Returners more important with new rule?

The Vikings signed WR Glenn Holt primarily as a kick returner, but they could look to add competition through the draft. Brad Childress thinks a certain kind of return man could be more valuable with a new rule in the blocking schemes. We look at some of the top return prospects out there.

Numerous mock drafts have the Vikings selecting a wide receiver in the first round, and many of those also believe that wide receiver will be Florida's Percy Harvin.

There is good reason for those sentiments. First, the Vikings reportedly gave Harvin a private workout, and when Rick Spielman, the team's vice president player personnel, attended Florida's pro day, Harvin impressed.

Several of the Vikings' predraft visitors are also scheduled to be wide receivers, and their interest in upgrading the position was obvious in free agency when they made a concerted wine-and-dine effort to land former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who eventually chose the Seattle Seahawks over the Vikings.

While some analysts believe that Harvin might never be more than a slot receiver in the NFL (and the Vikings' Bobby Wade has been pretty productive in that role the last two years), Harvin brings the additional benefit of being a dangerous return man – at least that's the professional projection for players that wasn't a return man for the Gators. Vikings coach Brad Childress even alluded to an added value for an elusive return man with the NFL's new rule that limits wedge blocking on kickoff returns to allow only two players to block a would-be tackler.

"I'll give you an interesting analogy from my standpoint. … With a guy like Devin Hester and one-on-one blocks or at most two-on-one is what they're saying with wedges, I think there's a premium on a guy that can return like that as opposed to a guy that's just hit the wedge and trust that it's going to open up and hit it with speed," Childress said. "Having a guy in the back end that can skitter around a little bit (could help). That's my sense."

Although Harvin didn't return kicks or punts in college, he shows serious potential in that role.

"Harvin is a dynamic game-breaker who has tremendous versatility on offense and special teams," draft analyst Chris Steuber wrote in his evaluation of Harvin. "He has a quick first step and gets separation from the opposition instantly. He runs solid routes, comes back to the ball and flashes excellent hands. He gets vertical, tracks down deep passes and positions himself against defenders to come away with the ball. He comes from a program that hasn't produced an elite wide receiver in recent memory. Durability is a concern."

Harvin displayed his dual-threat capabilities on offense, averaging 9.4 yards on 70 carries and 16.1 yards on 40 receptions as a junior, scoring 17 touchdowns. For his career, he shattered the previous school record by averaging 9.55 yards per rush. All told at Florida, he had 1,929 yards receiving and 1,852 yards on the ground in 36 games, averaging a touchdown per game.

His versatility produced this assessment from

"It is hard to find a present-day comparison to Harvin among NFL players. Some compare him to the Saints' Reggie Bush, but he is not really much of a returner and is a better big-play threat than the New Orleans multi-purpose back. Harvin has the vision and moxie that (Eric) Metcalf showed, as both are fearless going for the ball. He might not be the greatest route runner, especially getting to the deep ball, but on the bubble and slip screens he is a fan favorite, as he can turn those short throws into big gains better than any other player in his draft."

Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin is expected to be drafted before the Vikings select at No. 22, but he has proven return credentials. The last two years, he produced 80 punt returns for 577 yards and three touchdowns, as well as 85 kick returns for 2,049 yards, a 24.1-yard average, and two touchdowns.

The Vikings could also wait until late in the draft or after it to find return men to compete with free-agent signee Glenn Holt and others. Florida State CB Michael Ray Garvin averaged 23.8 yards on 72 kick returns. Temple WR Travis Shelton averaged 25 yards on 100 kick returns. And Utah CB Brice McCain averaged 22.9 yards on 37 kickoff returns.

The return slots appear to be wide open right now, but Childress' comments on the new wedge rule indicate that he's at least thinking about how that will impact the type of return man that can be effective.


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