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Harvin and the Seahawks' kickoff-return options

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Percy Harvin is one of the league's best kickoff returners, but does it unnecessarily expose him to injury? (AP)

By Brady Henderson

John Clayton, Jim Moore and Dave Wyman spent a portion of Tuesday's edition of "Cold Hard Facts" revisiting what has become their great debate – whether Percy Harvin should be the Seahawks' primary kickoff returner.

Here's the link to the audio. The Harvin conversation begins at the 7:15 mark.

As Moore and Wyman note, Harvin is unquestionably Seattle's best kickoff returner. But the debate boils down to whether it's too big a risk to expose an already injury-prone player to additional contact.

Clayton thinks it is.

"You need him more to spark the offense and give Russell Wilson more playmaking ability," he said. "You can occasionally spot him, but I am totally against the idea of him being the full-time returner because if he gets injured – and he tends to get injured because he runs so hard and plays so hard – you want him for the offense, not special teams."

Each opinion has merit, in my view.

Harvin came to Seattle having already established himself as one of the league's best kickoff returners, and what he did during his only two chances last season reinforced that. First was a 58-yard return in Week 11. Then, of course, was the 87-yard return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl. It's hard to argue with a 72.5-yard average, and while that's obviously a small sample size, Harvin's career mark during the regular season is a healthy 28.2.

Seahawks 2013 Kickoff Return Stats
Player Att. Yds. Avg. Long TD Fum.
Jermaine Kearse 13 283 21.8 40 0 1
Robert Turbin 8 177 22.1 27 0 1
Doug Baldwin 6 187 31.2 69 0 0
Percy Harvin 2 145 72.5 87 1 0
Jeremy Lane 2 47 23.5 25 0 0
The other side of it is Harvin's injury history and how much more the Seahawks figure to count on his contributions as a receiver now that Golden Tate is no longer in the mix. When he came to Seattle, Harvin was a luxury of sorts for a receiving corps that was returning its leading targets from the previous two seasons in Doug Baldwin and Sidney Rice as well as Tate, who would go on to claim that distinction in 2013.

That's no longer the case now that Tate has moved on and Rice is unsigned as he recovers from a torn ACL. Seattle's receiver corps, as it's currently constructed, isn't as deep as it was last season and therefore may not be as well positioned to adsorb the loss of Harvin if he becomes injured.

Something else to keep in mind, though, is how the Seahawks' defense might limit the team's kickoff-return opportunities. Seattle has allowed the fewest points in the league the last two seasons, which has meant fewer times where opponents have kicked off to the Seahawks following a score. Seattle returned 33 regular-season kickoffs in 2013 and 29 in 2012, totals that ranked 25th and 30th, respectively. Fewer opportunities to return kickoffs means fewer hits, so if Seattle's defense comes close playing at the same level in 2014, that could indirectly mitigate some of the injury risk.

The table on the right shows the Seahawks' kickoff-return totals last season, including the playoffs. It excludes Tate, who returned four kickoffs but no longer factors into the equation now that he's moved on. It also excludes four instances where a kickoff – presumably a squib or an onsides kick – was fielded by a blocker.

Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.

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