BERKELEY -- BearTerritory was on-hand on Tuesday for California’s Pro Timing Day, and the main event was wide receiver Chris Harper, who’s decided to forego his final year of eligibility and test the professional waters.
Harper was one of seven former Bears to work out for scouts from 29 of the 32 NFL teams at Memorial Stadium, running the 40-yard dash, the 20- and 60-yard shuttles, the three-cone drill and also running routes for scouts, including scouts from the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders.
Harper was timed by scouts in the 40-yard dash in as low as 4.49 seconds, which would have been in the top 20 in his position at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine held last month in Indianapolis.
Several scouts also had him in the 6.9’s in the 3-cone drill with only 10 combine participants under 6.9. He registered 35.0” in the vertical jump and 120.0” in the broad jump.
Harper lifted 225 pounds 11 times in the bench press.
“I think it went pretty well,” Harper said of his workout. “I’m happy with how I worked out. I dropped a ball, and that got me frustrated, but other than that, I think I tested pretty well.”
Harper got good feedback from scouts, and will be visiting the Seattle Seahawks on April 15, he said.
“[Scouts] told me that I did good today, and that they were going to be contacting me in the next couple weeks,” Harper said. “Then, I’ll go on visits.”
Harper was not invited to the NFL Combine for what one scout cited as “a numbers game” at the wide receiver position.
“It was [a surprise],” Harper said. “I was disappointed.”
Harper is the only Bear leaving early, after Richard Rodgers (who was in attendance on Tuesday), Viliami Moala, Khairi Fortt, Kameron Jackson and Brendan Bigelow elected to come out early last year. Only Rodgers and Fortt were drafted, but only Rodgers has played in NFL games out of that group.
“A whole bunch of different things,” factored into Harper’s decision, he said. “I was talking to my family, talking to my mentors and making an educated decision. The fact that there are a lot of receivers, and the ball was going to be spread around more, like it was this year, things like that.”
As a freshman in 2012, Harper caught 41 balls for 544 yards and two touchdowns, second on the team to now-San Diego Charger receiver Keenan Allen.
After the Bears went 3-9 in Jeff Tedford’s final year, Harper played in 11 games in 2013, led the Bears in receiving yards (852) and was tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions (5), while ranking second in receptions (70).
In 2014, Harper caught 52 balls for 634 yards and a career-high six touchdowns, as the Cal passing attack grew to include other downfield threats in Trevor Davis (24 catches, 399 yards) and Kenny Lawler (led the team with 701 yards, 9 touchdowns and 54 catches) saw the maturation of two big-bodied receivers in Darius Powe (20 catches, 328 yards) and Stephen Anderson (46 catches, 661 yards). In fact, four different Bears receivers had at least 46 catches and 580 yards or more. In 2013, only three players had more than 580 yards receiving (Bryce Treggs with 751, Harper with 852, Rodgers with 608) and only two players had 50 or more catches – Treggs (77) and Harper (70) -- as Cal went 1-11.
“It was more about my draft stock,” Harper said. “I feel like next year, it wouldn’t have been as high, and with my production dropping every year, going into next year, I wouldn’t have had as many balls or as many opportunities as I’ve had these past couple years, and that’s why I made that educated decision.”
Harper’s agent – Jerome Stanley of SAFE Sports – said that NFL scouts take collegiate production into account. He, for one, was surprised that Harper did not get an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine.
“Every year, I think the guy gave me the number – it’s somewhere close to 40 guys that don’t get invited, that end up in the mix, draft-wise,” Stanley said. “Basically, a whole round’s worth of guys. I wound up talking to the guy at the combine, so they said that they’re kind of on us, because the number’s 40, so you’re missing. It’s not unheard of that a guy can not get invited to the combine. I had a guy that I represented about five years ago, an ‘SC guy, a linebacker, and he was a starting linebacker. He didn’t even get invited to the Combine, and he was very distraught about it. His name is Malcolm Smith. Super Bowl MVP. This process is not about the Combine. It’s not about the 40. It’s not about your timing. It’s about whenever you get in, can you get it done.”
Stanley called the Combine “cotton candy,” a “temporary thing.”
“It’s not dinner; dinner is when they give you a helmet, a shirt, and say, ‘Rookie, what are you going to do?’” Stanley said. “That’s what he’s always done. He’s always been productive on the field in his career.”
Asked directly if the staff did not use Harper correctly, Stanley demurred.
“I don’t know anything about that,” he said.
When pressed, if he had some idea, Stanley said, “No, not at all. I really don’t. I don’t know enough about it. I don’t know how to use him. I don’t know if it was a game plan. I don’t know enough to say that.”
Harper seemed to intimate that he thought otherwise, since his production fell as the ball was spread around more, and the team won five games, as opposed to one.
“I think [the scouts] care about production,” Harper said.
“I think he said he was worried that [production] might drop next year,” Stanley said. “Does the NFL care about production? Yes. I think, what happens is, the end justifies the means. We can answer this question two years from now: Did they showcase you well? How were you drafted, how did it convert, what are the things you learned that helped you be a good pro? A lot of these guys get caught up in this part of it. This is temporary. You’ve got to build a career. It doesn’t matter if you’re a high draft pick and you don’t have a career. You look back at your college career in totality: How did it help prepare you for being a successful player?”
The feedback from the Cal coaches once Harper told them he was leaving?
“They said good luck and wished me the best,” said Harper, who did not discuss his decision with the staff before he made it. “I feel like it was my decision, and it was something that I had to go through with my family, and a decision that we had to make.”
Harper said that he was projected anywhere from the third to the seventh round of the NFL Draft this year. Harper had not been informed that players could attend pro days for teams in their hometowns or in the area where they attended college, and has not attended any other pro day workouts, though he did go to the NFL Regional Combine.
“It went good,” said Harper, who expects to be drafted. “That was at the Denver Broncos practice facility a few weeks ago.”