is on pace to set career highs in receptions and yards. (Rich Gabrielson/Icon SMI)
You can more or less throw a dart these days and hit a quarterback who's an MVP candidate. Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Robert Griffin III, Aaron Rodgers ... probably Tom Brady, Drew Brees and maybe even Ben Roethlisberger, when all is said and done.
The last five NFL MVPs have been quarterbacks, and the Associated Press' MVP award has wound up in a quarterback's or running back's hands every year except for 1986 (linebacker Lawrence Taylor), 1982 (kicker Mark Moseley) and 1971 (defensive tackle Alan Page).
It will take an extraordinary effort from a non-QB/RB to buck that trend again. Minnesota's Percy Harvin might be the man for the job.
Jerry Rice took home several awards in 1987, including the Pro Football Writers Association's MVP. That season, Rice scored 22 touchdowns and was a total game-changer for a San Francisco team that finished 13-2. Harvin will not challenge Rice's TD totals (he has just four so far), but his impact on the Vikings has been almost as invaluable thus far.
• Harvin currently leads the NFL in all-purpose yards with 1,142 -- only Randall Cobb (1,076) is within 100 yards of Harvin's total through seven weeks.
• Harvin is second in the league in receptions (53) and seventh in receiving yards (577), despite shifting around to multiple spots on Minnesota's offense (including, at times, running back) and drawing opposing defenses' top cover man.
• Fourteen times in the Vikings' first seven games, Harvin has returned a kickoff. He took one back to the house, a 105-yarder in a win at Detroit; of Harvin's 13 other returns, eight have led to drives that resulted in points, a 61.5-percent success rate. His 32.5 yards-per-kick-return average is tops in the NFL.
• Harvin has the highest yards-after-catch (YAC) total in the NFL, by a substantial margin. According to Pro Football Focus' numbers, Harvin's YAC sits at 438. Wes Welker is second at 355, followed by Demaryius Thomas at 278.
There can be no denying what the return of a healthy Adrian Peterson to Minnesota's lineup has done. Peterson may be on his way to a Comeback Player of the Year award, so long as the voters have not already made up their minds to give that honor to Peyton Manning. Peterson has 787 all-purpose yards of his own, including 652 yards rushing.
The improvement of Christian Ponder in his second season and Minnesota's defensive play thus far are all part of the big picture, too -- one that sees the Vikings sitting at 5-2 heading into Thursday night's game with Tampa Bay.
Without Harvin, though, the Vikings would not be in the position they are in.
Peterson forces defenses to game plan for a run-first Minnesota attack, but it's Harvin that draws a large dose of attention beyond the defensive line. The Vikings love to move Harvin around, shifting him from out wide to the slot to lined up in the backfield.
That versatility puts a ton of pressure on defenses to figure out who will be responsible for him. Thus far, no matter which coverages have been used, Harvin has found room anyway.
His performance last Sunday in a 21-14 win over Arizona was his least productive of the season -- Ponder's miserable day passing the ball had a lot to do with that. Harvin still tallied 94 total yards and a touchdown.
Each week, SI's Jim Trotter breaks down the races for the NFL's major awards. Following Week 7, he had Ryan and Griffin leading the MVP race (with a surprise candidate, Houston's J.J. Watt, in third); and Peyton Manning, Rodgers and Texans' RB Arian Foster 1-2-3 in the Offensive Player of the Year candidate.
But if the Vikings keep winning and Harvin keeps up his current pace, there will be no way to keep Harvin out of those conversations. Few players in the league are doing their jobs as well as Harvin is right now.