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Vikings Trade Harvin To Seattle

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harvin

After reports surfaced that Percy Harvin was not seeing eye-to-eye with the coaching staff in Minnesota, it was logical to assume that the Vikings would end up dealing him. Despite their illogical post-season appearance that came about because of one the greatest seasons ever by Adrian Peterson, Minnesota is a team in a rebuilding mode and they didn’t have any reason to ink a disgruntled wide receiver to a long-term contract extension, especially when their quarterback often struggles to throw the ball.

Thus, a blockbuster deal was born today between the Vikings and the Seattle Seahawks, who seem to be stockpiling former Vikings receivers. In exchange for Harvin, the Seahawks are sending the 25th overall pick in this year’s draft, their seventh round pick for 2013 and a conditional mid-round pick for next year’s draft. The deal is contingent on Harvin signing a new deal with Seattle, but that is expected to happen within the next 48 hours.

That is quite the ransom for an injury prone wide receiver that only played in nine games last season, and yet I find myself agreeing with the deal for both sides.

Minnesota got out great, here, exchanging a player that didn’t want to be there for a tremendous package of assets. The Vikings save future money by dealing Harvin prior to his extension and the move helps to move along the demolition of their receiving core. In addition to dealing Harvin, Michael Jenkings, Jerome Simpson and Devin Aromashodu are all going to be free agents, which leaves Jarius Wright as their number one option pre-free agency and draft.

I think Seattle also made a good move here, even if it cost them a lot. Russell Wilson revolutionized the Seahawks’ offense last season, but there was a lack of any dynamic weapons around him. Their scheme was mostly predicated on Marshawn Lynch being the league’s best downhill runner, Wilson executing the read-option and the play-action game getting receivers open down field. There was some potent passing mixed in here and there, but, for the most part, Wilson’s receivers were not game changing threats, particularly after they caught the ball.

Harvin changes all of that, as he’s one of the most dynamic receivers in the league.

It makes sense for Harvin’s primary role with the Seahawks to be as a slot receiver. 156 of Harvin’s 261 routes (59.8%) last season came from the slot, and he caught 74.3% of his targets when he was in the slot. Because you can’t jam slot receivers, Harvin starts out every play with an advantage on the defense as has an undeterred path to space. When Harvin gets into the open field, he’s a terror to stop; he led the league in yards after the catch per reception last season at 8.7 YAC/Rec. On top of his situational stats, Harvin was as sure-handed as anyone in the league last season, dropping just one pass in 81 targets.

The Seahawks only had 62 receptions from all of the receivers they put in the slot last season. To put that in perspective, Randall Cobb had 63 receptions from the slow by himself last season. Harvin will fix all of these issues as he is a substantial upgrade over Golden Tate, who was Seattle’s best slot man last season.

Even though they didn’t utilize their slot receivers often, Seattle did run one of Harvin’s favorite plays – against the Vikings, no less – for Tate that caught my eye when watching film.

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Here the Seahawks are in a four receiver alignment with trips to the right. Sidney Rice is lined up on the line of scrimmage, putting Tate a couple of yards back off the line. Tate is going to run a simply bubble screen with Rice and Baldwin going downfield to block.

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Against a zone blitz, there is a ton of room to work for Tate on the right side of the field, and though it takes him a bit of time, he gets into the endzone with the help of his fellow wide receivers.

Bubble screens accounted for a large portion of Harvin’s offense last season, mostly because three yard throws were the only thing Christian Ponder could make consistently. There are all sorts of possibilities for Harvin as a slot receiver, including allowing him to bust through the seams for big plays.

Take a look here at how the Vikings motion him inside the numbers to give him a close release against the Redskins.

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Harvin has DeAngelo Hall on him in single coverage on this play and his goal is to use the middle of the field to create separation from Hall and to open a throwing window for Ponder.

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The insider release gives Harvin a built in advantage on Hall for his trek across the field, and the zone help from the linebacker won’t matter once he crosses the middle of the field. This is one of the few times Minnesota was able to get a big play with Harvin going deep, but with Wilson as his QB now, you can expect a few more deep passes to find their way to Harvin.

I think Seattle can also put Harvin on the outside as the lone receiver in some of the power run formations and get expect him to make plays, especially out of play-action.

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Here is Harvin working against Hall again. He’ll be running a deep post route here against a single high look.

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Harvin runs a good route, selling a go until the last second when he makes a good plant and gets Hall, who was horrible in coverage last season, out of position. Wit the safety gaining a little too much depth in his dropback, Harvin creates a window for Ponder to make the throw with a great break towards the middle.

As a receiver, Harvin will make the Seattle offense a lot more dangerous, but that’s not even the part of Harvin’s game that will put the most fear into opposing defensive coordinators. What Harvin can do in Seattle’s read-option game is going to make this trade worthwhile, in my opinion, because he’s such an incredibly shifty player with great field vision and the option can put him into the open field a ton, which is a recipe for success for Seattle.

Harvin has experience with the spread option already, too, having run it with Tim Tebow at Florida, so he’ll be somewhat familiar with the offense the second he arrives at mini-camp. Whether Seattle puts Harvin in the backfield with Wilson to act as a change of pace for Lynch, mixes the two by going with a two back formation and running the read-option with Lynch and Harvin acting as the pitch man, or even pulls Harvin from the slot for some pitch plays, opponents are going to have to make impossible choices when it comes to containing their ground attack.

So, the Seahawks have a dynamic quarterback, multiple variations of the option and play in a city where it rains everyday? This is the team Chip Kelly was born to coach!

The value of picks in the NFL has risen exponentially with the new rookie salary rules, so it is tough to give up three picks for a player that has had health problems dating back to his college days. But I truly believe that Harvin is a big enough of a game changer to make it worth it. His health is concerning, but that is the only reason this deal isn’t a total slam dunk. If Harvin can stay on the field for the majority of the next five seasons, Seattle will have one of the best offenses in football, bar none.

49ers Deal For Boldin

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boldin

Anquan Boldin has made two things clear this off-season: 1) He was not willing to take a paycut, and 2) He wouldn’t play for a team other than the Baltimore Ravens.

Well, he’ll still have a Harbaugh coaching him last season, but it will be the one that came up short in Super Bowl XLVII.

In a surprising move, the Harbaugh brothers came together on a trade involving Boldin today, with the Ravens sending the veteran wide receiver to the 49ers in exchange for a sixth round pick.

The motivation behind the deal for the Ravens is saving $8 million in capspace on the eve of open season for NFL free agents. If Baltimore wasn’t going to budge on an extension for Boldin, it was smart to get an asset for him, but I am still not totally on board with this decision. Boldin was the second most important player during their magical post-season run last season and he was their most reliable pass cathcher in the middle of the field.

There are some options on the market that can provide the Ravens with what Boldin did, but they will likely be asking for a lot more than the Ravens can afford. This may mean that Jacoby Jones will end up being the number two wide receiver for Baltimore next season, which downgrades their offense quite a bit. Boldin is also a physical blocker that set the tone on the edges for the Ravens, which is something that Jones cannot replicate, even if he was a solid blocker in his own right last season.

Torrey Smith is a young receiver that has flashed potential, but his work on the outside has left a lot to be desired at times, as he struggles to beat one-on-one coverage consistently. Jones has never been a tremendous receiver, with his primary value coming on special teams, so even though Boldin is clearly on the downside of his career at the age of 32, the Ravens are going to be missing a big piece of their championship puzzle on the offensive end next season, which I’m sure would upset Joe Flacco if he wasn’t too busy lounging around on the private island he bought himself last week.

Although John didn’t win the Super Bowl, he seems to have fleeced Jim with this trade. Grabbing Boldin for the small price of a sixth round pick – one of the latest of their 15 selections in the upcoming draft – is an absolute homerun deal for the 49ers, particularly with Randy Moss moving on.

Michael Crabtree emerged as one of the best receivers in football once Colin Kaepernick took over the starting quarterback job last season, but the other receivers on the team underwhelmed. Moss was good for his age, but wasn’t a tremendous difference maker, free agent signee Mario Manningham was horrible, racking up just 44 DYAR (62nd amongst WRs) and a -2.8% DVOA, and first round pick A.J. Jenkins never saw the field. Even star tight end Veron Davis disappeared for the second half of the season until re-emerging in the playoffs.

San Fransisco desperately needed to add some help to their receiving core, specifically someone capable of playing the slot, and now they’ve added one of the surest handed, reliable and physical wideouts in the game. Boldin had the lowest drop rate in all of football out of qualified receivers, mishandling just two passes on 108 targets, and the grabs he was making during the playoffs were absolutely incredible.

Boldin should be able to slide right in as San Fransisco’s #2 receiver, but the 49ers will need to use a steady dose of three receiver sets in order to get Boldin lined up in the slot, an area that the team really struggled in last season. Boldin lined up in the slot for 328 of his 527 routes last season (62.2%) and he delivered 429 yards on 29 receptions (14.7% yards per catch). Boldin is a great route runner that can exploit any linebacker in coverage and can get over on any nickel corner that doesn’t take the right angles.

Take a look at Boldin working on 49ers’ stud linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who was one of the best coverage linebackers in the league last season, in the Super Bowl.

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Boldin sets up Bowman perfectly with precision footwork and has Bowman believing that he’s running a crossing pattern.

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Boldin plans hard into the ground and cuts back towards the endzone, fooling Bowman and forcing him to turn his hips like a corner to even have a chance on the play. He doesn’t, though, because Boldin set him too well for Bowman to cover the seam correctly, and Boldin made a great grab to score the first points of the game.

Here is another example of Boldin working across the middle of the field, this time against the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. Baltimore has vacated the middle of the field with a play-fake, leaving Devin McCourty isolated on Boldin without linebacker help on a crossing pattern.

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Baltimore acts accordingly, having Boldin break McCourty’s jam at the line to get into the middle of the field.

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Boldin tops off his great route with an even better catch, showcasing those brilliant hands and even a little bit of hops for someone in his 30’s.

Crabtree is San Fransisco’s game changing weapon on the outside and Davis is one of the league’s most dynamic tight ends. Adding a veteran like Boldin that can still contribute as a secondary threat for the price of nothing is a tremendous move that will improve San Fransisco’s already elite offense. And on top of what he adds as pass catcher, Boldin should be a solid lockerroom role model for Crabtree, well, at least if Randy Moss hasn’t already corrupted him, and Boldin is a strong run blocker that will be useful in San Fran’s power rushing attack.

The fact that San Fransisco got Boldin for nothing is even more important when you consider the ransom that Seattle paid for Percy Harvin earlier today. Harvin may be a more impactful player, but for what San Fransisco needed, Boldin’s acquisition is just as good of a move.

49ers Budding With Options

in NFL by
revis

The San Fransisco 49ers were the best team in the NFL last season. They may have lost to the Ravens in the Super Bowl, but I think that they were the most complete and impressive team in the league. Colin Kaepernick completely changed that team’s offensive identity, and with a season under belt now, not to mention Super Bowl experience, and combined with their stellar front seven on defense for a full off-season, I believe the San Fransisco will be the best team in the league again in 2013.

And the scary part about it is, at this point in the off-season, this team is far from being a finished product. Yesterday they completed a trade that sent Alex Smith to the Chiefs in exchange for a pair of draft picks (reportedly a second rounder this year and a third rounder next year), which has brought their pick total for the 2013 draft to an unfathomable 15 picks, five of which come in the first three rounds. For an organization that has proven themselves as excellent at player development, this is a remarkable plate of assets. With such a large number of picks, and with each and every NFL draft pick carrying so much value, the 49ers are prime position to make a key move or two this off-season simply by moving some of their surplus draft picks.

The latest rumor surrounding the team involves superstar Darrelle Revis, a seemingly disgruntled star cornerback that is unhappy about his contract situation. The New York Jets realize that they’d be better off attempting to rebuild their talent base (especially offensively) than to continue to pay a ton of money for a franchise cornerback. Revis is in the final guaranteed year of his deal with the Jets and there is no way he will be accepting his $3 million player options over the next year years, which means he is looking to restructure his contract, and he is looking for the richest deal for a player of his position in NFL history.

Naturally, this makes the 49ers a perfect trade partner for the Jets. The 49ers have more picks than they have roster spots, meaning transactions involving some of their picks is a guarantee, and the Jets are looking to add prospects to their roster via the draft. To go even further, San Fransisco’s secondary got toasted late in the season, especially corner Chris Culliver and safety Dashon Goldson. Even though he is coming off of ACL surgery, Revis would be a massive upgrade to the Niners’ defense, and San Fransisco’s massive amount of picks would still allow the team to gain defensive line depth through the draft. If the price is something like the 2nd round pick they just got from the Chiefs (34th overall) and their own first round pick (31st overall), I would strongly consider that if I was San Fransisco.

The reason this trade isn’t likely to happen is that Revis would be asking for a huge pay raise from the 49ers from the day he arrived and San Fransisco has not made a habit of committing long-term salary to players not developed within their own organization. Assuming they are unwilling to shell out a record deal to make Revis a 49er long-term, they’d be paying too hefty a price for a rental player, especially since, at the end of the day, Culliver and Goldson are not horrible. That said, I really think that Revis is a foundational piece worth paying for, particularly in the 49ers case, as the combination of his lockdown coverage skills and that devastating pass rush would make them an impossible team to score on consistently. And who wouldn’t love the Richard Sherman-Revis post-game meetings after Seahawk-Niner games?

Another star player on the trade market that has been connected to the 49ers, at least by way of the media, is Percy Harvin. There were some reports this off-season that Harvin and Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier didn’t see eye-to-eye, and with Harvin being in the last year of his deal with the team, he is believed to be available for the right price. Adding Harvin would have a similar effect on San Fransisco’s offense as Revis would on their defense. While San Fransisco already has a rising star in Michael Crabtree as their number one wideout (by the way, he’s up for an extension this year or next, too), but they lack a clear number two wide receiver. Randy Moss may have a little bit left, but he’s best as a spell #2 receiver and not an every down guy, and Mario Manningham was one of the more disappointing players in the league last season.

Harvin is such a dynamic and explosive player and he has a ton of experience running the spread read-option offense. He put up a pair of 1,000 yard seasons as a scat back that played all over the field when he was at Florida with Tim Tebow, and I think Harvin could have a very similar role within San Fran’s Kaepernick-centric offense. He can split out wide, in the slot or in the backfield and make plays from any of those positions. Harvin’s shiftiness makes impossible to tackle in space and forcing defenses to account for his speed in addition to a running quarterback, a dynamic number one like Crabtree and that powerful run game would be quite unfair for the rest of the league.

San Fransisco could actually acquire both Harvin and Revis before the draft and be able to proceed this season under the cap. The problem is that both of these guys want extensions, and the 49ers are unlikely to be willing to deal those out to a pair of outsiders, especially with Kaepernick, Crabtree, Culliver, Mike Iupati, Aldon Smith and a couple of other in-house products due up for their own extensions in the next 24 months.

Former Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes is a logical target if the 49ers trade up in the draft. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

While a deal for Revis or Harvin would have the most immediate impact on the success of their club, San Fransisco is more likely to package their picks to move up in the draft to get a higher selection. I presume there’s an off chance that a team in the top 10 would be willing to take a deal that involved a few valuable picks, but the more likely scenario is San Fransisco trading up into the 10-15 range to grab one of the top defensive backs or defensive linemen in the class.

Dee Milliner is the top corner in the class, but after running a 4.37 at the combine, he’s a shoe-in for a top 10 selection. That makes Xavier Rhodes an intriguing prospect for the 49ers. The Florida State product can play bump-and-run coverage at 6’1″ and ran a very solid 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine. He’s a big player that fits into the physical style that Harbaugh’s defensive group loves to play. I really like Rhodes as a fit for the Niners because I think you can stick him on the outside right away and mold him into Culliver’s replacement in the event the team chooses to part ways with him.

Another corner that the Niners can move up to get is Desmond Trufant, the brother of longtime NFL corner Marcus Trufant. Trufant has speed and size along with the ability to cover in space and could fit in right away as a slot corner and work his way towards starting on the outside in the near future. Trufant impressed at the combine and also showed well at the Senior Bowl, which means his stock will be on the rise as we get closer to the draft. He may end up inching closer to the top 10 by then, which means the 49ers would have to pony up to have a shot at him.

If San Fransisco is inclined to take a young safety in this draft, then trading up for UT’s Kenny Vaccaro is a very good option. Vaccaro really impressed me on film as someone that can cover the field from a deep position and in man-to-man scenarios. He was also a very physical player that wasn’t afraid to get involved in the run game. And if the Niners instead want to bolster their defensive line, there are three players with top-10 talent that will be available in the middle of the first round for various reasons: Barkevious Mingo, an extremely talented 3-4 prospect with attitude questions, Star Lotulelei, a stud defensive tackle that was once thought to be the best prospect in the draft had his stock drop when a heart condition was discovered during his physical at the combine, and Jarvis Jones, who has a medical condition with his spine that may cause a few teams to pass on him on draft night.

Combine freak Margus Hunt would be a nice rotational defensive end in San Fransisco’s system. (ESPN)

Another player to keep an eye on with the Niners around draft time is defensive end Margus Hunt, and this isn’t someone that the 49ers will have to trade up to acquire. Hunt moved from Estonia to SMU to join the track team, which was shut down right before Hunt could start competing. Luckily for Hunt, his track coach encouraged him to try out for football, and it didn’t take much for Hunt to convince June Jones to add him to the team. Even though he’s only played the sport for the past few years, Hunt showed solid instincts during his time with the Mustangs and he was an exceptional blocker of kicks because of his rare combination of explosion and timing.

Hunt is a 6’8″, 277-pound monster of an athlete that ran a 4.6-40, the third fastest amongst defensive ends, and tied defensive tackle Brandon Williams for the most bench press reps at the combine with 38. He is one of those LeBron type athletes that is just a level above his competition, and though his skills and fundamentals may need some fine tuning to make him an NFL caliber starter, I don’t think Harbaugh and his staff would have much trouble finding a way for Hunt to contribute.

I know for a fact that Jim Harbaugh and the rest of the 49ers are still kicking themselves over missing out on some opportunities to become Super Bowl Champs last season. But while John Harbaugh’s Ravens squad was certainly a one-hit wonder riding a wave of emotion and momentum to a title, Jim’s team is a sure bet to be a top the NFL over the next several years. And what they choose to do with their bevy of draft picks this off-season will have alot to do with how much success the team will have going forward.

49ers Trade Alex Smith To Kansas City

in NFL by
smith

After losing his job to Colin Kaepernick as he sat out with a concussion, Alex Smith had to see the writing on the wall. As Kaepernick led the 49ers all the way to the Super Bowl with his exciting and innovative style of play, it was all but set in stone that Smith would be moved in the off-season.

There was some belief that San Fransisco would just release Smith at some point, but instead the organization got a major return for a back-up that no longer fit in with their offensive identity. According to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, the Kansas City Chiefs have agreed to send their second round pick in this year’s draft and a conditional mid-round pick in the 2014 draft to the 49ers in exchange for Smith. The trade cannot be official until March 12, but the two sides have agreed to the deal.

Seeing a former first overall pick that have been perceived as a bust for the majority of his career be replaced by a more productive young back-up is not necessarily surprising, but the irony is that Smith was actually starting to develop into an NFL caliber quarterback under Harbaugh. Smith had a carousel of coaches come in and out of the lockerroom over his first few seasons as a pro, making it tough on him to ever get comfortable in a 49er uniform. Once Harbaugh arrived, Smith had a noticeable uptick in production and, perhaps more importantly, confidence. That game-winning touchdown run in the playoffs against the 49ers seemed like a turning point in Smith’s career, and he came out this season as one of the most effective quarterbacks in the league.

At his best, which was this season, Smith was still a gamemanager type, but he was managing the game so well that you could hardly argue with him being your starting quarterback. Smith never forced anything, understood his realm of possibility and never took the 49ers out of games. The problem was that Smith was still not much of a difference maker, which made it hard for the 49ers to win games that they didn’t get the immediate upperhand in. While Kaepernick was more prone than Smith to put you in a 14-0 hole, you could put up with that because you knew Kaepernick had enough big play ability to get your team back in the game. Smith could play well and still lose because if San Fransisco’s defense wasn’t tremendous, Smith wouldn’t be able to win an offensive battle.

I think Smith is still capable of being a solid starting QB in the NFL, though. Smith completed 70.2% of his passes in 10 starts in 2012, posting the seventh highest QBR in the league at 70.1. According to Football Outsiders’ advanced numbers, Smith ranked 10th in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), which is a stat that measures a players impact on a per play basis, last season at 14.9%. Kaepernick was the third most valuable player on a per play basis in the league, which is understandable given how many big gains he had, but Smith ranking 10th on the list is impressive, particularly when his DVOA the two seasons prior to Harbaugh’s arrival was in the negative.

Now Smith is being forced to deal with another coaching change and another playbook. The good news for him is that he is going to yet another coach that is praised for his ability to get the best out of quarterbacks: Andy Reid. I’m happy that Smith will be going to a situation that should suit him well. Reid gets the most out of his quarterbacks and it has become apparent over the past couple of seasons that Smith does have some talent, even if he won’t ever be an elite quarterback. Reid has also shown that he has an eye for offensive talent, and with Jamal Charles and Dwyane Bowe already in tow, I think the former Eagles coach has a shot to build a solid offensive system around Smith.

And finally, Smith’s arrival in Kansas City will reportedly cue the end of Matt Cassel’s tenure with the Chiefs, as the team reportedly plans to release him. Cassel had a huge season in 2008 when filling in for Tom Brady which earned him the franchise tag from the Patriots. New England then turned and flipped him (and linebacker Mike Vrabel) to Kansas City for, coincidentally, the 34th overall pick in the draft. Though his first and last seasons with the Chiefs were awful, his 2010 campaign was solid, as he ranked 14th in the league in DYAR and 16th in DVOA. Cassel was in a very poor situation for a quarterback last season and I think he can still produce if the right teams signs him. Although, with the Patriots shopping Ryan Mallet, wouldn’t it be something to see Cassel return to be Tom Brady’s back-up again?

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