A look at the players opposing teams hate to see with the ball in their hands in the open field. (Part of a larger ESPN.com project.)
Percy Harvin had just turned 21 when he arrived at Minnesota’s training camp this summer. He played only three years of college football at Florida, but Vikings coaches had no qualms about handing him the fullest plate imaginable for a rookie receiver.
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Rookie Percy Harvin (12) has proven to be Brett Favre’s go-to guy on third down.
Harvin was handed duties as a kickoff returner. He was told to learn all three receiver positions, given a role as a spread-style tailback and also became the Vikings’ primary Wildcat quarterback. Harvin never blinked, however, and his diverse talent has made him one of the top new playmakers in the NFL.
He’s the NFL’s leading kickoff returner with a 30.7-yard average, including two touchdowns. He’s also caught three touchdown passes from new quarterback Brett Favre and ranks second among Vikings receivers with 28 receptions.
Overall, Harvin is averaging 158.5 all-purpose yards per game.
“He can get up to speed,” coach Brad Childress said. “He runs with a running back mentality. He’s got 'A' instincts. ... He’s developed a great relationship with Brett. He’s learned this offense, and what he can do, and the flexibility that he has.”
From the first day Harvin stepped on the Vikings’ practice field, he demonstrated the speed and upfield mentality that makes him a scoring threat every time he touches the ball. But in watching the Vikings play this year, one development has stood out to me: Harvin has become Favre’s most trusted receiver on third down.
Harvin ranks first on the Vikings, and No. 4 overall in the NFL, with 15 receptions on third down. He’s converted 13 of them (87 percent) into first downs. He’s put himself in that position at 21 years and six months.