In his first three seasons with the Vikings, Percy Harvin has been a valuable component of the team's offense but had never been asked to be "The Man." When he arrived to the Vikings in 2009, he was like a kid in a candy store. He was taken under the wing of Brett Favre and expressed awe in the skill sets of Adrian Peterson and Sidney Rice. His job was to be a complement to the veteran stars.
But when Favre retired and Rice left via free agency, Harvin's role was expected to expand. Still, it was Peterson's offense and Harvin, while taking on an expanded leadership role, wasn't being asked to be the top dog on the offense.
However, when Peterson went down vs. Oakland on Nov. 20, the onus fell on Harvin to become the focal point of the offense and be the team's primary playmaker. He answered that call and has emerged not only as the team's primary receiving threat, but as a leader.
Prior to Peterson going down Nov. 20, Harvin had just one touchdown reception and there was more discussion about the number of plays Harvin wasn't on the field rather than what he was accomplishing was when he was on the field.
That has all changed in the last four games. Thrust into the offensive spotlight once Peterson went down, Harvin was no longer the young guy. He was the veteran. With a rookie quarterback and a seldom-used second-year running back alongside him, Harvin has answered the call.
In the first 10 games of the season, Harvin was targeted 59 times, catching 43 passes for 469 yards and two touchdowns. In the three games since Peterson went down, Harvin has been targeted 32 times, catching 26 passes 310 yards and four touchdowns. In his first 10 games, he ran the ball 28 times. In the last three games, he has rushed the ball 14 times. Despite his expanded role in the offense, late in two of the three games with Peterson down, he has dropped back to return kickoffs. He brought one of them back 104 yards and the other 47 yards.
What has made Harvin's three-game explosion so impressive is that he has been doing it while struggling through a rib and finger injuries and hasn't missed a beat. He has taken over the leadership role on the field and in the locker room, and the results have been nothing short of phenomenal.
His achievement is even more impressive because without Peterson, Michael Jenkins and Bernard Berrian to take away defensive attention, teams have been focused almost exclusively on stopping Harvin. Viewed as the Vikings' primary playmaker and the only big-play threat on the team, they have yet to be able to stop him with any consistency.
In his first 10 games of the season, Harvin never caught more than seven passes in any game and didn't have 80 receiving yards in any of those games. Over the last three, he has caught eight, eight and 10 passes, had receiving days of 95 and 156 yards and scored four of his five receiving touchdowns on the year.
A deeper look into the numbers also shows that he has become a more focused receiver who catches a higher percentage of passes coming his way. In his first 10 games, he caught 43 of 59 passes thrown his way – a 73 percent receptions-to-targets percentage. In the last three games, he has caught 26 of 32 passes thrown at him – an 81 percent completion rate.
When the Vikings drafted Harvin, he wasn't asked to be a leader. The team was laden with veterans and Harvin was a component piece, not the primary face of the offense. Through attrition on the roster, Harvin was pushed into the top spot the last three weeks. Not only has accepted that role, he has posted the best numbers of his career.
The Vikings have lost all three games that Harvin has been the focal point of the offense, but he has proved beyond any doubt that he is no longer the young kid on the block who has a promising future. His future has become his present and, as the Vikings move forward, they know they have a foursome of young offensive stars that will lead them into the future – Peterson, Harvin, Christian Ponder and Kyle Rudolph. Harvin was pressed into duty to put the offense on his shoulders and has found a way to carry his team as far as he could. When there was one set of footprints in the sand, it was when Percy was carrying the offense on his back.
With a lot of young players, it's difficult to pinpoint when they morph from being a young talent to a team leader. Since Adrian Peterson limped off the Metrodome floor, Harvin has assumed a leadership role and, to the satisfaction of even the most jaded of critics, have proved that he isn't the young playmaker he was when he arrived in Minnesota, he is a leader and, when called upon, can be the leader.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Harvin's time is now
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