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NY Jets: The Harvin Effect

The curious case of Percy Harvin and how he affects an offense.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

GGN member chris.ruppel posted his first Fanpost on GGN today and it was a good one.  It explored whether Harvin was worth keeping for his $10.5 million salary in 2015 and concluded that due to Harvin's multiple uses, his explosive playmaking ability, and his ability to open up the offense for others, among other factors, the Jets should bring back Percy Harvin even if it means paying him $10.5 million.  While I disagreed with chris.ruppell's conclusion, it was a very nicely written and argued piece.

The Fanpost got me thinking about Harvin's effect on an offense.  So many have argued that because Harvin is so explosive he opens up the offense for others, making the whole offense better even if he himself is not putting up major stats.  Putting aside the questionable nature of Harvin's so-called explosiveness (for an explosive player he makes very few explosive plays, as measured by plays of 20+ yards),  does Percy Harvin really make an offense better?  I think if this was so it should show up in yardage and scoring numbers for offenses that have experienced the addition or subtraction of Harvin in a season.  Fortunately for us this has actually happened three separate times for Harvin, so we can run the experiment and see the actual results.  How has Harvin's presence and/or absence affected the offenses he's played on?  Here are the results. They may surprise you.



Yards/Game w/Harvin

Yards/Game w/o Harvin

Points/Game w/Harvin

Points/Game w/o Harvin




















As you can see from the chart, there is very little evidence that Percy Harvin has had any positive effect whatsoever on any offense he has played on, and quite a bit of evidence he has actually had a detrimental effect.

In 2012 Harvin played the first 9 games for the Minnesota Vikings, then went down with a season ending injury. This is the season people point to when they rave about Harvin's potential, claiming he played at an All Pro level or close to it in those first nine games.  It was, on a per game basis, Harvin's finest production by a wide margin.  The interesting thing here is that after Harvin was hurt, the Minnesota offense actually improved in both yards per game and points per game.  So even when Harvin was at his absolute peak there is no evidence he helped Minnesota's offense, and some evidence he in fact hurt Minnesota's offense.

In 2014 Harvin played the first five games with the Seattle Seahawks before being traded to the Jets.   Seattle's offense improved from 336 yards per game with Harvin to 376 yards per game without Harvin, a huge 40 yards per game improvement.  On the other hand SEA scored less without Harvin, at 22.9 points per game without Harvin compared to 26.6 points per game with Harvin.

With the Jets the offense has declined in both yards per game from 320 without Harvin to 312 with Harvin, and in points per game, from 17.3 without Harvin to 15.6 with Harvin.  It should be noted that this offensive decline after Harvin's arrival occurred even though it coincided with a dramatic drop in offensive turnovers and a modest increase in defensive turnovers.  This large swing in turnover differential should have by itself produced increased offensive numbers across the board, yet the numbers instead decreased across the board.

The picture that emerges from these three instances where Harvin was present and absent for large chunks of three separate teams' seasons is one of a surprising negative effect that Harvin has on an offense. In all three cases Harvin's presence coincided with a decrease in offensive yardage, and in two of the three cases, Harvin's presence coincided with a decrease in offensive scoring.  The evidence is not conclusive, only suggestive.  Obviously we are dealing with complex systems with many moving parts.  However, when the effect is repeated multiple times with multiple teams, where the only common  denominator was the addition or subtraction of Harvin to an offense, it is, at the least, suggestive of a real effect.  What it suggests is that, contrary to many's expectations, not only does Percy Harvin not open up an offense for others, he actually decreases offensive production across the board.

This seems counter-intuitive, but there is a tentative explanation. Perhaps coaches fall in love too much with the Harvin eye candy, to the detriment of the team.  We have seen firsthand how Jets coaches tried to force feed Harvin the ball regardless of coverage or whether anyone else was open.  If Harvin was a transcendent talent like, for example, Calvin Johnson, this might work.  Unfortunately, he is not.  Harvin occasionally produces explosive plays, but far too often produces very little.  When you are force feeding a guy who isn't capable of carrying the offense, the whole offense suffers.  This may be the explanation for the curious Harvin effect.

Regardless of the validity of that tentative hypothesis, the statistics for three separate teams present a troubling picture of the effect Harvin has on an offense.  When deciding whether to bring back Percy Harvin and for how much money, the Jets might be wise to heed the numbers, regardless of the occasionally dazzling play with which Harvin seduces.  Retaining his services in the expectation he can make the whole offense better would appear to be a misguided wager.