When the chatter first began about Percy Harvin being an MVP candidate, most people with a sense of history, scoffed at the idea. A wide receiver has never won the league MVP, despite some monster seasons being put up.
Perhaps the most obvious was in the strike-shortened 1987 season. In just 12 games, Jerry Rice caught 65 passes for 1,078 yards and 22 touchdowns. Projected out over 16 games, Rice would have caught 87 passes for 1,437 yards and an untouchable record of 29 touchdowns. Instead, the award went to John Elway, who, if his numbers would have been extrapolated out over 16 games, would have thrown 25 touchdowns – to every potential receiver on the Denver roster. He wins the MVP with what would have been four less TD passes thrown than Rice caught. At that point, you knew the wide receiver fix was in.
The other clear example of a wide receiver that should have won the MVP came in 2007. Granted, Tom Brady threw for 4,806 yards and a league-record 50 touchdown passes, but much of that was due to Randy Moss, who was acquired in the offseason for a fourth-round pick that was lower than what Seattle received for making a draft weekend trade the same day for trivia answer Darrell Jackson. That season, Moss, thought to be a has-been after a pair of nondescript seasons in Oakland, caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards and a league-record 23 touchdowns, despite being routinely double-teamed throughout the perfect regular season the Patriots posted. What he accomplished in his 10th NFL season was unprecedented, but not enough to win the MVP.
That shouldn’t be surprising, however. At the one position where defenses can commit enough players to take him away from an offense, a wide receiver has never won a Most Valuable Player award.
The last five league MVPs have been quarterbacks, as well as nine of the last 11 (technically 10, since the award in 2003 was shared between QBs Peyton Manning and Steve McNair). Since the award was first presented in 1957 to legendary running back Jim Brown, only three times has the award not gone to a quarterback or running back – Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page in 1971, Washington kicker Mark Moseley in 1982 and New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986. A wide receiver has never won the award, but given Harvin’s contribution to the Vikings, an argument can be made that he should be in serious consideration if he keeps up his current pace.
Through five games, Harvin leads all wide receivers with 38 receptions and trails only Tony Gonzalez of the Falcons for the league lead – Gonzo enters play today with 39 receptions. Harvin is on pace to catch 122 passes for 1,302 yards – gaudy totals that would have his ticket punched to Honolulu for the Pro Bowl. But that is only part of the story.
Harvin is also used as a running threat out of the backfield. Last week, he scored a rushing touchdown on a play in which he lined up as a running back and ran the ball between the tackles with the same ferocity as Adrian Peterson. While his rushing numbers to date have been relatively modest (13 carries for 62 yards), it is a testament to his versatility. Most wide receivers only touch the ball in the run game on the occasional gimmick reverse or end-around. Harvin lines up as a running back and does it well.
However, the wild card for making a case for Harvin to be a legitimate MVP candidate comes in the fact that he has replaced Devin Hester as the most dangerous return man in the NFL. He has only been allowed to return nine kickoffs but is averaging 38.3 yards per return and it was his opening kickoff return for a touchdown that set the tone in the Vikings road win over Detroit Sept. 30. He has been so dangerous as a return man that teams have opted to pooch kick and allow the Vikings offense to open shop at or around the 35-yard line simply because the opponent made the calculated decision not to kick deep to Harvin.
That aspect of the conversation can’t be overstated. With the move of the kickoff line up five yards, half of all kickoffs result in touchbacks. Strong legged kickers get more than that. For example, Blair Walsh has had 27 kickoffs – 63 percent of which (17) have been touchbacks. When you look at the Vikings kick-return stats, Matt Asiata has returned two, defensive linemen Christian Ballard and De’Aundrae Reed have one each and tight end Rhett Ellison called a fair catch. Why? Because special teams coaches are so terrified of Harvin that they will sacrifice yardage in order to assure themselves of not getting burned by a potential game-changing special teams touchdown.
The question that typically should be asked about a player who is a Most Valuable Player is how do you define most valuable? For my money, Reggie White should have won it at least once. The same goes for Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. I firmly believe Rice got jobbed in 1987, and I can argue that Moss deserved to be the MVP in 2007. He broke a touchdown record at his position that had stood for 20 years. The touchdown record Brady broke had been set three years earlier. It can be argued that a Most Valuable Player is the player most indispensable to his team. Where would the team be without him?
When Tom Brady went down in the first quarter of the first game of the 2008 season, the Patriots still won 10 games that year. There is no questioning that Brady has been and remains a vital cog to the Patriots machine. But New England found ways to win with his backup. Would the Vikings be 4-1 at this point of the season without Harvin? Not a chance. That alone makes his candidacy for MVP not only possible, but legitimate.
VIKINGS-REDSKINS BY THE NUMBERS
The Vikings have the 20th-ranked offense in the NFL (9th rushing, 24th passing) and the seventh-ranked defense (6th rushing, 14th passing).
Washington has the seventh-ranked offense (4th rushing, 17th passing) and the 26th-ranked defense (10th rushing, 31st passing).
The Vikings offense is averaging 344 yards a game (211 passing, 133 rushing). Washington is averaging 401 yards a game (238 passing, 163 rushing).
The Vikings defense is allowing 302 yards a game (226 passing, 78 rushing). Washington is allowing 416 yards a game (328 passing, 88 rushing).
The Redskins are third in the league in average per rushing attempt, averaging 5.1 yards per rush, and are second in the NFL in yards per pass attempt (8.6 yards).
Neither team has been good on third-down offense. The Vikings rank 22nd, converting 22 of 62 third-down opportunities (35.5 percent). The Redskins are dead last, converting just 14 of 60 third-down attempts (23.3 percent). The league average is 38.3 percent.
Neither team is very good on third-down defense either. The Redskins rank 20th in the league, allowing 39.3 percent of third downs to be converted (24 of 61). The Vikings are 26th, allowing conversions on 34 of 77 opportunities (44.2 percent).
The Vikings have the fourth-ranked punt return average in the league and are second in kickoff returns.
The Redskins have the worst field goal percentage of any team in the league, as Billy Cundiff missed five of 12 attempts this year – which could explain why he was cut earlier this week.
The Viking are second in the league in rush average on defense, allowing just 3.2 yards per rushing attempt. Only Miami (2.7) is better.
The Redskins are fifth in the league in giveaway-takeaway ratio at plus-7 (11 takeaways, 4 giveaways). The Vikings are tied for 14th at plus-1 (7 takeaways, 4 giveaways).
The Vikings are ninth in the league in red zone offense, scoring touchdowns on 60 percent of their offensive drives (nine of 15 chances). The Redskins are right behind them in 10th place, scoring on 58.8 percent of their red zone chances (10 of 17).
The Vikings are one of only five teams in the NFL that have scored on every one of their offensive red zone opportunities.
Minnesota has the fifth-ranked red zone defense, allowing touchdowns on just five of 14 chances (35.7 percent). The Redskins are tied for 23rd, allowing touchdowns on 62.5 percent (10 of 16).
Robert Griffin III has two 300-yard passing games. Christian Ponder has yet to have a 300-yard game this season.
That might change for Ponder this week. In five games, the Redskins have allowed four quarterbacks to throw for 300 or more yards. The Vikings have allowed one 300-yard passing game (Detroit’s Matthew Stafford).
In one of the crazier stats of the year, Washington has allowed six 100-yard receivers in five games, including one in each game and two in one game (vs. Tampa Bay). The Vikings have allowed one 100-yard receiver.
Harvin has two 100-yard receiving games. Pierre Garcon has the only 100-yard receiving day for Washington.
Rookie Alfred Morris has two 100-yard rushing games. Adrian Peterson has one for the Vikings.
Neither Washington nor Minnesota has allowed a 100-yard rusher this season.
Griffin is first in the league in completion percentage (69.1 percent), followed closely by Ponder (69.0 percent).
Griffin is second in the league in average yards per pass attempt (8.35). Ponder is 22nd in that category (6.85).
Ponder was the last QB to not throw an interception, but, after throwing two last week, he is tied for fifth in the league. RG3 is tied for first with one.
Griffin has the fifth-best passer rating in the league at 101.0. Ponder is 10th with a passer rating of 95.5.
Ponder is fourth in the league in fourth-quarter passer rating at 116.5, while Griffin is 20th at 86.1.
Neither QB has been overly effective on third downs. Griffin is 13th with a passer rating of 86.6, while Ponder is 22nd at 74.4, including both of his interceptions.
Morris is fourth in the league in rushing with 491 yards. Peterson is eighth with 420 rushing yards.
Harvin is tied for second in the league in receptions with 38, trailing only Tony Gonzalez of Atlanta, who has 39. Tight end Fred Davis leads the Redskins with 20 receptions, which ties him for 44th in the league.
Harvin is 11th in the league in receiving yardage with 407. Davis leads Washington with 266 yards, which ranks him 43rd in the NFL.
Griffin and Morris are both tied for fifth in the league in scoring among non-kickers with 24 points – each has run in four touchdowns. Kyle Rudolph is also tied for fifth with four receiving TDs.
Blair Walsh is third in the league in scoring with 48 points in five games.
Walsh also has 17 kickoffs for a touchback, leaving him just two behind the full-season total of 19 Ryan Longwell had last season.
Morris is 10th in the league in total yards from scrimmage with 507 (491 rushing, 16 receiving). Peterson is 13th with 499 yards (420 rushing, 79 receiving). Harvin is 21st with 469 yards from scrimmage (407 receiving, 62 rushing).
Marcus Sherels is third in the league in punt return average (14.9 yards) and Harvin leads the league with a 38.3-yard kickoff average.
Washington has been outscored 63-27 in the fourth quarter of games this year. In the first three quarters, they have outscored their opponents 113-84.
The Vikings have outscored their opponents in each of the four quarters and overtime – 27-13 in the first quarter, 29-22 in the second, 24-16 in the third, 37-28 in the fourth and 3-0 in overtime.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.