Percy Harvin Traded: What it Means on the Field

In a trade that sent both shockwaves and head scratches through the NFL late last week, the Seattle Seahawks dealt wide receiver Percy Harvin to the New York Jets for a 2015 conditional draft pick. If the Jets release Harvin prior to next season they’ll send Seattle a 6th-rounder, but if Harvin is still under contract with New York to start the season the pick becomes a 4th-rounder. Seattle played their first game without Harvin on Sunday, while the Jets will have to wait until this weekend to see how their newest acquisition fits in.

Reaction has continued to roll in, including reports of Harvin clashing with the coaching staff and even quarterback Russell Wilson, and fighting with former Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate during Super Bowl week. Additional speculation concerns the salary cap impact on Seattle and the freeing of money to sign Wilson to a long term deal. If true, the psychological component of the locker room chemistry may be sufficient to justify the trade, but there will surely be significant effects seen on the field of play for both teams.

Harvin Leaving Seattle

A lot has been made lately of Harvin’s relative ineffectiveness and his role in the Seattle offense. His 2014 numbers have not reflected his status as the highest paid player on the team and one of the highest paid non-quarterbacks in the league. Through Week 5, he has 22 receptions on 26 targets for 133 yards (a measly 6.0-yard average) and zero touchdowns. Harvin has also rushed 11 times for 92 yards (an 8.4-yard average) and a touchdown. The 2009 Pro Bowler was particularly ineffective in the Seahawks’ last game against Dallas, with just 3 catches on 4 targets for a total of zero (yes, that’s right) yards. He further bolstered that impressive stat line with 3 carries for -1 yards.

Despite his low usage and poor production, Harvin was on the field for 190 of Seattle’s 316 offensive snaps (60%) in the five games he played. The other Seahawk wide receivers will now have to step up, with Jermaine Kearse possibly moving up to start opposite Doug Baldwin. Ricardo Lockette would then become the 3rd receiver, perhaps pushing Baldwin into the slot in 3-receiver sets. On Sunday, however, it was rookie Paul Richardson who found his way into the rotation.

The 2nd-round pick was the 3rd-fastest wide receiver at this year’s NFL Combine, running a 4.40-second 40-yard dash. He’s built quite similarly to Harvin (6’0” and 175 lbs vs. Harvin’s 5’11” and 184 lbs) and has similar speed and skills. He never ran much in college (9 career rushes in 3 years at the University of Colorado – with 6 of those in 2010), so he may have to get up to speed (no pun intended) on the jet sweep portion of the playbook. On Sunday, Richardson ended up playing 43 snaps after taking the field in just 38 total plays over 4 earlier contests. With Harvin having played 38 snaps per game for Seattle this season, Richardson seems to have assumed his role.

With others moving up the depth chart, Bryan Walters, who became the team’s primary punt returner after Earl Thomas’s rocky season opener in that role, could step into the #4 receiving slot.

Also left vacant is Harvin’s other job as the Seahawks’ primary kickoff returner. This season he gained 283 yards on 12 runbacks, a 23.6-yard average that ranks 11th among 19 qualified NFL peers. As he showed in Super Bowl XLVIII, Harvin’s a huge threat to reach the end zone, with 5 career touchdowns in the role. Seattle’s options to replace him are underwhelming to say the least: Baldwin has some experience in the role, with a career total of 6 kickoff returns averaging 20.5 yards; and Walters could take on kicks along with punts. Yet neither would be a threat on Harvin’s level. Sunday saw Walters handling these duties for the Seahawks, recording a pair of returns for 43 yards (a 21.5 yard average). Expect Seattle to take a lot more touchbacks on kicks without Harvin, which will affect the offense’s field position and could cost them points.

This trade seems likely to be an attempt by Seattle to get back to the basics of what made them great. A heavy dose of the run utilizing play-action passing and throwing deep are the tenets of the Seattle offense – something they’ve gotten away from for the majority of this season, possibly because they had Harvin available as an extra weapon for the offense. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a weapon that really fit in with the rest of the offense.

Harvin Goes to the Jets

Adding Percy Harvin will give the New York offense a dimension they haven’t had as a pass-catching threat. Their top four receivers this season have been Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley, Greg Salas, and David Nelson. That’s hardly a group that instills fear in opposing defenses, and Nelson drew the short straw when the Jets released him to create a vacancy on the 53-man active roster. None of the remaining three wideouts have anywhere near the kind of speed Harvin has, which should give the Jets’ air attack a new spark.

Having Harvin as a threat may take some of the pressure off of quarterback Geno Smith and the rest of the Jets passing game. New York is dead last in the NFL with 5.8 yards per pass attempt. Ranking next to last are – wait for it – the Raiders at 6.2 YPA. As such, there are a couple of ways Harvin could improve this offense. First, Smith is having issues with accuracy. His 57.3% completion percentage is at the bottom of the league among quarterbacks that have taken 50% of the team’s snaps (if you lower it to 25% of the team’s snaps, he’s 35th of 38 – only Mike Glennon, Chad Henne, and Drew Stanton keep him out of the cellar.) A game plan that includes the option of wide receiver screens to Harvin could get Smith some easy completions while giving Harvin opportunities to get yards after the catch.

Second, the threat of Harvin running a jet sweep or a reverse could be an opportunity to further open up the ground game, thereby reducing the need for Smith to carry the team with his arm (which clearly isn’t working). The Jets are already 9th in rushing yards per carry and 8th in rushing yards per game, so this could bolster an existing strength. Harvin doesn’t go downfield much – at least, in the Seattle offense he didn’t – and that seems to be Smith’s Achilles’ heel. This season, on passes of 20 yards or more, Smith is just 3-for-21 for 96 yards, with a touchdown and 4 interceptions. Yikes! Clearly, he’s not a deep thrower. Meanwhile, Harvin tends to stay closer to the line of scrimmage, trying to gain yardage with his speed and athleticism. Another issue with Smith is that his receivers have dropped 13 passes this season, tied for 8th-most among NFL quarterbacks. Harvin has not dropped a pass in the last two seasons and only muffed one in 2012; he has excellent hands and that should help give Smith some confidence that his throws will be caught.

The Jets have a middle-of-the-pack kickoff return team (16th in yards per return), so Harvin could almost certainly help here – perhaps having his biggest impact on the Jets if they choose to use him this way. Saalim Hakim has been decent (21.5 yards per return on 13 returns) and Walt Powell has been better (29.1 yards per return on 8 returns), but neither are as dynamic as Harvin. Returning kicks is pretty straightforward and doesn’t require a lot of playbook studying, so Harvin could have a significant effect on their special teams.

As per above, there could be many reasons for this deal that aren’t directly related to play on the field. But there’s no doubt that Percy Harvin is an electric player and his moving from Seattle to New York will alter the approaches of both offenses. For each team, though, it remains to be seen whether that effect will be positive or negative. This very well could end up being win-win for both teams, bringing Seattle back to basics and giving the Jets a weapon they haven’t had since the days of Santana Moss.

Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus and

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Inside The Pylon covers the NFL and college football, reviewing the film, breaking downmatchups, and looking at the issues, on and off the field.

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