Percy Harvin, Michael Crabtree, and Jeremy Maclin: 2008's Biletnikoff Battle

Bleacher ReportSenior Analyst IJune 26, 2008

For the most part, my battle at the top series has been one on one battles between two of the nation's elite players to determine who is the clear-cut number one—Maualuga versus Laurinaitis, Tebow versus White, and Wells versus Moreno. 

However, wide receiver is a three-headed monster this year in college football, with Jeremy Maclin of Mizzou, Percy Harvin of Florida, and Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech all pushing to be THE number one threat in America.

The differing skill sets of these kids, coupled with the abject mediocrity of their nationwide receiving peer group, truly make these three a hot commodity in college football.

Harvin, Crabtree, and Maclin are the best of the best heading into 2008, and while names such as Aaron Kelly and Kenny Britt may make some splashes ,these three have the market cornered.

With their dynamic capabilities, each is a terrorizing foe for defenses in the Big XII and SEC—however, only one can truly be considered the best wide receiver in college football.

Percy Harvin (5'11", 178 pounds)

Looking at his size, Harvin seems too small to be a serious contender in an era where bigger is better, but a look at his numbers tells the true story of his larger-than-life contribution to the Gators.  In 2007, Harvin caught 59 balls for 858 yards and carried 83 times for 764 yards on the ground. 

Percy Harvin is a more than capable receiver—he's a true deep threat who was exposed to the nation during his performance in the national title game two years ago.  At 5'11", Harvin has the great hands a receiver needs and the fearless nature that makes him a true asset to the Florida squad.

Harvin has the best stop-and-go speed in the nation—he cuts on a dime, and his elusiveness in traffic is eerily similar to the college greats Peter Warrick and Reggie Bush.  The difference for Harvin is that his speed comes with an innate toughness.

His 858 rushing yards were truly running-back-styled yards.  Although he ran reverses like other receivers, a large portion of Harvin's yards came hitting the hole and taking on linebackers to get tough yards.

He's not afraid of contact, whether it's running a dig into a linebacker covering the curl or taking a handoff off tackle and absorbing a blow to get a first down. 

As great as Harvin is on the ground, he's equally exceptional when the ball is in the air.  He's a legitimate deep threat who is not only capable of breaking short passes, but who has also shown the ability to go upfield and catch the deep ball in traffic. 

Lee Corso puts it like this, simply describing Harvin as "the finest, most exciting football player in the nation."

With any luck, Harvin's junior campaign will be less about running and more about catching, as he was forced into too much of a running back role for his slight frame to comfortably accomodate, as evidenced in his absence from two late-season games against FAU and USC.

By sticking to receiver he'll save his legs, limit the bruises, and perform solidly with a thousand-yard season in the air and five hundred on the ground.

Michael Crabtree (6'3", 208 pounds)

Coming off a Biletnikoff-award-winning season in which he racked up NCAA freshman records by totaling 134 catches, 1,962 yards and 22 TDs, Crabtree seems poised to defend his title as the best receiver in the nation.

The guy is the prototype NFL receiver, from the tall, well-muscled frame to the large, powerful hands.  Crabtree is an excellent route runner and has shown a tremendous ability to high point balls in traffic, a skill that makes NFL scouts drool.

On the college level, the redshirt sophomore is a serious deep threat, capable of running the post, deep dig, and corner routes to perfection.  His explosion off the line and ability to handle physical corners gives him an edge as soon as he lines up to go deep.

In the short passing game, Crabtree has proven equally dangerous with his ability to break the big one.  He doesn't have the tremendous deceleration and acceleration of a Harvin, but he does have the vision to get yards in bunches. 

The most impressive aspect of Crabtree's game is his proclivity to show up big in big games.  Against divisional foes he averaged 9.4 catches and 163.4 yards a game.  Even more importantly, against Oklahoma and Texas the freshman showed up for 12 catches for 154 yards and nine catches for 195 yards, respectively.

There are still some unknowns heading into 2008 following Crabtree's breakout freshman year.  The most basic argument presented by Crabtree detractors is that Texas Tech passes more than 97 percent of DI-A, skewing the sophomore's numbers and the public opinion.

However, the biggest hurdle for Crabtree will be his ability to handle the pressure, both real and perceived, of being the returning Biletnikoff award winner.

Defenses will focus on using nickel, dime, and specialized schemes in an attempt to neutralize Crabtree.  He will also face physical pressure at the line and downfield in an attempt to throw him off his game.

Jeremy Maclin (6'1", 200 pounds)

Crabtree set the receiving records last year, but Maclin dominated another freshman record—total yards.  His 2,776 all-purpose yards loudly introduced the freshman to the Big XII and the nation.

Piling up 1,055 receiving yards, 375 rushing yards, 307 punt return yards, and 1,039 kick return yards was no small task as he ran to a total of 16 touchdowns.

As a return man Maclin is a true All-American, possessing the ability to break the big one from wherever he gets the ball in his hands.  Though most of his accolades were gained in the return game, his receiving skills are nothing short of spectacular.

Maclin's receiving yards come in chunks as he punishes defenses with tunnel, bubble, and quick screen passes from Chase Daniel.  He's got the best cut and go speed in the country, and if he gets a seam you can put six on the board.

Jeremy Maclin's biggest asset is his field vision.  Gary Pinkel cuts him loose with short passes in space, returns, and reverses to allow Maclin to improvise and create as he sees fit. 

The hangups for Maclin at this stage in his career are his deficiencies both in route running and against physical defenses.  While great at running screens and short quick hitters, the crispness of his deep routes leaves much to be desired.

He uses speed exclusively instead of coupling his speed with cuts and positioning to gain an increased advantage.  This works in college but translates to Ted Ginn, Jr. in the NFL.

2008 will be a struggle for Maclin as he's now a well known commodity to the Big XII.  His return numbers will plummet with teams using the sky kick and directional techniques to keep the ball out of his hands.

Defenses such as Oklahoma and Texas will continue to pound on him at the line, rendering him largely ineffective unless he improves the physicality of his game.

In the end, Chase Daniel will depend upon Maclin to convert third downs, and he'll be crucial to making the Tigers tick.

The Verdict

Maclin, Harvin, Crabtree.  The top three receivers heading into 2008, each bringing their own special touch to the same critical position in the spread offense.  Each represents his role in stellar fashion, but adding it up the three guys play out like a three course meal.

The light, versatile Harvin serves up as an appetizer—a quality guy who is good by himself but is even better paired with a dynamic centerpiece, in this case Tim Tebow. 

In all his flashiness, Maclin serves as the dessert of this receiving feast.  He looks good, draws you in, but still leaves you wanting more, like third down receptions and big time catches in traffic.

Michael Crabtree is the entree of this ensemble.  Crabtree is the 32-ounce porterhouse of the college football world.  He's great with help, but the guy can get it done all by himself.

Crabtree is without a doubt the best of the best.  He's an elite receiver who, I feel, will respond admirably to the pressures placed upon him entering 2008.  His numbers may go down with the double and triple teams, but in the red zone expect Crabtree to come through as he did in 2007.

Mike Leach has a real player in Lubbock, and with Graham Harrell tossing the ball around, expect Michael Crabtree to repeat as the 2008 Biletnikoff winner—something receiving greats Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson, and Larry Fitzgerald never did.


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