Oakland Raiders Training Camp preview: Five rookies to watch

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Nov 29, 2014; Fresno, CA, USA; Fresno State Bulldogs wide receiver Josh Harper (3) runs with the ball after making a catch against the Hawaii Warriors in the second quarter at Bulldog Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

3. Josh Harper, Rookie Wide Receiver

Josh Harper has a bit higher of a profile than most undrafted free agents. An immensely productive college wideout, Harper was projected by some to be a 3rd or 4th round selection but fell out of the draft as questions mounted about his disappointing pre-Draft workouts, 40 time, durability and size (only 6’1″ and 185 pounds). He was one of the first rookie free agents signed by the Raiders during the UDFA signing period.

Signing with the Raiders was of course the obvious choice for Harper, as it has reunited him with his former college quarterback: Derek Carr. Harper was the youngest of a trio of wide receivers who, in 2013, helped Derek Carr put up amazing passing numbers for Fresno State. In 2013, Carr led major college football with 453 completions, 5,082 passing yards and 50 passing touchdowns. Harper accounted for 79 receptions, 1,011 yards and 13 of those TD’s despite missing time late in the year with an injury.

In the three years Carr and Harper were together at Fresno State, Josh Harper played in 27 games (he missed significant time his sophomore season) and caught 138 passes for 1,841 yards and 22 touchdowns. By 2013, Harper was Carr’s second-favorite target behind current Packers wideout Devante Adams, and ahead of current Broncos wideout Isaiah Burse (though Harper’s injury late in the year allowed Burse to pass him for second on the team in receptions).

Of course, Carr, Adams and Burse all left Fresno State before the 2014 season, leaving the senior Harper there as Fresno State’s offensive leader and primary receiving weapon, even as the team transitioned to a run-first read-option offense to offset the loss of one of college football’s premier passers. Despite mediocre to abysmal quarterback play by Fresno State in 2014, Harper still managed to produce, catching 90 passes for 1,097 yards and 7 TD’s.

Harper is no Amari Cooper, and in many ways doesn’t fit the profile of a Reggie McKenzie-era Raider wideout. He small, not particularly fast going down the field, and doesn’t really add anything in the return game. But Harper has tons of familiarity and chemistry with the Raiders’ apparent franchise quarterback, and that counts for a lot. Carr will want to help his old college buddy succeed in any way he can, and the two will likely re-connect on their timing and recognition of each other very quickly in camp. Franchises that succeed keep guys around who work well with their franchise quarterback, and that could very well be what gets Josh Harper a spot on the 53-man roster.

Next: Rookie Watch: Dexter McDonald, CB (Kansas)