Vikings Have Harvin But Still Missing a No. 1 Wide Receiver

It’s always entertaining to listen to “Vikings Fan Line,” the popular local post game radio show on 100.3 KFXM during which the hosts field phone calls from fans immediately following the game each week.

Lovingly dubbed, “Vikings Whine Line” by the show’s hosts due to the overwhelming number of knee-jerk reactions and complaints they receive regarding the team, especially following a loss, the program has become a hilarious example of just how restless the fan base can get during rough seasons like this.

This season, one of the most popular complaints among agitated callers is that multipurpose playmaker Percy Harvin isn’t seeing enough of the ball on offense, and in general, Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave is not getting the most out of his most dangerous offensive player (not named Peterson).  

Coming into the 2011 season, many NFL experts, fantasy football geeks and Vikings fans alike all expected Harvin to see an uptick in production this season.

It was a natural assumption.  Sidney Rice’s departure to Seattle combined with Harvin’s electric speed and playmaking ability should have allowed him to step into the role of a true No. 1 wide receiver.

So far, though, that hasn’t been the case.  Harvin is still one of only two consistent offensive threats that the Vikings have, but he definitely hasn’t produced like many expected him to.

To this point in 2011, Harvin has caught 25 passes for just 261 yards and has yet to record a touchdown reception.  Those receiving numbers have him ranked 65th in the NFL (as of 10/18), far from the top flight wideout many expected him to develop into.

According to many Whine Line callers, Musgrave and head coach Leslie Frazier are to blame for Harvin’s slow start.  They and many of the local media personalities cite Harvin’s relatively low snap count numbers and wonder why the only dangerous offensive player the team has aside from Peterson is not on the field more.

And yes, they have a point.  It does stand to reason that the team’s most talented and explosive players need to be on the field as much as possible, but the bottom line is this: Harvin is not a No. 1 wide receiver and using him as such is not going to make him produce like one.

Fans need to understand what Harvin is not.  He is not a Larry Fitzgerald or Calvin Johnson-type behemoth who can routinely battle physical cornerbacks on the outside, fight off press coverage and find the soft spots in zone coverage or outleap defenders for jump balls in the endzone.  He is not the greatest route runner or pass catcher.  In short, Percy Harvin is not a very good, well-rounded receiver.

That doesn’t mean Harvin is not talented.  He obviously is, and anyone who’s watched him play knows that he is probably the NFL’s best “gadget” player.  He’s a rich-man’s Reggie Bush or Darren Sproles, the type of electric talent who thrives when he has the ball in his hands in space and can make defenders miss after the catch. Harvin is at his best when he is used in a jack-of-all trades role and can hurt defenses with his blend of speed, quickness and power from the slot, the backfield, on end-arounds or as a return man.

Harvin is someone who can help turn a good offense, one that already has several other solid weapons, into a truly elite one.  He is not, however, a player who can singlehandedly carry an otherwise mediocre offense (see the 2011 Minnesota Vikings offense).

Rewind back to 2009, Harvin’s rookie year, during which he was surrounded by a multitude of offensive threats, most prominently, a healthy and motivated Sidney Rice.

Defenses, having learned early on that they had to be aware of Harvin anytime he was on the field, ran into trouble because with Peterson in the backfield and Rice, Vinsanthe Shiancoe and even Bernard Berrian in a lesser role on the outside, no defense could key in on any one particular player for fear of being exposed by the others.

This is the biggest, glaring weakness of the 2011 Vikings offense. Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashadu and Bernard Berrian are nothing close to being that true top flight receiver that Harvin needs to play alongside.

The coaching staff is trying to get the ball in Harvin’s hands.  They recognize that he is their lone weapon on the outside, but that doesn’t change the fact that Harvin is not suited for that expanded role.

Barring the Vikings winning the “Suck For Luck” sweepstakes and having a chance at the transcendent QB prospect from Stanford, the Vikings front office needs to address the wide receiver position early on in the draft this offseason.

Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon, South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffrey, and Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd (a Cretin-Derham Hall graduate) are probably the top wide receiver prospects in college right now, and if the Vikings continue their disappointing season, they have an opportunity to end up with one of those players in April.  And if they do, I think they need to pull the trigger.

While the offensive line and the secondary are also huge needs for this team, the Vikings desperately need to find a big-bodied, sure handed receiver whom Harvin can supplement.

Not only will an addition like that allow the Vikings to better maximize Harvin’s talents, but it will go a long way towards the development of QB Christian Ponder and will help clear space for Peterson to run.

In today’s NFL, teams can no longer strictly rely on running the ball and playing defense.  As the Packers and the other recent Super Bowl winners have proven, at some point during the course of a game, you need to be able to make plays in the air to win.

And to do that, the Vikings front office needs to upgrade the talent on offense, starting with the wide receiver position, easily the team’s most glaring weakness.

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