Harvin in the Big Apple
Ben Stockwell looks at the impact for both sides in the Percy Harvin trade.
Harvin in the Big Apple
This week’s Friday news drop saw a fairly monumental trade go down as the New York Jets sent a conditional pick out to the West Coast to bring Percy Harvin to the Big Apple mere hours after the Jets slid to their sixth defeat of the season. The Jets invested in the wide receiver position in the offseason with Eric Decker, but took the opportunity to add another superstar to the mix, even if he will surely have little effect on what already looks like a lost season.
Harvin’s stay in Seattle was short off the field and even shorter on it, playing just 258 snaps in eight games across two seasons. For the amount invested in Harvin by the Seahawks, both in terms of picks and money, to give up on the deal may speak volumes of issues off the field, but what about the impact for Harvin and both teams on the field?
You won’t find a breakdown of any rumored off-field skirmishes here, but Harvin’s track record is one of an explosive, if fragile, receiver, so let’s take a look at what we can expect to see between the lines.
The Harvin Threat
The biggest criticism often leveled at Harvin is that he is fragile, doesn’t play enough and as a result doesn’t produce enough to be worth the contract he now plays for, and there is certainly some merit in that. Harvin has never played more than 650 snaps in a season and that career-high came way back in his second season with the Vikings (2010) and in large part due to that, Harvin has never topped the fabled 1,000-yard mark as a receiver. He came up just shy in 2011 and added 345 rushing yards, so when he stays on the field, his production cannot be questioned.
The player the Jets will want to be getting, and the player the Seahawks thought they were getting, is the 2012 Harvin who had 677 receiving yards in nine games before he was lost for the season. That year he forced 22 missed tackles on his 62 receptions averaging 8.7 yards after the catch per reception, adding a further five missed tackles in the running game. As a result, Harvin finished the season in the Top 10 of our receiver grades with a +14.9 overall grade despite logging just 427 snaps.
That 2012 season saw the sort of “manufactured touches” that you would expect Harvin to be on the receiving end of with the Jets. Of his 81 targets, 58 of them came within 9 yards of the line of scrimmage and 27 of those were wide receiver screens. On those short targets Harvin averaged 9.6 yards after the catch against a league average that season of 5.6 yards after the catch per reception.
How Harvin Fits in New York
Clearly then Harvin is devastating on short targets, but how does that fit in with the Jets’ offense, and in particular, their quarterback? Geno Smith’s struggles as a passer since he entered the league have been well documented and bearing in mind Harvin’s route profile, it will be his short passing that will be key if the Jets are to get the most out of their new receiver.
A year ago Smith was league’s least accurate short passer, so on first viewing this may not be a match made in heaven. There has been progress made this season and the Jets appear to be putting a greater emphasis on short passes this season, however, he remains among the league’s worst.
Last year he completed only 64.8% of his short passes and nearly one in five of his short passes ended up incomplete through his own inaccuracy. That put him in the company of the likes of Josh Freeman, Brandon Weeden and Terrelle Pryor… not the sort of company you want to be keeping.
This year there has been progress with a greater emphasis on the short passing game, but through seven games more than 10% of Smith’s short targets are still ending up incomplete due to inaccurate passes. His completion percentage on short passes is up to 77.8% this season, but only Austin Davis and Tony Romo account for more of their incompletions due to inaccurate passes than Smith among quarterbacks with at least 100 short targets.
Smith’s inaccuracy figure sees him keep company with the likes of Nick Foles, Tom Brady and Ryan Tannehill and in stark contrast to the likes of Alex Smith and Andrew Luck who are operating their short passing games with near perfect levels of accuracy. Any inaccurate short pass to a player like Harvin is an opportunity missed that could have been a big play and with a greater emphasis on the short passing game, it’s an area of Smith’s game that he simply must improve.
The Jets have consistently proven their willingness in recent years to manufacture touches for offensive players that they bring with extensive use of wildcat plays in particular and I think we can expect to see Harvin featuring in the backfield alongside the likes of Chris Johnson as well as operating out of the slot. If Harvin can stay on the field and Geno Smith can get him the ball accurately, then there should be little doubt that Harvin will produce for Gang Green.
What Harvin Leaves Behind in Seattle
But what then does Harvin leave behind in Seattle? Well the cupboard is far from bare, even if their receiving corps now lacks any sort of big-name presence. A year ago in Harvin’s extended absence Doug Baldwin was among the league’s best slot receivers both in terms of volume and rate of production. Like Harvin you could criticize Baldwin for not getting over the goal line from the slot (no touchdowns on 50 slot targets last season) last season, but he was sure handed and both in terms of yards (568) and yards per route run from the slot (1.93) he was up there with the very best.
Baldwin leads the Seahawks in snaps at wide receiver this season so his production should remain or increase, but the pressure will be on the likes of Bryan Walters, Ricardo Lockette and Paul Richardson to step up and fill the void out wide with Baldwin likely to see more time in the slot having played only 68 snaps there thus far this season.
Harvin’s departure certainly takes away a playmaking threat from the Seahawks offense and a player who can forge long gains out of short passes. Can they cope without him? Well they worked their way to the Super Bowl without him for all but 68 snaps last season, so it’s hard to see why they won’t be able to fill that void moving forward.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.