Percy Harvin and 5 NFL Players Who Are Too Valuable to Be Returning Kicks
NFL special teams units are vital to any franchise's season-to-season success. The San Diego Chargers were so poor in the third phase last season that even the league's No. 1 ranked offense and No. 1 ranked defense couldn't get them to the playoffs.
For years, the Bears generated points almost solely through Devin Hester returns. The Chiefs relied heavily on Dante Hall.
So it makes sense that teams would want some of their most talented players lined up deep to return kicks and punts.
But just because these five guys have the natural ability to make defenders miss and hand the offense good field position doesn't mean their health and availability elsewhere should be risked.
Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings
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Harvin has only 12 returns this season, so it's clear that the Vikings are starting to agree. Especially when you consider that he racked up at least 40 returns in each of his first two years in the NFL.
And for Minnesota, Harvin represents a special case. He's already highly injury-prone, suffering from migraines and all sorts of contact ailments due to his versatile role as a runner and receiver.
The Vikings are set at tailback with Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, but they can't afford to lose Harvin as a receiver. With a young quarterback under center, the offense would quickly grind to a halt if Michael Jenkins, Visanthe Shiancoe, Devin Aromashodu and Greg Camarillo were suddenly the top targets.
Jacoby Ford, Oakland Raiders
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Like the Vikings, the Raiders aren't exactly stocked at the receiver position. They have some young talent, and they possess plenty of players with extraordinary physical skill. But they lack consistency out wide, and Ford's rookie season was one of most promising by a Raiders receiver in a long time.
Of course, Ford's been banged up most of this season, limiting his chances to catch passes or field kicks.
And that's exactly the point. Carson Palmer needs all the help he can get with Darren McFadden absent from the backfield, and stretching Ford too thin and landing him on the injury list has only depleted Palmer's arsenal.
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The Steelers haven't reached the point of direly needing Brown just yet, but that day may not be too far off.
Pittsburgh is again struggling to run the ball, which has dropped a heavier load on the passing game, where the main weapon for many years, Hines Ward, is set to retire soon, if not next season.
That leaves only Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders as receivers with at least 15 catches this season, and that won't cut it if your ground game continues to disappear down the stretch.
If Brown is forced into a starting role after Ward rides off into the sunset, expect Pittsburgh to find a new return man.
Josh Cribbs, Cleveland Browns
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The Browns have a dearth of playmakers on an offense that has flopped and floundered its way to a meager 13.7 points per game this season. And they also have a dynamic athlete who can score from anywhere on the field and would instantly represent an upgrade at receiver.
But instead of finding a way to get the ball into Josh Cribbs' hands on offense, the Browns have given him just 38 touches.
He's already racked up 57 returns. At some point, Cribbs' natural skill as a kick-catcher has to take a backseat to the dire need for a weapon outside on offense.
Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints
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Darren Sproles has been one of the best kick returners in the NFL this season, taking a punt 72 yards to the house and averaging over 26 yards on kickoffs.
And his ability to give the Saints offense a short field has been valuable, for sure.
But his role on that offense is much more vital to New Orleans' success. It's not even really close.
The Saints need that dynamic, multi-threat player to make their offense go. They need a Reggie Bush or a Sproles, and since they don't currently have Bush, they'll have to "settle" for Sproles.
Sproles has been incredible for New Orleans through 14 weeks, racking up over 1,000 yards and six touchdowns on 142 touches, and the Saints might not own the league's second-ranked scoring offense without him.