Can Harvin thrive as Vikes' top WR?


Can Percy Harvin emerge as a star with Donovan McNabb?

Despite all the talk, Percy Harvin's headaches haven't really been that big of a headache to his fantasy owners.

The Minnesota Vikings wide receiver has missed just three games in his two NFL seasons due to his longtime migraine affliction, but that persistent game-time-decision specter has fostered a reputation that he's a risky fantasy commodity. This isn't to dismiss or discount the severity of his migraine issues, but rather to suggest that there might be value in the perception that he is hard to trust as a consistent fantasy force.

There is a clear wild-card element to his identity; that on any given week if he is enduring severe migraines, he could be forced to sit, as he did in Weeks 13 and 14 of the 2010 season. Harvin has reported some improvements, however, stating that he hasn't suffered from a migraine in several months due to some offseason consultations.

"I met a couple of doctors," Harvin told the Virginian-Pilot this summer. "There were a couple of things they found in my neck that I won't get into -- some things they found and fixed, along with diet and the rest of the things that can cause them. It's been great, and knock on wood, it'll continue."

Even with this positive assertion, fantasy owners must still consider the health issue a threat to his ability to stay on the field, but to what degree should we let it affect his value come draft day?

There's not much Harvin can't do on the football field when he's healthy enough to strap on the helmet; he's an accomplished receiver and return man with some legitimate potential to break a reverse or a traditional carry out of the backfield for a big gain. If his migraines have held him back from being considered a trusted statistical source, his production doesn't really show it. In his first two years in the league, he's averaged more than 65 receptions and 950 total yards per season to go with 15 total touchdowns. Last season he scored via the return, air and ground in his 14 games.

Now entering his third season, one that is often hyped as a breakout campaign for wideouts, Harvin assumes the leading role in the Vikings' passing game with former teammate and top receiver Sidney Rice signing with the Seattle Seahawks. Donovan McNabb will be calling signals for the Vikings after a disappointing 2010 with the Washington Redskins. These transitions should serve to boost Harvin's opportunities this season, and thus production.

Rice's absence creates very real potential for more work Harvin's way, as the receiver depth chart in Minnesota is glaringly thin past Harvin. In Rice's breakout 2009 season, he was targeted 121 times on his way to a Pro Bowl effort as the Vikings' top receiver. In Harvin's 2009 rookie season, he was targeted 91 times and got 110 targets in 2010 while working with a struggling Brett Favre and a green Joe Webb at quarterback. We are currently projecting Harvin to get just one more target in 2011 than last season, which is assuredly conservative. Last season, Santana Moss received a career-high 145 targets on his way to a strong season in Washington, with the vast majority of them coming from McNabb, proving that even in a down or deflated season for a quarterback, that heavily targeted receiver can still produce at a high level. A direct comparison between different offenses and quarterbacks can't comprehensively frame Harvin's potential for 2011, but if you merely consider the attention Rice saw as the top receiver in Minnesota a few seasons ago and McNabb's penchant to lock in on Moss last season, there are some encouraging signs.

If there are concerns that McNabb is near the end of his wick as a proficient professional quarterback, remember that Harvin posted 20 catches for 241 yards and a TD in three weeks of work with Webb last season. The Vikings' offense is predicated on running early and often with superstar Adrian Peterson doing the majority of the work, but there are still thousands of yards and a good deal of touchdowns to come from the passing game, and you can net the top receiver in that offense in the sixth to seventh round in most ESPN standard leagues, as live draft results have him going as the 20th wideout and the 63rd player overall, with a $10.5 auction price. His ADP peers are Kenny Britt, Anquan Boldin and Wes Welker. He's being drafted as a low-end No. 3 wide receiver in 10-team formats and a No. 2 in deeper leagues. He's established a baseline for production, in the 70- to 75-reception range and around 1,000 total yards. His upside or ceiling is far greater, but the touchdowns have yet to come in great numbers, as he scored in the air in just four games last season. But banking on his upside to emerge as McNabb's top threat is built into his cost. We invest in what we think will happen, and the opportunities are great enough for Harvin to excel in order to provide returns on the cost.

The allure of Harvin's upside, in my opinion, is great enough to counter the migraine concerns and any fears that McNabb falters with the Vikings. I would confidently draft Harvin in the fifth round as my second receiver, and would prove stocked at the position if he were to be my third receiver. In order to avoid being vague, I'm pitching Harvin to you as an asset with pronounced statistical potential as we enter the 2011 season.

Jim McCormick is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN Fantasy and the digital high school football editor for ESPN High School.