The Worldwide Leader's Chris Low has an interesting look at Florida's chances of reviving the "Percy Position" with Jeff Demps, Brandon James and/or incoming Andre Debose playing the motion-heavy, receiver/slotback/running back niche that Percy Harvin carved out in Florida's offense last year. This is plainly terrifying on its face: Demps is probably the fastest player in college football, and one of the fastest humans alive; James hasn't found much of a role in the crowded backfield rotation, but has been a jittery nightmare in the return game for three years; and Debose is instantly recognizable as a Harvin clone -- same size, same game, same hype as a recruit. Not to mention Chris Rainey, who fits the mold but remains "just a running back" for now.
What Low only hints at, though, I'm willing to practically guarantee: However Meyer incorporates his abundant riches into the offense, none of the running backs (or receivers) will come close to matching Harvin's versatility, or his overall production. Just look at the numbers: Percy ended his career with 194 carries for 1,852 yards (I'll save the trouble: that's 9.5 per carry) and 134 catches for 1,929 yards. I would ask the last player who went over 600 yards rushing and receiving in consecutive years, but I'm not sure there's a category for that.* As Low notes, Harvin scored touchdowns in the last 15 games that he actually played in. And I don't know that Meyer even thinks he got everything he could out of his star in three years:
"He’s got the best first step I’ve ever seen. Probably the best first step in the game, in college football. There was a time when I went home at night, and I thought I’m going to move him to tailback. I thought we could get 1,500 to 1,800 to 2,000 yards out of him running the ball."
Ah, the first step, the secret to the one truly Harvin-esque element of the UF offense -- it's not for nothing that Urban Meyer called Harvin "the best counter runner I've ever seen." The motion-counter was Harvin's signature play at Florida, one I broke down before the SEC Championship last December, and one South Carolina will remember for years:
You can see him do the same thing to Arkansas as a true freshman; if you're willing to wade through some homeriffic , you can see him do the same thing to Oklahoma for by far the two longest plays of the mythical championship game, first on a death-defying, 45-yard sprint out of his own end zone in the first half, then on a 52-yard run that set up the Gators' go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter. Harvin made these plays -- this specific play -- not on quite a routine basis, but certainly with some consistency.
I remember thinking and then writing (sorry -- archives are down at the old site) when I saw Harvin torch Arkansas on that counter in the '06 SEC Championship, "Nobody else can do that." His acceleration, the ability to change direction out of the motion and be full-speed the other way in a blink, made that counter an almost singular play, and Harvin's ability to run it -- in addition to all the usual, around-the-end type of runs motion usually implies -- could virtually incapacitate a defense. I don't think it's a coincidence that, after I wrote about Harvin's crucial role before last year's SEC title game against Alabama, Florida has one of its worst offensive games of the season with Harvin on the bench nursing his chronic ankle. Of course, some of that has to do with Alabama, but there were certain parts of the offense that only Harvin, because he could do almost anything on any play and beat you badly no matter what it was, could make work their fullest extent. The fourth quarter of that win was largely a testament to the fortitude of the Tebow Child, but UF doesn't win the big one a month later without Harvin.
I don't think his total impact can be replaced. Rainey, Demps and James are electric runners, but won't force defenses to respect them as downfield threats the way Harvin did; and there's no talk of involving, say, Deonte Thompson in the running game to any significant extent. Debose, maybe -- but I only concede that much because he still carries the glow of the unknown. I'll actually believe it when I see it.
* There's no category, but the answer to the last player who went for at least 600 yards rushing and receiving two years in a row is Texas Tech's Taurean Henderson in 2002 and 2003. But it took him way, way more touches than Harvin.