2015 NFL Combine Watch List; Part 1: Wide Receiver

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Jan 21, 2015; Mobile, AL, USA; South squad wide receiver Josh Harper of Fresno State (3) pulls in a pass over South squad defensive back Nick Marshall of Auburn (14) during Senior Bowl practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Harper, Fresno State

The youngest of the trio of wideouts that helped Derek Carr put up eye-popping stats at Fresno State in 2013, Josh Harper is now a senior and has entered the draft after another productive season at Fresno State. With the other two members of that trio (Isaiah Burse and Devante Adams) already on NFL rosters, Josh Harper remains the only one of the three that the Raiders could potentially add to their roster in an effort to give Carr a familiar set of hands to throw to.

Harper, who had a solid showing at Senior Bowl practices, is not a huge name, and projects as a 3rd or 4th round pick. It may be solely the connection to Carr, combined with a good showing in the Combine, that puts him on Reggie McKenzie’s draft board. With a small, slender frame but great speed and quickness, Harper projects more as a small slot receiver type who can do things in the underneath passing game and off the screen but not necessarily as a deep-ball man or an outside receiver. Harper has good hands, rarely dropping passes, and has good range to make catches with his long arms and athletic ability. Still, he will have to show his ability to run a variety of routes, as well as diffuse some concerns about his small build and less-physical reputation in the Combine. He can do that in these three events:

1. Bench Press + weigh in: so this two-fer is a bit of a cheat, but one way Harper can diffuse concerns about his lean frame is by showing that he’s put on some weight since the Senior Bowl, and that weight has also made him stronger. To do so he must start at the weigh-in by weighing more than the 189 pounds he weighed at the Senior Bowl. At just shy of 6’1″, an ideal size for him would be closer to 200 pounds. He was listed as 185 by Fresno State’s website, so he appears to be trending upward. If he can get to about 195-198 in time for the Combine, it will help his stock. He can also help his stock by showing up and doing well (for a wideout) in the bench press.

His former Fresno State teammates – Adams and Burse – both performed relatively well in this drill (both in the top half of receivers in the 2014 draft), and Fresno State’s strength and conditioning program is considered one of the strengths of that program. While Harper was always the smallest of the three wideouts in 2013, if he can put up numbers anywhere close to what Burse and Adams did – say, 10 reps or higher – while adding another 6-10 pounds to his Senior Bowl weight, he can quiet the fears about his small size.

2. Passing Routes: One of the knocks on Harper is that he’s not a great route runner. Coming from a spread-option system that relies heavily on the short pass, this is certainly an issue. And while Harper did a lot of damage for Derek Carr on deeper routes in 2013, he was not the primary deep-ball receiver in that offense – that honor went to Devante Adams, now of the Packers. Still, Harper had the same coaching Adams had, and may at least have the basic concepts if not the polished end skills. He was neither impressive nor bad running routes at the Senior Bowl practices. He can help himself a great deal if he can come out in the Combine and do well in the passing routes, especially the deeper routes and sideline patterns that rely on his ball skills and quick breaks.

3. 40-yard dash: Yes, the 40-yard dash will not diffuse any concerns about either his size or his route-running ability, and it’s not the most important drill. Yet despite what all the experts say, every year some guy blows everyone’s mind with his 40-yard dash and gets himself drafted higher than where he otherwise would be. Harper has great speed, he was probably the fastest player on the Fresno State offense in 2013, and if he can show it with a good 40 time – say in the 4.45 range – and combine it with some added size and strength and a good showing in the route drills – he can help himself a lot. A guy who isn’t the biggest player out there, nor the best route runner, but can outrun 80% of NFL cornerbacks and make the catch most of the time, will find a roster spot in the league somewhere. A guy who can do all that AND is familiar with your young franchise quarterback is a great addition to your offense.