It is hard to define what exactly a “number one” wide receiver is in an NFL offense.
Percy Harvin isn’t a huge guy at 5’ 11” and 184 pounds. Like Steve Smith (5’ 9”, 185 pounds) and Santana Moss (5’ 10”, 205 pounds), however, Harvin is capable of playing the position with the best of them.
He has the speed to stretch the field and the hands to make the most of targets going his way. Harvin runs precise routes and can change directions on a dime, often times causing defenders to look utterly silly. He has the toughness of a hard headed pit bull and can drag defenders on his back or even push an entire pile for extra yardage. He even seems to be gaining some ground in terms of being a mature team leader.
With all of that being said, I firmly believe that Harvin cannot continue to be relied upon by Leslie Frazier and company as the team’s top receiver for two main reasons.
First and foremost, his career has been overshadowed thus far by the fact that he is constantly sick. He missed the rookie symposium after being drafted, part of his first training camp, has missed numerous days of training camp and practice, has been the center of extensive migraine studies, and has even had to miss games. That doesn’t even take into account on-field injuries that have occurred and are always a possibility to occur in the future.
As great as the guy is, the Vikings have to go into next season under the assumption that they will have to play at least a select few games without Harvin at their disposal.
My second reason for believing they cannot rely on him as their top wide out going into 2012 is because he is just too good to be that guy… at least in the traditional sense.
Against the Broncos defense on Sunday, Harvin netted eight catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns. His 52 yard touchdown was an incredible display of every attribute the guy possesses. He also carried the ball five times for 19 yards and lined up as a kick return man. He has been called upon this season to carry the ball more than he did in his first two seasons combined.
He is a valuable asset to this Vikings offense when they can move him all around the formation from play to play. He can play wide left or right, in either slot, line up in the backfield, take direct snaps, and even line up on as a return man.
Despite the fact that he is likely going to post career highs in almost every category this season, it is clear that the Vikings offense was far more potent when they had the large body of Sidney Rice flanking out wide and even, on occasion, drawing double coverage. Rice has not lit it up in Seattle, but the Vikings need to get another true talent to occupy his spot and allow Harvin the freedom to roam around and confuse the opposing defenses.
Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu have each had games showing that they are capable of producing, but neither seems to have that “it factor” that would make them an ideal number one guy.
If you consider the talent on this offense (Adrian Peterson, Harvin, and Kyle Rudolph) that true, big bodied number one flanking wide out is the only piece that is missing from a skill player standpoint that could set up Christian Ponder for grand success moving forward.
I personally think this position could (and should) be addressed in free agency this offseason, especially considering it typically takes a wide out about three seasons to truly establish themselves in the NFL after being drafted.
Luckily for the Vikings, this could end up being an easier task to accomplish than it normally is, as there is a high number talented wide receivers scheduled to see their contracts expire after this season. Names like Reggie Wayne, Wes Welker, DeSean Jackson, Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston, Steve Johnson, Brandon Lloyd, Mario Manningham, and Mike Wallace illustrate just how deep this free agent class could end up being at the position.
With options like these available, in addition to other options via the Draft and the trade block, there is absolutely no reason the Vikings should be going into the 2012 season placing so much responsibility on Harvin’s shoulders.
Instead, they need to make a move or two, and be prepared to have a lot of fun getting the ball to him in the numerous ways he has proven to be plenty capable.