Rice's pain will be Harvin's gain
The Seahawks continue to piece together a weird, patchwork offense. They drafted polarizing right tackle James Carpenter in the first round of April's draft, and figure to throw him right into the starting lineup, along with right guard and fellow rookie John Moffitt. They signed former No. 2 overall pick Robert Gallery to a free-agent deal and will plug him in at left guard. They let Matt Hasselbeck go and apparently replaced him at quarterback with Tarvaris Jackson, fresh off a massively disappointing five seasons with the Vikings. And to cap it off, they spent $18 million guaranteed on wide receiver Sidney Rice.
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Rice, of course, came out of nowhere to become Brett Favre's binky in Minnesota two seasons ago, racking up 83 grabs, 1,312 yards and eight TDs as a terrific all-around receiving threat. Unfortunately, he missed much of '10 with a hip injury, and thus was as responsible as anyone for the Vikings' crash-and-burn season. This is a guy who turns 25 in September, runs a 4.5-second 40 at 6-foot-4 and has shown a propensity to make big plays in the recent past. He'd be a No. 1 NFL wideout no matter where he landed.
But frankly, he couldn't have landed in a worse place for his fantasy value. I have absolutely no faith in Jackson or Charlie Whitehurst as potential starting QBs in Seattle. Yes, Jackson (the favorite to start) is familiar with Darrell Bevell's offensive system, considering Bevell was Jackson's only offensive coordinator in Minny. But what do the Hawks see that the rest of us are missing? This kid has terrible footwork and accuracy problems, and shows minimal instinct for standing in the pocket or placing the ball where it needs to go. He's a really good athlete and he can occasionally make a throw that gives you goose bumps, but he'll make more than enough mistakes to kill you. So although Rice got his money, I'd actually like him more if he'd stayed in with the Vikings to catch passes from Donovan McNabb alongside Percy Harvin. He's still in my top 30 wideouts, but barely.
Big Mike Williams also suffers here. No, he was never a wise man's idea of a No. 1 wideout, because he doesn't have good speed or separation, but he was what passed for a top receiver last year in Seattle. With Rice aboard, BMW becomes an obvious possession receiver, meaning his targets are going to come down significantly from last year's 110. I do think he's probably due for more TDs (he had only two in '10) because he's such a large target and can box out effectively in the end zone. But in my personal ranks, I lowered him from 38 to the mid-40s among wide receivers based on this transaction.
In Minnesota, Percy Harvin owners are smiling. Although I don't believe the Vikings are done building their receiving corps, I have to believe Harvin is now in clear position to lead the team in targets. True, he's not a prototypical No. 1 receiver. In his two NFL seasons, Harvin has been most comfortable out of the slot; part of the reason he's been such a yards-after-catch beast (his 6.5 average last year put him fifth among all NFL WRs) is that he tends to be a low-risk outlet. But hey, McNabb showed last year that he's comfortable with that kind of arrangement, as he fed Santana Moss pass after pass out of the slot. Add in the fact that the ultra-quick Harvin gets backfield carries and creative red-zone looks, and I think Rice's departure is a net gain for his fantasy value. He's not quite a top-20 WR for me, but I'd probably put him in that 21 to 25 range at the moment.
As for what else is left in Minnesota? Bernard Berrian and newly signed Devin Aromashodu do nothing for me, but if the Vikings fail to acquire anyone else, those two underachievers would duel for the team's No. 2 job. I don't think that will happen. Expect the Vikes to look hard at Braylon Edwards, James Jones and/or Malcom Floyd in the next few days, in the search for a more reliable field-stretcher to keep defenses honest on Harvin.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy, and follow him on Twitter at @writerboyESPN.
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