Notes from a Percy Harvin Skeptic
I think early 2010 should have given us a signal of Harvin's limitations as a wide receiver. When Sidney Rice was injured, so limited did the Viking passing game appear, so difficult did it appear for Viking WRs to get separation, so absent was the downfield passing game, that the Vikings went out and traded for Randy freaking Moss. Harvin wasn't significantly better or worse in '10 than he'd been in '09 or that he'd be in '11-'12--yet he in no way gave the Vikings a threat at wide receiver.
So what is Percy Harvin? Let us see:
Player A ('11-'12)
rushing: 74-441-3 9 (6.0 avg)
receiving: 149-1644-9 (11.0 avg)
kick returns: 32-1094-2 (34.2 avg)
Player B ('11-'12)
rushing: 135-847-3 (6.2 avg)
receiving: 161-1377-14 (8.6 avg)
punt returns: 52-477-1 (9.2 avg)
kick returns: 58-1572-0 (27.1 avg)
Player A is Percy Harvin. Player B is Darren Sproles.
I think Percy Harvin is what Darren Sproles would be if Sproles had been assigned to play WR and developed as such a little earlier in his playing career. And I think Sproles is something like what Harvin would be if he had been assigned primarily to play running back in his career. Both are phenomenal playmakers: rare players that combine speed, quickness, and savvy with the ball in their hands to gain their teams yards. In their current situations, Harvin has been asked to carry the Viking passing game, and Sproles has been a key x-factor in a great passing attack that is loaded at QB, WR, and TE. Switch their teams, and they might end up doing similar things.
Which is why I've got a crazy idea for how the Vikings could make up some of Harvin's yards if Harvin leaves. A WR won't replace Harvin's production: a good WR would add something to the Viking offense they haven't had since Sidney Rice. What the Vikings need is a productive #2 RB that can catch passes. Toby Gerhart just didn't do much last year. I'd like to see a RB that can come in and be an actual threat on 3rd and long. The Vikes don't need to focus on a RB that specializes in pass catching: they need to focus on talent at the position, getting a good player that can both run and pass, and then utilize him in the pass as much as they can. That player might be Ahmad Bradshaw, a gritty and talented RB that often gets banged up and might be perfectly suited for 160 touches a year.
Consider it a Moneyball situation: to replace Harvin's numbers, the Vikes need to think creatively and turn to several less heralded players for those yards. Some focus on a new #2 RB, some more throws to Jarius Wright, etc., etc. And then they should still keep their focus on getting at least one new good WR--but they shouldn't consider that new WR Harvin's replacement. After all, without Harvin the Vikes finished their year with a tough slate of games, won them, and Christian Ponder looked decentish in the last couple of them. I'm not saying the Vikes can be content with the passing production they had after Harvin's injury, but they can't be content with the passing production they had before Harvin's injury, either. If Harvin leaves, the Vikes will have to work hard to replace and improve on his production. But they can try to do it in a variety of ways.