Tuesday, April 28, 2009

To Draft A Falling Star

When the Minnesota Vikings take the field at the Metrodome for the first time in 2009, they will be facing none other than my beloved San Francisco 49ers in what will be the first meeting between first round draft picks and fellow wide receivers, Michael Crabtree and Percy Harvin.

Crabtree and Harvin share the distinction as two of the top four or five pure playmakers available in the 2009 NFL Draft. Both led their respective universities to some of their best seasons ever in 2008 and were first round locks heading into the draft.

Of course they also share the reputation as ego-driven, me-first types who for various reasons saw their projected draft positions slip considerably on draft day.

Just Bring It

On the field, no one can deny the explosiveness each bring to the table. Crabtree instantly becomes the 49ers go-to guy and the best receiver to hit the Candlestick Park turf since Terrell Owens.

Combining an uncanny knack for finding and creating space with superb hands and terrific ball skills, Crabtree is everything you look for in a game-changing wide receiver in the mold of Arizona Cardinals disgruntled star, Anquan Boldin. Like Owens, his work ethic has never been in question and like Boldin he has the physical strength to make any catch in any part of the field.

Harvin meanwhile is a bit of a different animal. Used mostly in the University of Florida's spread attack as a running back with wide receiver responsibilities, Harvin's game is built on speed and quickness.

It remains to be seen how Harvin will fare as a full time receiver, but as he learns the nuances of playing the position in the NFL he should blossom into the type of game-breaker he was for the Gators.

In an effort to take advantage of that ability, it's been reported that the Vikings will employ some version of the "Wildcat" formation utilizing Harvin in the same way the Miami Dolphins used running back Ronnie Brown and plan to use second round pick, quarterback Pat White.

Despite their differences in style, both could be hurt by instability and inconsistency when it comes to their respective quarterbacks, as Shaun Hill (49ers) and Sage Rosenfels (Vikings) don't exactly strike fear in the hearts of defenses.

Save The Drama

Lost in all of the on field stuff is just how unlikely it was four days ago that either of these players would end up where they have.

Crabtree was the best player available on the draft boards of more than one team, that much is known. What isn't known is what in the world is floating around in the brain of Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis.

It was Davis who single-handedly destroyed mock drafts around the country when he chose Maryland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey as the 7th overall pick and first receiver off the board. That pick, coupled with the move by the New York Jets to move into the top five facilitated Crabtree's fall into the 49ers' lap.

Prior to the draft there were concerns over a foot injury sustained by Crabtree, as well as whispers about his nonchalant, overly confident attitude during interviews with individual teams. Those factors may have played a part in Crabtree's fall to #10, but what happened on draft day was probably more to blame.

Harvin's draft day slide meanwhile was simply a product of his own poor choices. With reports of his semi-out-of-control ego already swirling, it was reported and then later verified that he had failed a drug test prior to the NFL Scouting Combine.

The complete lack of judgement it takes to fail a drug test when you know the exact day you are going to be tested is mind-numbingly stupid and several teams removed Harvin from their boards completely as a result.

Surprisingly it was the straight and narrow, "Major Dad" look alike, Brad Childress who decided Harvin's talent was too good to pass up at #22, despite the team's other needs.

Final Take

In my view, both teams had little choice but to pick two players with such enormous talent. At #10 and #22, there was no way either organization could justify passing on them.

In terms of production in year one, I'd have to give the nod to Harvin because of a stronger offensive line, his own versatility and the presence of Adrian Peterson and Bernard Berrian, two high level playmakers who will take pressure off the youngster.

I've heard the comparisons to Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith, but I see Harvin as more of a Reggie Bush type with less emphasis on running the football. Like Bush, Harvin's value won't be tied to position-specific statistical measuring sticks, but rather by the frequency with which he makes the big play either rushing, receiving or in the kick return game.

Crabtree meanwhile will be counted on to produce like an NFL starter from the first snap and will draw opposing defense's best cornerbacks as well as zone defenses designed to stop him.

As the more polished of the two, I see Crabtree as a top-flight receiver on par with guys like Boldin, Houston's Andre Johnson and Cincinnati's Chad Ocho Cinco (I love saying that). The type of receiver who can elevate a passing game and bail out a below average quarterback more often than not.

If both players can keep their heads on straight and hopefully unite with better quarterbacks in the future, I see no reason why both Crabtree and Harvin can't become stars in the NFL.

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