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When the NFL draft kicks off next Thursday, the fate of some of college football’s biggest names will be decided. Names like Kyle Pitts, the red-zone busting tight end out of Florida; Patrick Surtain II, the second-generation ballhawk out of Alabama; and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, the once in a generation prospect whose name figures to be called first. Names that draftniks like ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr and the NFL.com’s Peter Schrager have spent months shuffling up and down their draft boards like clairvoyants reading tea leaves. Or worse: smoking them.
But in addition to those three, here’s another name you’d be wise to track – Pressley Harvin III, maybe the most interesting prospect in the draft.
Harvin isn’t a big name, per se. Some of that has to do with him coming from Georgia Tech – a school that might otherwise stand out if it didn’t share a state with the Georgia Bulldogs or if it weren’t based in Atlanta, where historically black colleges loom large. But mostly, the low profile comes down to this: Harvin is – *deep breath* –a punter.
Wait! I can explain! He’s a really good punter! Last year he won the Ray Guy Award, an honor reserved for the top punter in all of college football – all of whom, until Harvin won, were white. He’d earn that big bronze trophy on the strength of an ACC-record 48-yard net average on 45 punts, 18 of which landed inside the 20-yard line. No! Don’t click away! What if I told you it isn’t just Harvin’s leg that’s big? What if I told you that he looks like he spends more time watching football than playing it, packing in excess of 260lbs onto a 5ft 11in frame? There are defensive ends on the board right now who who would have trouble stopping him. And there are probably a number of quarterbacks who’d have a hard time going throw for throw with him, too. That’s right. In addition to that leg, Pressley has a strong arm. And he knows how to use it.
Flashback to October 2019. Georgia Tech are at home against Miami and down a score late in the first quarter. After a Yellow Jackets drive stalls at the Hurricanes’ 41-yard line, Pressley jogs onto the field with the rest of the special teams unit and lines up in punt formation. But instead of booming the ball skyward, he skips forward and throws a high-arching pass down the right sideline to a streaking Yellow Jackets receiver. “That’s one of the remarkable things that I can do instead of the ball just hitting my foot,” Pressley told reporters at his pro day. “I try to help the team out in any type of way I can.”
The trick play, which Pressley launched from the Yellow Jackets’ 48-yard line, would travel some 40 yards in the air and help set up a 28-21 overtime win. Sure, it was just one of three Georgia Tech victories that year. (Poor kids haven’t finished above .500 more than twice in the past six years...) But how many other struggling schools can say it was their punter who saved them from being truly sorry?
At his showcase for NFL teams in mid-March, Harvin called his Flutie-like moment against the ’Canes an on-field favorite while making a case for himself not just as a punter but as something more. And that shouldn’t be such a hard sell. After all, the NFL’s heritage was built on triple-threats like Paul Hornung and Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch – hall of famers, both. Hell, the last time Bill Belichick cracked a smile was after sending the aforementioned Doug Flutie onto the field to nail an extra-point dropkick against the Miami Dolphins. Technically this was a trick play. But, really, it was a treat. And it’s too bad we don’t see more of them.
In the five decades since the NFL has transitioned from a fistfight in the dirt to basketball on cleats, players have evolved from jack-of-all-trade ironmen into finely tuned, situational specialists. It has gotten to the point where any versatility beyond the well-worn prescriptions for offense, defense or special teams is considered a negative. Kordell Stewart – the QB-slash-tailback-slash-receiver-slash-punter who took the NFL by storm in mid-90s – should have been a model worth emulating. Instead, he is pro football’s poster boy for doing too much. Still, it could have been so much worse. He could have come along two or three decades earlier and been boxed into a role as a receiver or cornerback simply because he was Black and thus assumed not to be smart enough for the cognitive and leadership demands of the quarterback position.
But nowadays? Pro football is more experimental than it’s ever been. That much is undeniable every time a player like New Orleans Saints’ third-down buster Taysom Hill or LA Rams fake-punt god Johnny Hekker steals focus, and snaps, from a traditional QB and wins hearts.
And there’s no better time than now to make a case for Harvin, the rare punter who is also Black. The biggest name like that to find his way into the league was Marquette King, another Georgia university system prospect who kicked for the Raiders and Broncos. He quickly emerged as an All-Pro talent, with a flair for celebration that was second to none. It’s just a shame that all that extra personality may also be why he remains out of a job.
Harvin, though, isn’t nearly as boisterous – news that will come as relief to pro football gatekeepers who reserve showmanship rights for marquee stars. But that’s not to say evaluators haven’t found fault with Harvin. Among other things, they ding him for his high return rate and inconsistent hang time. Likewise, his touch on short kicks they find a bit iffy. Nevertheless under gray and grim conditions at Georgia Tech’s outdoor practice field, Harvin acquitted himself well while showing off his impressive leg, surprising arm and improved fitness; since entering into a rigorous training program after the Yellow Jackets’ season, he’s 20lbs lighter. Ordinarily, that kind of dedication would justify a higher draft grade. But because Harvin is labeled punter, alas, he is doomed to be chosen in the very late rounds, if he’s even picked at all. If there’s any consolation King wasn’t picked either – but of course that’s more of a knock on the game than the player.
It’s just another reason why Harvin is so keen for his critics to see him as something else, something more relatable. “Punters are people, too,” Harvin told reporters. “I can contribute to the team on more than just fourth down.” If he had his druthers he’d list himself on a depth chart as ATH, the commonplace college shorthand for all-round athletes. But if he should manage to catch on with an NFL team and put his tiny hometown of Alcolu, South Carolina, on the map while establishing himself as a modern mold-breaker? Shoot, he’d not only make a big name for himself. He’d leave admirers and doubters alike fumbling for more colorful labels to foist upon him like legend – or, better yet: a steal.