Is Vikings receiver Percy Harvin elite? He is in elite company with his receiving stats last year and a deeper look shows how underutilized he was compared to other top receivers, despite one of the best catch percentages in the NFL. Plus, more opening-day stats revolving around the Vikings than you'll know what to do with.
Perhaps the greatest indication of the Minnesota Vikings
' youth is the number of questions that still remain – even after a full offseason, training camp and preseason.
Can Christian Ponder
find consistency and improvement? Will Adrian Peterson
reclaim his explosive and aggressive ways after major knee surgery? Will new starters on the offensive line come together? Is the Kyle Rudolph-John Carlson
pairing going to be a dangerous new element to the passing game?
Each of those could be considered prime questions about the team heading into 2012, and those are only questions about the offense. Combined, that might be too many questions for a realist to believe the playoffs are possible.
But, as the Vikings prepare to face a player they had considered drafting – receiver Justin Blackmon
, taken one spot after the Vikings picked left tackle Matt Kalil
– there arises one of many questions in Minnesota's receiver corps: Is Percy Harvin
an "elite" receiver?
Some believe elite status can't be attached to a slot receiver. Many of those walls may have been broken down with Wes Welker
smashing through those preconceived notions with the New England Patriots
. Interestingly, many offseason storylines for the Vikings compared the Patriots' tight end success as a model for the Vikings. The Harvin-Welker comparison is just as compelling.
In fact, one of the many impressive statistics on Harvin links him with Welker and places those two in a threesome of elite receiving company. Last year, the NFL featured 20 games in which players had 10 receptions or more, according to Stats LLC. Only three of those players did it more than once – Harvin (twice), Welker (three times) and Roddy White
(three times). Welker set the single-game high with 16 catches against Buffalo in Week 3.
Welker and White were one-two in the NFL last year with 1,569 and 1,296 receiving yards, respectively. They were also one-two in catches at 122 and 110 and – not surprisingly – the number of passes targeted their way (180 for White and 173 for Welker).
Here's the rub: The fact that Harvin had two games with 10 or more receptions is amazing considering how many fewer times he was targeted than Welker or White. Welker's 122 catches equal the number of times Harvin was targeted
. Seventeen players were targeted more than Harvin, but only six had more receptions.
Among the top receivers and tight ends from 2011, only Rob Gronkowski
, Marques Colston
and Antonio Gates
had a better percentage of catching passes targeted for them than Harvin's 71.3 catch percentage. Not Welker (70.5) and not White (55.6).
Maybe that's why there was a slow simmer about Harvin only playing in 58.4 percent of the offensive snaps last year, and maybe that's why Harvin requested a trade in June that went nowhere.
Harvin has proven by his production, despite his playing time, that he is elite. Using him more would prove that to the rest of the league's casual observers and might erase many of the tangential offensive questions.
Maybe the Vikings can combine two notes from Stats LLC, using Harvin on the first possession to score. Why? Because according the stats service, the Jacksonville Jaguars allowed a league-worst 56 points on the first offensive possession for their opponents last year. By contrast, the Baltimore Ravens allowed only seven points all season on the first possession. And you'll remember that Harvin started the 2011 season by taking San Diego's opening kickoff back for a touchdown.
Harvin has scored rushing, receiving and kickoff-return touchdowns each of the past two seasons, the only player in the NFL to accomplish that feat. He is the only player in the NFL with kickoff-return touchdowns in each of the past three seasons.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady needs only one more win to pass former Vikings Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton for fifth-most wins among starting quarterbacks in NFL history. Tarkenton, who made the Hall of Fame despite playing on some shoddy early Vikings squads, has 124 wins and a .531 winning percentage. Brady also has 124 wins, but he has a .780 winning percentage in the regular season, the best of any quarterback in the Super Bowl era with at least 100 starts.
Who says rookie quarterbacks can't have big success to start off their careers? Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton set the NFL rookie record last year with 422 passing yards in the season opener. In fact, the top four in that category are still active, including Peyton Manning (302 in 1998), Mark Sanchez (272 in 2009) and Sam Bradford (253 in 2010). Who was No. 5? Tarkenton, with 250 yards in his first game as a Viking – off the bench.
Tarkenton also holds the rookie record for touchdown passes in a season opener – four – doubling the two thrown by many other rookie QBs.
Why all the talk of rookie quarterbacks? Because five rookies are expected to open the season as starting quarterbacks – Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Russell Wilson – the most since at least 1950.
Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave texted Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey last Wednesday with a picture of Mularkey from his rookie season with the Vikings.
Mularkey was asked if he expected the Vikings to move Harvin around in order to try for mismatches. "I would imagine that would be in their plans. He's a special player and they're going to find ways to get him the football," Mularkey said. "Coach Musgrave does a great job. He's very creative. I was with Bill for three years (with the Atlanta Falcons). I know that he's very creative. He does a good job of trying to get an edge on defenses and if that edge is getting Percy the ball where he's got an advantage on us, I know he's going to look for it."
Fumbles returned for touchdowns dot the recent history of the Vikings and Jaguars. The last time they played, former Vikings LB Napoleon Harris returned a fumble on the opening kickoff 27 yards for a touchdown as the Vikings defense forced five turnovers in a road win. The last time they faced each other at the Metrodome, Kevin Williams picked up a fumble and returned it 77 yards for a touchdown, a franchise record for a defensive lineman.
A sign of less-than-stellar quarterback play from two rookies last year: Both Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder set franchise records for the Jaguars and Vikings, respectively, for starts by a rookie quarterback. Gabbert started 14 games and Ponder 10, but both ended in the bottom third of the league for numerous quarterbacking stats.
Two of Ponder's best starts were against AFC teams last year, when he averaged 296 yards per game and had five touchdowns.
Despite his season being cut short by injury (missing three games with a sprained ankle and one with his knee injury), since entering the NFL in 2007, Adrian Peterson leads league with 6,752 rush yards and 64 rushing touchdowns. Peterson needs only 67 rushing yards to pass Robert Smith (6,818) for most in franchise history.
Since entering the NFL in 2004, Jared Allen has 105 sacks, best in the league in that time. His 105 sacks are the second-most by an active player. John Abraham has 112, tops among the five active players with 100 or more.
Last year, seven of the eight divisions were won by teams that weren't division champs in 2010. That's the most new division champs since realignment in 2002. Six of the seven new champs went on to win at least one playoff game.
DeMarcus Ware finished second in the NFL with 19½ sacks last year and has two already. Allen and Ware have each led the league in sacks twice in their careers, tying four others for the most ever.
The Vikings finished the preseason 1-3. They have finished with a .500 record or better 40 times in 52 preseasons. What does it mean? Probably very little, but in the 40 times they have a .500 or better record in the preseason, they are .500 or better 31 times in the regular season. In the 12 times they were had a losing preseason record, they had a losing regular season six times.
PredictionMachine.com simulates the NFL season 50,000 times to come up with a prediction and says the Vikings have a 14.2 percent chance to win the Super Bowl. For this game, the simulator came out with a cumulative Vikings win of 19.8-16.5, with the Vikings winning 59.2 percent of the simulations.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.