How Important is Percy Harvin to Super Bowl XLVIII?

Percy Harvin played 39 snaps this year. Now he's starting in the Super Bowl.

Fantasy owners were excited. Seattle fans were excited. And I’m sure Russell Wilson was excited.

But that excitement turned to misery when Percy Harvin tore his labrum in July - before the preseason even started – going under the knife on August 1st. He would see just 20 snaps throughout the regular season with his new Seahawks sqaud as a result.

After a brief glimpse of him in the Seattle offense in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, Harvin, again, went down with an injury. This time it was a concussion – one that kept him out of the NFC Championship game as well. Harvin played just 19 snaps in the Seahawks’ win against the Saints.

He's been known – whether it’s a fair tag to place on him or not – as a health risk. Though Harvin played in all but three games over the first three seasons of his career, he was often a game-time decision, and battled migraine headaches throughout his career. Over the past two seasons – one with Minnesota and the other with Seattle – Harvin’s played a combined 10 games. That number’s technically less, too, because he hasn’t finished each of those contests.

Now the new Seattle receiver, after quite the bizarre journey, is set to play in the biggest game of the football season. But does it even matter at this point? Is Harvin a big deal? Will his presence be felt on the field?

Let’s see what the numbers say.

Harvin’s Production

You ask anyone who watches football, and they’ll tell you that Percy Harvin isn’t a traditional wide receiver. In Minnesota, he wasn’t just lining up on the outside of offensive formations – Harvin played everywhere on the field, including the running back position. In fact, he had 52 carries in 2011, toting the rock for 345 yards and two scores.

His versatility is his biggest strength, as it keeps defenses honest and frees up other receiving options (receiving options that didn't exist in Minnesota). But he’s a sound pass-catcher, too. Before going down to injury last year, Harvin was pacing towards 120 receptions. And in each year prior to 2012, Harvin increased his reception total over the previous season.

Much of those catches were coming close to the line of scrimmage, but what’s impressive is that Harvin’s Reception Success Rate didn’t falter as a result. If you’re unsure what Success Rate is, it’s a metric we use at numberFire to determine the percentage of a players’ catches that contribute positively for his team. If, say, Harvin caught a two-yard pass on a third down where he needed five yards, that would be deemed a failure. If he picked up the first, then that’s a success.

During his four seasons in Minnesota, Harvin had a Success Rate of a little over 81%. To put this another way, 81% of Percy Harvin’s catches contributed positively for his team in terms of Net Expected Points (read more about Net Expected Points here), which is about where Larry Fitzgerald landed in 2013. Considering Harvin had to do more after the catch in order to get a successful gain on a reception, it’s a pretty impressive feat.

This is all to say that Harvin can do a whole lot when the ball is in his hands. In any facet of the game, too. He not only can catch and pound the ball, but he’s a special team gem as well, returning at least one kickoff for a touchdown in each of his seasons in Minnesota.

It’s true that Harvin’s a little overrated when it comes to fantasy football, especially the overhyping that occurred when he made the move to Seattle. However, from a real pigskin perspective, Harvin can really open things up for an offense, and has the ability to break free on every play.

Harvin’s 39 Snap Sample

As I noted in the intro, Harvin’s played 39 snaps this season with Seattle, and while that’s not a significant sample, it may be able to provide some insight into how the Seahawks will and want to use him.

His only regular season game came against his old team, where he caught one pass for 17 yards and returned one kick for 58. Harvin’s first catch as a Seahawk, which you can see here, was a spectacular one that didn’t come very close to the line of scrimmage, unlike most of his catches in Minnesota.

In the Divisional Round against the Saints, Harvin was targeted twice on the first three plays of the game, and ended up catching three passes for 21 yards. While this is easily the least enjoyable stat line to ever write about, it did appear that Seattle was using Harvin like the Vikings did when he was in Minnesota: short passes to pick up yards after the catch, and even in the backfield as Harvin received a handoff.

Like I said above though, Harvin can make an impact even when he doesn’t touch the ball; he can open things up for the rest of the offense. Is it a coincidence that Seattle posted just seven points after Harvin left the game against the Saints? Is it a coincidence that the team came away with at least a field goal on three of the four drive Harvin was part of? When you consider how Seattle’s offense has been playing of late, I think you find the answer to that.

Seattle’s Offensive Woes

Not a whole lot of people want to say it, but Seattle’s offense hasn’t been playing effectively down the stretch. Mind you, after their regular season win against New Orleans – a time of year when the team was at an all-time high in terms of league-wide perception – Seattle faced a tough slate of defenses. However, Russell Wilson still ended the final four games of the regular season with a Net Expected Points total that was below expectation, and the team has averaged just over 20 points per game over their last six.

In an offensive-driven NFL against a historically good offense in the Super Bowl, that’s probably not going to cut it.

This doesn’t mean Seattle’s offense isn’t capable – they still finished the regular season with the fifth-best passing offense according to our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points data, and a rushing offense that ranked 11th. They just haven’t put it together recently.

Harvin should be able to help. Even if we look at his rookie season (his least productive (albeit still productive) of his career), his advanced numbers would still be best among Seattle's group of pass-catchers.

ReceptionsReception NEPTarget NEP
Golden Tate6475.2139.57
Doug Baldwin5069.5342.87
Zach Miller3340.8621.44
Jermaine Kearse2235.4820.56
Sidney Rice1518.863.11
Luke Willson2018.0712.47
Rookie Percy Harvin6081.4650.43

Keep in mind that Target NEP looks at the number of Net Expected Points a player adds on all targets, and Reception NEP is the number of points added on all receptions. Even though Harvin was consistently seeing shorter targets during his rookie campaign than Seahawk pass-catchers this year, he still did more with each catch, once again showing his yards after catch ability.

Adding him to the offense won’t be a detriment, that’s for sure.

Use Him Wisely

Though the concussion against the Saints may be looked at as just bad luck, using Harvin in a smarter way would be, well, smarter for the Seahawks against the Broncos on Sunday.

They don’t need to feed him as much as they need to just use him. We saw in his small sample against New Orleans what his presence on the field can do, even if he catches just a few passes.

Will he be the Super Bowl MVP? That’s doubtful. But what he can do is help Russell Wilson be that MVP, opening up coverage for players like Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin. He can also be a security blanket for a quarterback, Wilson, who was under pressure as much as any other passer in the league this year.