MANHATTAN — Throughout his college football career, Chris Harper’s chances of being drafted by a NFL team could be described with one word: likely.
Now that the NFL Draft is almost here – it starts Thursday — that word has changed. His new outlook: definitely.
Harper, a former Kansas State receiver and Northwest High alum, has dramatically improved his draft stock since playing his final college game at the Fiesta Bowl. Following a series of workouts at the Senior Bowl and face-to-face meetings with officials from all 32 NFL teams, experts now predict he will go as early as the second round and no later than the fifth.
Those projections may surprise those who look only at his stats – 123 catches for 1,734 yards and 12 touchdowns during three seasons at K-State – but Harper knew NFL scouts would like him once they got an up-close look.
“I definitely expected this,” Harper said. “My stats aren’t as good as some other wideouts around the country, but we ran the ball a lot. This day and age, every team is throwing it around. The other guys were getting double the catches. That’s just how their offenses worked.
“But when I looked at the stats at the end of the season I saw receivers had double the catches but they didn’t have double the yards. Something isn’t adding up here. Once I got out there, I saw I was better than most of those guys. Then I went out and proved it.”
Indeed, scouts at the Senior Bowl raved about him.
Harper remembers one telling him he possessed “soft” and “strong” hands. Harper had never heard those compliments in the same sentence before. When he asked for clarification, he remembers the scout telling him his hands were soft enough to catch most passes while strong enough to hold onto the ball while being tackled.
Combine that ball security with his 6-foot-1, 224-pound body and he has many of the traits that help successful college receivers become quality NFL players.
Dane Brugler, a NFL Draft analyst for CBSSports.com, thinks Harper “is one of the more underrated receivers for the 2013 class.” A video profile of Harper on NFL.com compares him to Houston Texans receiver Andre Johnson and praises his ability to “catch the ball at its highest point.”
“The first thing everyone talks about is how I catch the ball and how I attack the ball,” Harper said. “That’s what I do.”
He didn’t get to show off those skills as often as other receivers last season while playing in a run-oriented offense led by Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein. He caught 58 passes for 857 yards and three touchdowns as a senior, but his yards-per-catch average was 14.8.
That’s the number he always tried to focus on, even if others didn’t.
“I think I’m good enough to go in the first round,” Harper said. “But it is what it is. That’s not where I’m projected. It all goes back to production, and I understand that. I’m not happy with it, but I’m not up here crying about it.”
He knows one area where K-State’s offense will help him – blocking. Harper isn’t sure if he will line up wide or in the slot next season, but he played both at K-State and has the versatility to play both professionally.
Harper long ago proved he could catch passes on the perimeter. K-State coaches also taught him to make downfield blocks, which is essential for any slot receiver going up against linebackers on running plays.
“A lot of people say it gives you an advantage,” Harper said, “but you aren’t going to jump someone who has a lot of production because you are a good blocker. It’s something extra, but it’s not like teams are saying, ‘He can block, let’s take him a round earlier.’ At the end of the day, you are getting paid to catch the ball.”
Harper put himself in the draft discussion by doing that consistently as K-State’s top receiver the past two years. He has worked his way into a desirable draft pick since.
“Working out on a level playing field gave me a whole new perspective,” Harper said. “We didn’t throw the ball a lot, but in our offense I made a lot of catches. Workouts are different. Everything is way more technical now. I’m loving it.”