Is Percy Harvin Overrated in Fantasy Football?

Percy Harvin has always struggled to stay on the field, but do his advanced metrics make up for his lack of playing time?

Sometimes, as a fantasy football owner, you draft a player once and then get attached to that player due to initial production or results. In turn, rational thought precludes you from evaluating that player fairly from that point forward. Percy Harvin is that player for me.

The good news is that our Net Expected Points (NEP) data puts my preconceived thoughts about Harvin to the side. Net Expected Points tells us how many points a player is adding for his team across an entire season, seeing how truly effective a player is. This is important, as looking at strictly fantasy points often doesn't tell an entire story.

Since Harvin, whose name seems to translate to the word "glass" in other languages according to those witty folks who write comments at the bottom of websites, was out essentially the entire 2013 season with a hip injury, it's necessary to go back and look at his historical performance. Due to Harvin's involvement in the running game during his time in Minnesota, we need to look at Harvin's Total Net Expected Points at the wide receiver position over his career, as this includes both receiving and rushing metrics:

YearGamesTotal NEP16 Game NEPTarget NEP16 Game Target NEP
20091586.68 (20th)92.46(18th)50.43 (11th)53.79 (9th)
20101475.44 (27th)86.22 (15th)21.80 (43rd)24.91 (36th)
20111687.96 (19th)87.96 (19th)41.56 (17th)41.56 (17th)
2012959.71 (47th)106.15 (14th)36.15 (27th)64.27 (6th)

As you can see, Harvin's Total NEP typically placed among the top 30 wide receivers when he played almost a full season in absolute terms, and he cracks the top 20 wide receivers with extrapolated 16 game totals in all seasons from 2009-2012. Harvin's Target NEP, showing the number of points he's added on all targets, highlights some inconsistency, however. With that said, Harvin ranked in the top 20 in all years over 16 games, and a would have had a top 10 finish if he had finished out 2012 instead of missing seven games with a season ending ankle injury.

While Harvin was no doubt on a breakneck pace in 2012 before his injury, and did his damage with terrible quarterback play for three of the four years in Minnesota (save for his rookie campaign with Brett Favre), at some point you have to throw extrapolations out the window and figure out if Harvin is just simply injury prone. Additionally, you have to assess how well the player fits in with the scheme.

Though Harvin has played in offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell's offense before, the team offensive philosophy in Seattle is very different with Russell Wilson at the helm instead of someone like Favre. While both teams feature punishing running backs, Bevell's Minnesota offense was more vertical with an emphasis on the passing game than the 2013 Super Bowl Champions, who took calculated risks and let their world-class defensive play dictate offensive pace and play calling. And due to his hip injury, the 2013 season wasn't enough of a representative sample to definitively state Harvin's prospects or use for 2014 with the Seahawks, so we need to dig deeper to assess Harvin's 2014 prospects from a statistical standpoint.

The top two wide receivers in Seattle in 2013 were the now Detroit Lion, Golden Tate, and the recently re-signed Doug Baldwin. Tate played as an outside receiver and compiled a Total NEP of 76.84, ranking him 29th out of 195 qualified wide receivers. Baldwin, who occupied the slot, finished 36th among this group of wideouts with a Total NEP of 69.50. The 26-year-old Harvin figures to occupy the slot while Baldwin will move outside in 2014. Let's take a look at how Harvin's historical efficiency compares to his 2013 replacements to see how he fits in 2014.

PlayerYearReceptionsTargetsFirst DownsRec NEP/Target
Harvin20096091420.90 (7th)
Harvin201071110410.62 (46th)
Harvin201187123450.67 (34th)
Harvin20126285360.70 (29th)
Tate20136499410.76 (20th)
Baldwin20135073360.95 (3rd)

Harvin's Reception NEP per target, which looks at a receiver's efficiency on each target, is definitively worse in recent seasons than Tate and especially Baldwin, whose 0.95 average ranked third among the 67 wide receivers with 70 or more targets in 2013. (We've written about Baldwin as a fantasy value already.) So how does a healthy Harvin fit into Seattle's receiving corps?

From the glimpses we saw in the Super Bowl, where Harvin had a single catch for 5 yards and a pair of rushes for 45 yards, as well as how he was used before going out with a concussion against New Orleans two games prior, Harvin will be lined up in the slot most of the time with Baldwin on the outside and wide receivers like Jermaine Kearse, Sidney Rice, and rookie second-rounder Paul Richardson seeing action on the outside. The play vs. New Orleans where Harvin caught a screen and then lined up in the slot on the next play and the team faked to him and ran a delay for a touchdown with Marshawn Lynch is exactly how the Seahawks want to keep teams guessing. Don't expect Harvin to carry the ball 52 times like he did in 2011, but two carries a game could be possible.

Russell Wilson is one of the best at rolling out and improvising during a game, and Harvin will be a beneficiary of that with his explosiveness. ESPN's John Clayton's interview of Harvin highlights that he has no physical restrictions with his hip or other injuries or interruptions to football right now (his father recently succumbed to pancreatic cancer), and the sky is the limit for the Seahawks offense.

Well, that's a great prognosis on the Seahawks from "The Professor," but what does that mean for Harvin's prospects specifically as they relate to fake football? Many average draft position sites rank Harvin around the 15th- to 20th-best receiver in fantasy football this year. His 16-game Total NEP history would support this ranking, but to assume he's going to stay healthy wouldn't be the best bet given his history. Harvin certainly has the potential to be that good (or better), but given his past health issues and Seattle's usual focus on the running game, I'm a little skittish for once on Harvin in fantasy football. Just don't ask me to take his jersey off on Sundays.