When head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider traded two draft picks for Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin, pundits from around the league gushed about the Seattle Seahawks' offensive potential.
Here’s what Don Banks of Sports Illustrated had to say about the trade when it went down back in March:
Harvin is an X-factor player who can line up almost anywhere, from the slot to the backfield. With him, Rice, receiver Golden Tate, tight end Zach Miller and the productive Marshawn Lynch as the lead rusher, Seattle's offense just got more versatile and dangerous.
Banks was right: On paper, Darrell Bevell’s offense undoubtedly got more versatile and dangerous, yet the point proved to be moot because of Harvin’s health. Over the course of Seattle’s 18-game season (playoffs included), the game-changing receiver logged 39 snaps, caught four passes and tallied 38 yards receiving.
However, the wideout's unproductive 2013 campaign didn’t slow the Seahawks down. They won 13 regular-season games and two playoff games. And now they find themselves playing for their first Vince Lombardi Trophy.
This, in turn, begs the question: What does a healthy Harvin bring to Super Bowl XLVIII?
Even though fans and media members alike are quick to call him an X-factor, it’s hard to agree with that sentiment. As good as Harvin is when he’s healthy, it would be wise to temper our expectations. He hasn’t played a full game since Week 8 of the 2012 season, and his last 100-yard game came against the Washington Redskins that same year.
Instead of placing some sort of label on him, we should evaluate his strengths and analyze what he does well when he is in the game.
First of all, Harvin is an absolute annoyance on screen passes. When he gets the ball in the open field, opposing defenses have a difficult time defending him. His first step is so quick, and he can make defenders miss in the open field.
On this third-quarter play from the 2012 season, the Vikings offense deployed a “10” personnel look. Harvin was lined up in the slot, running back Adrian Peterson was in the backfield and quarterback Christian Ponder was taking the snap out of shotgun.
After the ball was snapped, Harvin faked like he was heading toward the end zone and subsequently retreated back behind the line of scrimmage. As soon as he stepped back behind the line of scrimmage, Ponder laid the ball on him at the 16-yard line.
Once Harvin caught the pass, he immediately accelerated upfield, made four defenders miss and squirted across the goal line for a 10-yard touchdown reception. This play was a prime example as to why he led the NFL in forced missed tackles before his season-ending ankle injury.
Don’t be surprised if you see Seattle run a similar play on Sunday. When the Seahawks squared off against the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round of the playoffs, their second play from scrimmage was a bubble screen to Harvin.
Harvin’s second area of prominence is his ability to garner big chunks of yards out of the backfield. When he carries the ball out of there, it gives him an opportunity to operate in space and use one of his most valuable assets, his vision.
On this second-quarter play against the Saints, the Seahawks offense used a “01” personnel set. Harvin was split out wide to the left, Doug Baldwin was split out wide to the right and Jermaine Kearse and Golden Tate were lined up in the slot on their respective sides of the field.
As soon as all the wide receivers were set, quarterback Russell Wilson motioned Harvin into the backfield. Once that happened, No. 11 picked up speed and Wilson caught the shotgun snap from center Max Unger.
Moments later, Wilson handed the ball off to Harvin on a fly sweep. The run netted the Seahawks nine yards and successively set up a second down and manageable situation for Bevell’s offense.
On the fly sweep play, Harvin sported patience, outstanding vision and a constant burst of speed all throughout the run. Those are the types of things Seattle wanted to see from the 184-pound speedster.
Odds are you will likely see a variation of that play call in the Super Bowl. Why? Because the fly sweep is an incredibly dangerous play that puts massive amounts of pressure on opposing defenses.
Here’s what Bob Stitt, the mastermind behind the fly sweep, said about the revolutionary play two years ago, via CBS Sports:
The challenge of the Fly Sweep is meshing the handoff with the motion. With this, the speed of it is faster because you don't have to mesh the handoff, so that 4.3 guy is going 4.3 as soon as he gets the ball. And the people that have to try and stop it are the inside 'backers, so you get that kid with that quickness, where he can stick his foot in the ground and get upfield, it's deadly.
At this point, it’s evident that Harvin is an astonishing player when the ball is in his hands, yet he doesn’t get enough credit for his top-notch skills as a route-runner. Sure, he’s not the most consistent route-runner, but he has come a long way since his collegiate days.
On this first-quarter play from the Vikings-Redskins game in 2012, Harvin showed off his proficient route-running ways. He was split out wide on the right side of the formation and was matched up against Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall.
As the play started to develop, it was clear that Hall was in off-man coverage because he was trying to defend a “9” route down the sideline. Unfortunately for Hall, Harvin sold the play so well and was actually running an “8” route.
By the time Hall realized what route Harvin was really running, it was too late. When Harvin made his final cut to the inside of the field, he had already put a good four yards of separation between himself and Hall. The play ended up garnering the Vikings offense 23 yards and a first down.
Harvin may not run a great deal of long developing routes, but when he does, watch out.
This play, along with the others, just goes to show that Harvin is one of the most complete wide receivers in the NFL. He has the necessary skill set to be mentioned in the same breath with guys like Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Demaryius Thomas.
Nonetheless, he doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as those guys until he proves his health is a non-factor. The good news is, he has a chance to show the masses in Super Bowl XLVIII what his game is all about when he’s healthy.
"Trust me, I won't leave anything in the tank," Harvin said, per Lindsay H. Jones of USA TODAY sports.
Holmgren on what he would say to Percy Harvin before the game: "We brought you here for this game. This is the game we signed you for."— Dave Softy Mahler (@Softykjr) January 31, 2014
Now that the stage is set, there’s only one question that remains: Will a healthy Harvin deliver when the Seahawks need him to the most?
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via Pro Football Focus (subscription required).