crabtree in 2010 about not playing in the exhibition season. In fact, Crabtree did not play in any preseason games in his first three seasons due to his contract issue, a neck injury and foot surgery.
The past two seasons, Crabtree has replaced Davis as the 49ers' go-to receiver. And that seems OK with Davis.
"I think that Michael Crabtree has done a terrific job as far as stepping up and becoming a leader," Davis said. "He's been through a lot as well. It takes time for a guy to come in and be successful. You have to go through some things first before you can reach your highest peak. So I think that he's been patient as far as that."
That patience is paying off for the 49ers.
On draft day, many thought Crabtree would be heading to the Raiders. Instead, Al Davis surprisingly selected wide receiver Darrius Heward-Bey with the No. 7 overall pick.
As he faced the media before Super Bowl XLVII, Crabtree was asked if he was happy the Raiders passed him up.
"I'm happy the Niners picked me up," he said.