It's a term that was not used to describe Percy Harvin when he first entered the league as a first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings. He was primarily a wide receiver and kick returner in his first three NFL seasons. When injuries and a battle with migraines sidelined him for almost half of the 2012 season, Harvin's role was reduced. Soon after, he was traded to a Super Bowl contending team in Seattle where he was utilized as a jack-of-all-trades weapon. The gadget player label soon followed.
The following year he was traded again. Now with his fourth team in four seasons in Buffalo, Harvin is determined to prove he can again be a game-changing receiver.
Signing with the Bills as a free agent this offseason, Harvin saw an opportunity. More importantly he saw continuity for his personal game in Buffalo knowing he'd have the same head coach and receivers coach he had with the Jets in New York.
"I fell in love with Sanjay (Lal) as a coach," said Harvin of his eight games with the Jets last season. "His ability to get me to process things so quickly… going into the second or third game, I felt like I had been playing outside for years. Working with him and him being able to get it through to me, the things I needed to work on, whether it was V-cuts or speed cuts or coming out of breaks—we just hit it off. His verbiage was just what I needed. That was all a part of my big decision to come here."
Head coach Rex Ryan is on board with Lal's plan to develop Harvin as a bona fide receiver on the outside. Harvin never had enough time to invest in being an outside threat because he was spending too much practice time elsewhere on the field, be it in the slot or the offensive backfield or on kick return with his previous clubs.
"He's a playmaker and I think Percy now he's just scratching the surface of what kind of outside receiver he can be," said Ryan. "I'm excited to see how he can elevate his game at that position. He's extremely talented."
As much as Harvin wants to help the Bills in any way he can, he does want to devote the great majority of his focus to mastering the receiver position. He's confident he can get there with Lal's assistance.
"Aside from the first two years I got in the league I've been just a gadget guy," Harvin said. "I've been dying to just sit down with that one coach who will tell me what I'm doing wrong and what I need to do. Every day coach Sanjay is coming to me with different techniques I can use. He's texting me at night asking me to try this or that. I worked on them and they looked perfect.
"I was dying to get with that coach who would sit with me and want to bring the best out of me and since I've been with the Jets he's been doing that. I think this year a lot of people are going to see the end result of it."
Just because the plan is to line Harvin up as a boundary wideout this season doesn't mean that offensive coordinator Greg Roman can't get creative with the dynamic talent. Harvin will be a receiver, but defenses shouldn't expect to see him lined up in the same place all that often.
"Percy is a world class athlete that's a very tough, physical, strong football player that we envision being a big factor for us at the receiver position," Roman said. "I personally think his best days are ahead of him as a receiver, down-in and down-out. Now, his skill set and his abilities, they can let your imagination go. There's not a lot with Percy where you can say, 'We better not do that with Percy.' You can really just kind of let your imagination run wild and see how it ends up. So, I think Percy can make plays behind the line of scrimmage and behind the defense. There's not a lot of guys that can do that."
Roman and Ryan have been up front with Harvin and the other skill position players on offense as to how things are going to run in Buffalo's attack. It's not going to be about constantly feeding one guy in the passing game.
"Sometimes Percy Harvin may get 10 balls thrown to him. Maybe the next week he gets three, but that's okay because we just want to win," said Ryan. "It could mean your number is dialed up a lot more this week than it was the last week. That's just part of it. We know we have a lot of playmakers and we plan to get the ball in all of their hands."
"There are no egos here," Harvin said. "Guys are just coming in trying to work and be better and that's real comfort for me. I'm looking forward to the season."
Evidence of that can be found in the practice setting. For those who did not previously work with Harvin, the most frequent comment about the seven-year veteran is how hard he goes in practice. "This guy, it's hard to find somebody who works harder on the practice field than Percy Harvin does," said Ryan. "All he has to do is be himself around me and that works."
"That's just always been me. I feel like if I can practice as hard as I can the games will be easy," Harvin said. "I just try to go as hard as I can in practice so in the game I don't have to change speeds. I get to game time and I just do what I always do."
In no way is Harvin's focus on honing his craft as a receiver dismissing a role as a kick returner for Buffalo's special teams unit. Harvin did his homework before signing with the Bills and is fully aware of the top five ranking of Danny Crossman's special teams contingent.
"I'll definitely be on special teams," he said. "The unit was ranked in the top three last year and I know that from facing them. Those guys cover ground pretty fast so I'm just looking to get plugged in back there. We will see what we've got."
What the Bills hope they've got is a game-breaking talent who can take a sizable step forward in reclaiming his status as a feared receiver. With Lal's guidance and what's expected to be a productive rushing attack, the opportunities should be there.
"A great player like Percy Harvin, even though it's been a number of years, he's just now really getting comfortable now as a true receiver," Ryan said. "Not a gadget guy, not a this or that. I think he's just popping off. We're excited to see what he can do."
"I feel that it's time for me to put it all together," Harvin said. "I feel like I have the coaching staff and support here in Buffalo to get that done. The owners here are unbelievable. Everything here spells success for me. The world has yet to see me explode like I'm about to."