If statistics mean much, the Vikings might have the best kick returner in football right now and are constantly fighting the urge to let him return kicks.
Percy Harvin is averaging 37.1 yards on his 12 kick returns so far this season. Harvin hasn’t returned enough kicks this season to qualify as a league leader, but if he did his average is 4.7 yards more than the current leader, Joe McKnight of the Jets. The last two kicks Harvin has been allowed to return have gone for 47 yards and 104 yards.
So, why is it that the one of the NFL’s best kick returners is not allowed to return more kicks? Well, here are a few facts that seem apparent:
- Harvin is eager to get more chances to return kicks.
- Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer would like to use him on more returns.
- Leslie Frazier does not want to risk Harvin’s ability to contribute on offense by allowing the oft-injured receiver by putting him in danger on special teams.
Despite Frazier’s reluctance to use Harvin more than is necessary as a return man, Harvin is still lobbying for more touches 14 weeks into a lost season. In fact, following last week’s loss Harvin couldn’t even wait to get back to Minnesota before hitting up the coaching staff.
“He got me on the airplane flying home from the game last week,” Priefer said of Harvin’s lobbying efforts. “You know, every time he touches the ball something happens and you are hoping that goes along with the kickoff returns like it has in the games whenever he has gotten those opportunities. Obviously, I have been saying this since Day 1: Whenever I have a chance to use Percy, we are going to use Percy.”
“Anything I can do,” Harvin said. “Any chance I can get for a big play, this team, definitely with our offense and our defense kind of struggling right now to get us to start the ball at the plus-40 or plus -50 is a must right now. It’s just something I feel is a need for the team right now.”
Of course, the worst case scenario to giving Harvin more returns in the final three games is the risk of an injury that could linger into the offseason or training camp. This is a risk that Frazier is well aware of.
“We actually talked a little about that today,” Frazier said on Thursday. “We’ll try to find when it’s the right time. It helps that Adrian (Peterson) is back. You’re not as nervous about him being back there as you would with Adrian not in the lineup. We’ll see.”
I can’t fault Frazier for his hesitations, especially with all purple hope lying in 2012 and Marcus Sherels doing a decent enough job returning kicks in his own right. Lorenzo Booker has pretty much been phased out as a return man of late, and after last week’s duo of fumbles I would suggest the Vikings should cut him loose early (he’s a free agent this offseason) and promote practice squad running back Caleb King to see him perform in game situations.
Regardless of what any of us think, Harvin seems confident that his efforts to persuade the coaches will get him some more opportunities over the rest of the season.
“I told coach if there are any kick returns that he wants me to get, then definitely I’m going to start taking a lot more,” Harvin said. “Like I said, we have nothing to lose at this point. We’re only three weeks away. I’m sure I’ll be in there.”