During the 2008-09 college football season, I was one of Percy Harvin’s biggest fans.
An electric wide receiver from the University of Florida, Harvin was the Minnesota Vikings’ top pick (No. 22 overall) in Saturday’s NFL Draft.
Months earlier, Harvin was one of my top draft picks.
In August, my cousin Kamp and I held our Southeastern Conference fantasy football draft for the second consecutive year. We always have been avid followers of college football, but we’ve been especially interested in SEC competition. The conference, which includes perennial powerhouses like Florida, Georgia, Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Tennessee, we feel, is the best in the nation. The speed, athleticism, talent and pro prospects on display every week in the SEC can’t consistently be matched by other BCS leagues.
Our borderline obsession with SEC football has resulted in us doing things that often force my girlfriend to slap her forehead and shake her head in shame. Kamp and I each plan our Saturdays around “The SEC on CBS” Game of the Week, and there was a long period of time when we desperately were searching the internet in an attempt to download CBS’ intro music as a ringtone for our cell phones (I often find myself humming or whistling this intro music, which ranks with NBC’s old-school NBA production theme and ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” theme as my favorite of all time). The price of my cell phone bill rises dramatically during the college football season, as Kamp and I normally exchange a plethora of calls and text messages, especially on Saturdays. We read college football blogs; we buy SEC-related t-shirts; and we spend an embarrassing amount of time tweaking and preparing our fantasy football teams.
It’s a two-person league, and it’s played a lot like a run-of-the-mill NFL fantasy league. Each roster consists of 15 players, and each team starts two quarterbacks, three running backs, three wide receivers, a tight end, a kicker and a defense every week. There are four bench spots, and each owner is allowed just five add/drops throughout the season; thus, the Draft is the most important part of the process.
Two years ago, in our inaugural season, Kamp made Harvin the third overall selection, following Arkansas running back Darren McFadden and Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson.
Despite missing a handful of games and being limited in others, Harvin lived up to the expectations that came with being the first wide receiver off the board. He finished with 59 receptions for 858 yards and four touchdowns, and he totaled 764 yards and six touchdowns on 83 rushing attempts.
McFadden and Tim Tebow carried my team to the title, but Harvin kept Kamp close. I was determined to draft the do-it-all threat the next year.
However, Harvin’s injury troubles soon became a major problem. He hurt his ankle in fall practice, and nobody knew — or would say — when he would be able to first take the field in the 2008-09 season.
After Saturday’s NFL draft, many experts said Harvin had top-10 talent but that he fell to No. 22 because of three reasons: 1) his history of injuries; 2) the report that he tested positive for marijuana at the NFL combine; and 3) his history of being an egocentric, selfish diva with a history of attitude problems.
In a fantasy football draft, one doesn’t have to worry about the possibility of a player being a “clubhouse cancer,” but one has to be concerned with a player’s ability to play every week. Because of injury concerns, Harvin dropped down our SEC fantasy football league draft boards. Tebow went No. 1 overall, followed by Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno. Finally, after 10 players had been drafted, I decided to roll the dice. I had needs at other positions, and I was positive that I could find an adequate wide receiver in the later rounds or on the waiver wire, but I couldn’t pass up Harvin’s speed, talent, versatility, past production and future potential. I selected him with the 11th overall pick, and he turned out to be the “SOD” (steal of the draft). Although the Vikings had a glaring need at tackle (“I will boycott the Vikings next season if Ryan Cook starts at right tackle — he’s that bad,” Kamp said, referring to Cook, who will battle to stay on the roster this year after Minnesota drafted Phil Loadholt, a massive right tackle out of Oklahoma, in the second round), and Mississippi’s highly touted right tackle Michael Oher was still on the board, Minnesota couldn’t pass on Harvin, either, for all the same reasons I couldn’t. Vikings fans can only hope it works out as well for the Purple as it did for me.
With Harvin, however, comes a lot of uncertainty.
Harvin didn’t play in Florida’s season opener, a lopsided victory over Hawaii, and an ankle injury suffered in the Gators’ victory over Florida State forced him to miss a key December game against Alabama — a regular-season ending contest that essentially decided which team would advance to the national championship game (Florida won 31-20). Harvin was a “gametime decision” every week, and I found myself stressing every Friday night and Saturday morning, searching for evidence that he was going to play and that it was safe to plug him into my lineup.
When he was healthy, Harvin normally was the best player on the field. He played in only 12 games last season, but he was a touchdown-producing machine, totaling 17. However, he did most of his damage on rushing plays and didn’t produce the receiving stats typically associated with top-notch wide receivers.
He had just three games with four or more receptions. He went over 100 yards receiving twice, and he was held to 52 yards or fewer nine times. He did manage to catch at least one touchdown in six different games.
He had more rushing attempts (70) than receptions (40), and he had more rushing yards (659) than receiving yards (644). Ten of his 17 touchdowns came on the ground.
Harvin finished his three-year college career with 133 receptions for 1,929 yards and 13 touchdowns, and 194 carries for 1,852 yards and 19 scores. He averaged 9.5 yards per carry and 11.6 yards per touch.
He stepped up in big games, earning MVP honors in the 2006 SEC championship game and totaling 171 yards and a touchdown in Florida’s victory over Oklahoma in the 2009 national title game.
He lined up at receiver, running back and quarterback for the Gators, and the Vikings are planning to make him a kickoff and punt returner. But will he ever turn into a No. 1 receiver for a contending NFL team?
Harvin played mostly in the slot at Florida. He took reverse handoffs and caught screens and short receptions, turning them into long gains. That will be exceptionally more difficult in the NFL, with a narrower field and much faster defensive players. Draft experts also have given him low grades for route running and the ability to get off the line of scrimmage against bigger, physical corners.
Harvin likely will play the slot for the Vikings, which isn’t a bad thing, considering that Bobby Wade led Minnesota in receptions a year ago from the slot position. Sage Rosenfels, the veteran quarterback the Vikings traded for in the offseason, favored slot receivers with the Texans a year ago. I realized this firsthand. Andre Johnson was the top receiver on my NFL fantasy football team, and he thrived with the oft-injured Matt Shaub under center. But, when Rosenfels played, Kevin Walters received the majority of the attention and receptions, especially in the red zone, where Harvin thrived — as a player who took handoffs. Andre Caldwell and Louis Murphy were the Florida receivers who received the most looks from Tebow inside the 20-yard line.
It will be interesting to see how the Vikings utilize Harvin. Will they run a lot of reverses? Will they use him as quarterback in the “Wildcat”? It worked great at UF, but it would keep the ball out of the hands of Pro Bowl running back Adrian Petersen at Minnesota.
But the biggest question about Harvin clearly is the one regarding his apparent fragility. The 5-foot-11 speedster missed five games in his college career and was limited in several more because of an injury list that includes heel surgery, ankle injuries, migraine headaches, a concussion, a hip pointer, tendinitis in his Achilles tendon, and tendinitis in his knee.
Harvin’s susceptibility to injuries became so well-known within college football circles that he often became the subject of jokes. But nobody questioned his toughness. Every Day Should Be Saturday, one of the best college football blogs on the internet, created a graph that detailed all of Harvin’s “injuries” and ran the following text:
Percy Harvin is injured. Big deal, we say: Percy Harvin is always injured. Just before the national title game in 2006, Percy Harvin sneezed and severed his femoral artery. Bleeding profusely and on the brink of death, he put on his pants, strapped on the helmet, and after three cups of Gatorade ripped off 82 yards of total offense and a TD against the Ohio State Buckeyes. He then died immediately postgame, but recovered in time for spring practices.
Like a finely tuned sports car, Percy runs at top speed and, more frequently than not, is on blocks during the week receiving physical therapy, being massaged by virgins, and laughing gustily at the jesters and midgets who amuse the court at Florida.
Harvin was the college football equivalent of the NFL’s Brian Westbrook, the veteran Philadelphia running back who rarely practices during the week because of an assortment of injuries, is a gametime decision every Sunday, but still manages to play and be effective. The only difference between the two: Harvin misses games.
There were reports before Saturday’s NFL Draft that Harvin would need additional surgery on his ankle, with some speculating that he had a hole in a bone near his foot and needed a plate screwed in place permanently to fix the problem.
But the Vikings scoffed at the reports and shrugged off Harvin’s history of injuries and off-the-field problems.
Such attitudes have worked out well in the past for Minnesota.
Nobody wanted to draft Randy Moss, who basically was kicked out of two colleges for drug and behavioral issues before landing and starring at Marshall, and Petersen fell to the Vikings because teams were concerned with his history of injuries and his upright running style.
If Harvin can produce a career anything like those already posted by Moss and Pedersen, he may forever be known as the steal of the steal of the 2009 NFL Draft.