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Fantasy football debate: Is Harvin or White the better bargain on draft day?

Fantasy football debate: Is Harvin or White the better bargain on draft day? Photo:

As part of SI.com's fantasy football 2014 preview, Michael Beller and David Gonos will engage in a number of debates. This week, they argue whether Seattle Seahawks' Percy Harvin or Atlanta Falcons' Roddy White will emerge as the better wide receiver in 2014. 

David Gonos makes the case for Percy Harvin. 

Both Percy Harvin and Roddy White can sufficiently fill a WR2 slot on any fantasy team. Harvin is currently being drafted in the middle of the fifth round, while White has an average draft position in the middle of the fourth. I'm here to tell you why you shouldn't spend your fourth-round pick on White (draft another player such as Vernon Davis, DeSean Jackson or Rashad Jennings) and instead wait for Harvin. 

White took some time to get over a high ankle sprain last season, and he scored more than four fantasy points in just two of the 13 regular season fantasy games. He only missed three games all season, but he played hurt through most of the other 13. 

At 32 years old, White is working in the back end of his career; he'll serve in a supporting role to Julio Jones -- who missed most of 2013 with a foot injury -- picking up scraps in an admittedly pass-happy offense. But the Falcons passing game will certainly miss the talents of Tony Gonzalez, who retired as one of the greatest tight ends in fantasy history.

Percy Harvin, meanwhile, is coming back from his own injury -- albeit, a much more serious one. A hip injury suffered in the 2013 preseason required surgery, which Harvin aggravated when he tried to come back too soon. However, he recovered just in time for the Super Bowl, where he took a kickoff return 87 yards for a touchdown in the Seahawks’ victory over Denver. The Seahawks have remained cautious with him this preseason, but it’s just protection for their investment.

FANTASY POSITION PRIMERS:
QB | RB | WR | TE | K | DST

With Golden Tate now in Detroit, Harvin will lead the Seahawks in targets by a large margin this season. Seattle’s run-first offense will keep the heat off of Harvin defensively, and there’s no doubt that QB Russell Wilson will work to get the ball to Harvin all over the field.

Granted, Harvin has played just 10 games over the past two seasons, making him one of the riskiest players to draft, sitting just behind both Arian Foster and Rob Gronkowski. The difference is that those two players will cost you a second- or third-round pick. Harvin should cost you a fifth-rounder, which is a perfect spot for a big gamble.

Harvin has the better chances of being a top-10 wide receiver in fantasy football this season, like he was in 2011 when he scored eight touchdowns and totaled over 1,300 yards, and he comes with a WR2 price tag.

Fantasy Draft Primer: Top three picks

Sports Illustrated's lead fantasy writer Michael Beller reveals his top three picks headed into the 2014 fantasy football season.

Michael Beller makes the case for Roddy White.

From 2007 through 2012, Roddy White established himself as one of the premier receivers in the league. In those six years, he never had fewer than 83 receptions, 1,153 yards or six touchdowns in a season. His average season (rounding down to the nearest whole number) was 93 catches for 1,295 yards and eight touchdowns. His worst season was the first in that time frame, when he had 1,202 yards and six scores, which made him the 14th-ranked wide receiver in standard-scoring leagues. Every other year, he ranked in the top 10. In other words, White has been very good for a long time.

Last season, the wheels fell off. Or, more appropriately, White’s legs nearly did. White hurt his ankle in Atlanta’s second preseason game, kicking off a seemingly never-ending stream of injuries. The ankle injury never caused him to miss a game, though it slowed him significantly. He proceeded to injure his hamstring, which knocked him out for three games in October, and prevented him from getting back to 100 percent before December. He was also collateral damage in a dreadful season for the Falcons. With Julio Jones out for the year after breaking a bone in his foot and the running game stalled, Atlanta ranked 20th in points scored in 2013.

There was a silver lining, however, for White last season. Over the final five games of the year, once he finally got healthy, he looked like the receiver we came to know in the previous six seasons. White had 43 receptions for 502 yards and two touchdowns, which had him back a familiar spot among the top-10 fantasy receivers across those five games. With a clean bill of health, there’s little reason to expect much of a drop-off in production this season.

White is as reliable a receiver as you’ll find. Those three games he missed last year were the first of his career. He has caught at least 55 percent of his targets in all but one season. White remains a favorite of Matt Ryan, especially in the red zone. In 2012, he received 30.8 percent of the team’s red-zone targets, the same share as Jones. In 2011, a whopping 53.4 percent of Atlanta passes thrown inside the 20 were in his direction. Even if the freakishly talented and athletic Jones eats into that percentage this season, White’s owners can expect somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 red-zone targets.

High-volume passing offenses have become all the rage in the NFL, but the Falcons have been doing it for some time now. When the team drafted Jones to pair with White back in 2011, they instantly had one of the best receiver duos in the league. Even if they’re not at the top anymore (I would argue that honor belongs to the Bears’ Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery), they remain in the upper echelon. That is a good thing for White.

With defenses forced to commit two players to Jones more often than not, White will have more freedom than ever before in the offense. He turns 33 in November, but you don’t have to go deep into the NFL annals to find receivers who were very productive into their mid-30s. Marvin Harrison had 1,146 yards and 12 touchdowns in his age-33 season. Terrell Owens put up 1,180 yards and 13 scores in his, and then followed that with a 1,355-yard, 15-touchdown year. White is plenty capable of matching the averages he set for himself from 2007 through 2012, and that would make him a rock-solid WR2 who could push up toward WR1 numbers.

The Atlanta offense was among the unluckiest in the NFL in 2013, and White’s cavalcade of injuries played a huge role in that misfortune. Now healthy, he could end up being one of the biggest bargains on draft day.

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