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Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Double Coverage: Wells vs. Harvin as top rookie

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

 
  Getty Images
  Who has a better chance of being 2009 NFL Rookie of the Year: the Vikings' Percy Harvin or the Cardinals' Chris Wells? The bloggers debate.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando and Kevin Seifert

Nothing gets the football juices flowing in April like drafting an exciting skill position player.

Fans in Minnesota are already envisioning receiver Percy Harvin dashing through the secondary on the way to a long touchdown. In Arizona, they're wondering how many defenders tailback Beanie Wells is going to run over on the way to a 1,000-yard season.

Who will be the NFL's 2009 Rookie of the Year? It's a little early to crown a winner, but Harvin and Wells are two strong candidates. Our NFC West and NFC North bloggers take an early stance:

 
  AP Photo/Star Tribune, Carlos Gonzalez
  Minnesota first-round draft pick Percy Harvin will get a chance to put up big numbers for the Vikings.
Kevin Seifert: Well, Mike, we're three months from training camp and 4 1/2 months from the start of the regular season. There's no way to predict for sure where the voters will land. But I'll tell you this much: Harvin is going to get every opportunity to put up Rookie of the Year numbers.

Early on, I think the Vikings will ease him in as a punt and kickoff returner -- with selected packages for him on offense. But it might not take much. Harvin is the kind of playmaker who could have a pretty high ratio of touchdowns to touches.

There are veterans who likely will start ahead of him, but when Harvin gets in the game he'll be quick to make things happen. Think of him as the receiving version of New Orleans tailback Reggie Bush. He can make people miss once the ball gets in his hands.

Mike Sando: Once the ball gets in his hands? That's the hard part in Minnesota.

There's a reason Jeff George keeps saying he should be the Vikings' quarterback at age 41. There's a reason T.J. Houshmandzadeh decided to sign with the Seahawks about four seconds into his free-agent visit to Minnesota.

There's a reason no one on the Vikings caught more than 53 passes last season. Five rookies caught at least as many passes (Eddie Royal 91, Matt Forte 63, DeSean Jackson 62, John Carlson 55, Davone Bess 54 and Donnie Avery 53) in 2008.

I'm just not sure the Vikings can get the ball in Harvin's hands consistently enough.

Kevin Seifert: I'm not sure there is enough WD-40 in North America for Jeff George to do it, either, but that's for another debate.

Seriously, in some ways it doesn't matter whom the Vikings have at quarterback as long as he can throw a screen pass and a shallow cross. Harvin is at his best after the catch. Check out some of his highlights at Florida against some pretty fast SEC defenses. Trust me, the Vikings have plenty of three-yard pass plays in their playbook. The key will be finding simple ways to get the ball in Harvin's hands. Then let him do the rest.

In reality, the quarterback issue might be a bigger deal for Arizona. Nothing I saw last year leads me to believe Wells will get enough opportunities to put up Rookie of the Year numbers. Are you telling me Kurt Warner is going to hand the ball off all season and Larry Fitzgerald is going to become a downfield blocking specialist?

Mike Sando:
 
  Scott Boehm/Getty Images
  Running back Chris Wells will help the Cardinals become a more balanced team.
You make a decent point, but let's remember the balanced team Arizona became last season. The Cardinals were one-dimensional to a fault when you saw the Vikings pound them at University of Phoenix Stadium during the regular season.

If the Cardinals play that way in 2009, Wells won't be a factor. But the Arizona team we saw late in the season valued the ground game. The ground game was setting up Warner for play-action passes (he averaged 23.0 yards per attempt with two touchdowns on play-action passes against the Eagles in the NFC Championship game).

Since then, line coach Russ Grimm has assumed a more prominent role in the offense, taking over as run-game coordinator following Todd Haley's departure to the Chiefs. Haley was a former receivers coach and competitive golfer. Grimm was a Hog. Big difference. I don't see Grimm letting the Cardinals become as pass-happy as they were last season. Wells will get his carries.

Kevin Seifert: I always feel so good when I make a decent point. But Mike, e
ven if the Cardinals are more balanced, won't Tim Hightower be a factor as well? He scored 10 touchdowns last season. They're not just going to sit him down, are they? Won't he get his share of the work in the Cardinals' backfield?

Mike Sando: Tim who? I kid you. Hightower indeed outperformed expectations for a fifth-round rookie from Richmond. He'll have a role, yes, but probably not a primary one. Hightower averaged 2.8 yards per carry last season and lost the starting job to Edgerrin James. The Cardinals didn't use a first-round pick on Wells so they could give half the carries to Hightower. Wells will be the man if he can stay healthy. Injuries are a bigger threat to him than Hightower or any other back on the roster.

Kevin Seifert: Speaking of running backs: Another reason to consider Harvin's candidacy is the presence of the Vikings' Adrian Peterson.

Most defenses put at least a safety close to the line of scrimmage to help stop Peterson. Assuming that remains the case, defenses are going to be vulnerable to the very play that Harvin excels at. Imagine him catching a five-yard pass with a safety already out of position because he was in a run alignment. That's one less potential tackler as he races downfield.

Mike Sando: As I recall, the Cardinals placed zero defenders within 10 yards of Peterson last season. But if Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston are going to siphon touches from Wells, as you suggested, won't Peterson siphon touches from Harvin? And didn't the Vikings spend a ton of money on Bernard Berrian? Surely Berrian will factor as the Vikings' primary receiver.

Kevin Seifert: Actually, I think Harvin and Berrian could complement each other quite well. Berrian is the deep threat who can run past cornerbacks and position his body to make the acrobatic catches. Harvin probably figures as a slot receiver who will use running back-type moves to make big plays.

Mike Sando: The best running back-type moves in this debate belong to Wells. I think he's got an opportunity to rush for 1,200 yards. I'd be surprised if Harvin approached that type of production.

Kevin Seifert: Maybe not. But if the name of the game is scoring touchdowns, Harvin might win out. What if he touches the ball 100 times, including special teams, and scores 10 touchdowns? It's not unreasonable to expect that kind of explosion from Harvin in this offense.

Mike Sando: Let's revisit this one during the season.