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While 2008 graduate and WR Jordy Nelson looks to be the best Wildcat in the NFL at the position for at least a couple more years, Chris Harper has experienced a growing interest from NFL teams in the early/mid-rounds of the draft this year. His combination of speed and strength while playing in a system that asked him to block first and pass catches second has created an intriguing option for several GMs.
CBSSports projects Harper as a 3-4 round pick, and Pittsburgh has listed as one of the most interested teams. The Steelers have a great starting duo but their slot receiving options – Jerricho Cotchery or Plaxico Burress – are slowing with age and will need replacement soon. The Baltimore Ravens are also in desperate need of receivers and a home in the AFC North is a very real possibility for Harper.
Harper has been knocked for his height, which is admittedly lacking for the position at 6’1″. However, he is extremely strong and was the third best WR at the NFL combine in the bench press with 20 reps of 225 lbs (he was also 13th in the vertical jump with a leap of 35.5 inches).
Here is NFL.com’s assessment of what Harper brings to the table:
"STRENGTHSSize/speed combination is impressive. Cornerbacks trying to press him at the line see his quickness and pure acceleration down the sideline. On crosses, sells the outside routes before planting his foot to get inside position. Harper uses his size to his advantage, often shielding defenders. He also possesses a very strong set of hands that he uses to out-muscle smaller defensive backs. Very adept at catching the ball off of his frame. He is also very tough to bring down with the ball in his hands.WEAKNESSESCould finish plays more consistently, as he will stand around a bit while his quarterback is trying to scramble and doesn’t always sustain his blocks despite his aggressiveness. A bit stiff in the hips. Fought an ankle injury in 2011. Hasn’t been immensely productive."
At the end of the day, projecting Harper is a unique proposition because he’s not going to be drafted to race downfield and beat cornerback to the ball. He’s quicker than he is fast, and will be counted on in the slot position to fight for short passes and could be a first down machine with the right team. While no one is projecting him to be drafted in the second, several analysts have recently admitted they would not be surprised with that outcome given how he’s climbed draft boards recently (improving upon his combine 40 yard dash at K-State’s Pro Day didn’t hurt). Expect a team to call his name in the third or fourth round, and no one should let him drop out of the fifth round on Saturday.
Click here to check out Shane Summers’ look at every Wildcat with draft potential this year.