Will Harvin's routes lead to Indy or Nashville?

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Is Percy Harvin a multipurpose receiver who will automatically make an NFL offense more dynamic? Or is he an inexperienced route runner who will have a hard time when a team needs him to fill a somewhat conventional role?

That's the debate we can expect to hear for the next two months on the draft value of the Florida wideout, who could be in play in the late first round when two AFC South teams in need of a receiver -- the Colts and the Titans -- make their first picks.

"I think there are two issues with him," said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, who rates Harvin as a first-rounder but offered the negative outlook. "I think, No. 1, are the durability issues. You're talking about a longer season and whether or not he can hold up. And No. 2 I think is all about usage. Is he Reggie Bush? Can he run the wide receiver route tree? At the University of Florida he really didn't have to run the type of NFL routes he's going to have to run... What kind of route runner is he? We don't know yet, that's part of the problem."

"He's a versatile player," one scout from the AFC South said, offering the positive outlook. "In those spread-type offenses instead of being polished route runners, they become versatile type players. Because you're a part-time running back, part-time screen guy, part-time reverse guy. You do a number of different things as well as being a receiver... The thing you have to keep going back to is he makes a lot of plays -- whether it's screens, reverses, catching the ball across the middle of the field and taking off. Somehow you've got to find players like that and find a position for them."

Come April 25, the Colts will be looking to restock at the start of the post-Marvin Harrison era and the Titans will need to consider, as always, a dynamic receiver who can stretch the field.

The case for Harvin in Indianapolis is that he'd be a dynamic and explosive weapon for Peyton Manning. But many insiders project him primarily as a slot guy. While Anthony Gonzalez played enough outside last season, he's more of a slot guy, too. Minus Harrison, that's not the Colts' big need at receiver.
A guy like North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks is more polished, more of an outside guy and could be more ready to step right in and produce.

The Titans saw the sort of major impact vibrant running back Chris Johnson had for their offense as they went 13-3 last season. Would a wideout cut from similar cloth give them a dynamic duo? Or, if they broke with their long tradition of avoiding receivers in the first round, would they be better served with Kenny Britt of Rutgers, Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland or Nicks?

Like Harvin, those three are leaving college early. The Titans should at least be looking to upgrade at the No. 2 spot that was held by Justin McCareins when healthy. But, despite the deficiencies in their pass game, the team is loathe to play rookie receivers much. The top six-rated receivers in this draft -- Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin, who are expected to be gone early, Harvin, Heyward-Bey, Nicks and Britt -- didn't play full college careers. If one of them lands in Tennessee, the team is likely to preach patience. The Titans might have the pick spend more time on the bench than on the field.

ESPN had Harvin at 4.41 in the 40, while the NFL.com stopwatch had 4.37 at the combine. His speed wasn't going to be a question. He discussed durability in his podium talk where he also shrugged off the route-running questions, pledging to answer them for all at his March 18th pro day at Florida.

"I ran a lot of digs and posts, but as the season went on I didn't get to run a lot of them," he said. "A lot of our games were blowouts or they needed me to run the ball [as a back]. I've done it many times in practice so I don't think it'll be hard transition for me. I'm looking forward to my pro day, to show the coaches I can do it."

He didn't dismiss comparisons to Bush while saying he is this draft's most explosive player.

"Both of us are used to create mismatches on the other team," he said. "You get the ball and can cut back across the field. A lot of the similarities are because we're both explosive on the open field."

Willing to talk about Bush, Harvin also boldly invoked the name of Carolina Panthers star Steve Smith. Perhaps he turns out to be as physical and tough as Smith, an explosive playmaker who's also shown those qualities, but Smith hasn't jumped to mind when I've seen Harvin play for the Gators.

"I'm a little bigger than him, but just as explosive in the open field and have a knack to make big plays," said Harvin.

The scout said it's easier to evaluate a running back who can do a lot of receiver work as opposed to a receiver who can do a lot of running back stuff. That could hurt Harvin, but it also could help ensure he lands with a team that has ideas for how to use him -- something that's taken a few years to happen in New Orleans with Bush.

For a front office that looks for players who fit in predictable boxes, Harvin is unlikely to be the guy. In Florida's offense, he excelled more often running to spots than following the sort of route tree an NFL team will present.

"At the end of the day, there are going to be a group of NFL teams that look at him and say, 'I don't care, we'll find a way to get him touches, we'll find a way to get the ball in his hands, he's just so explosive we have to have him,'" Mayock said. "I think I've got him No. 3 right now [among wide receivers] as a first-round pick. I like him. But I think there are going to be some teams that really like him and some that will say, 'I'm not sure what to do with him.'"

"If you're scared off, I don't think you're doing your work on a player like that," the scout said. "I don't think you can be scared of a player that makes plays and has great speed and scores touchdowns."