The recent revelation of a trade request by the Minnesota Vikings' Percy Harvin has put the spotlight squarely on one of the NFL's most explosive multi-purpose weapons. While most have focused on Harvin himself, the swirl of attention prompted me to consider a question: Who are the top versatile playmakers in the league today?
Here is my list:
Any list of explosive playmakers has to include Newton. The reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year is revolutionizing the way the quarterback position is played with his unique skill set. Newton became the first rookie quarterback to surpass the 4,000-yard mark, while also rushing for 700-plus yards and accounting for 35 total touchdowns (21 passing touchdowns and an NFL QB record 14 rushing scores). With big plays valued at a premium, it is hard to find a more dynamic playmaker in the game than Newton.
Harvin's versatility and explosiveness are extremely rare, even for the NFL level. The fourth-year pro excels at avoiding defenders in space and his ability to run away from pursuit makes him a threat to score from anywhere on the field. So it's easy to see why the Vikings have no plans to grant Harvin's request for a trade. With Minnesota featuring Harvin in a hybrid role that allows him to get touches in three different roles (runner/receiver/returner), it will be hard for opponents to contain the ultra-talented playmaker this fall.
It is unusual to find a defensive player with the ability to put points on the board, but few defenders possess Peterson's playmaking skills. He is a natural ball hawk with exceptional instincts, and his ability to attack the ball like a receiver is certainly uncommon for a defensive back. Factor in his remarkable return skills and flair for the dramatic, and Peterson certainly deserves a spot on this list of multi-purpose game changers.
The Bears' experiment with Hester as a No. 1 wideout has been deemed a failure, but he remains a legitimate threat to score whenever he touches the ball as a receiver/returner. Although Hester tallied only 26 receptions and one touchdown reception in 2011, his three return scores and numerous big plays on special teams helped fuel a Chicago squad that looked like a serious contender until Jay Cutler suffered a season-ending injury. If new coordinator Mike Tice can tap into those game-changing skills with a few offensive packages, the Hester factor will prove problematic for defensive coordinators around the league.
After languishing in San Diego as a part-time contributor, Sproles has flourished in a Saints offense that has put him in a key role as a change-of-pace weapon. Sproles set an NFL record with 2,696 all-purpose yards in 2011, amassing over 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns from scrimmage on only 173 touches. He averaged an impressive 27.2 yards on kick returns, while also tallying 10.1 yards on punt returns with another score. Few players in the NFL have the skills to truly change the game with the ball in their hands, but Sproles is one of the best I've seen in recent years.
Next in line
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins: Mike Shanahan paid a hefty price to acquire the dual-threat quarterback in the 2012 NFL Draft, so expect the Redskins to implement a system that maximizes his extraordinary talent on the perimeter.
Dexter McCluster, WR/KR/PR, Kansas City Chiefs: McCluster has experience at running back, but Romeo Crennel plans to give him more reps at receiver in 2012. Additional opportunities in space could result in more big plays for a Chiefs offense that desperately needs a jolt.
Randall Cobb, WR/KR/PR, Green Bay Packers: Cobb made an immediate impact as a return specialist in his rookie season, but he could see his role expand on offense with Mike McCarthy looking to take advantage of his versatility as a former quarterback/receiver/returner at Kentucky.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks