While Josh Harper did not have Derek Carr to throw passes to him any more in 2014, the senior provided a steadying influence for the young Bulldogs offense from the split end position, as Brian Burrell emerged as a quality passer for the team under Harper’s guidance. With Carr and fellow receivers Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse (receiver tandem combined for 231 catches for 2,745 yards and 30 scores) having entered the pro ranks, it was up to Harper to play a critical role in giving the next Fresno State passer (Brian Burrell) ample opportunity to stretch the field.
Harper, serving as the “third option” in 2013, pulled in 79 balls for 1,011 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013. This season, he led the team with 90 grabs for 1,097 yards and seven scores. Those two campaigns pushed his career figures to 228 receptions for 2,938 yards (12.89 ypc) and 29 touchdowns.
Harper is a smooth route runner with the cutting ability to make sharp breaks, along with showing above average ability when stemming his route off the line, keeping his feet under him to create a burst for himself, even when operating in tight spaces. He has the speed needed to close the gap coming from off-coverage, thanks to his excellent ability to gain that extra step on his coverage assignment, especially when trying to make the over-the-shoulder grabs. He also has that great change of direction agility to make the initial tackler miss.
Harper has a compact frame that could carry at least another ten pounds of bulk, but he has good chest, arm and shoulder definition, a tight waist and abdomen, good thickness in his thighs and calves, along with low body fat. He is an agile, deceptive runner with the crisp cutting ability to set up and separate from the defender after the catch. He is an all-around athlete with great elevation going for the high passes. He has very good body control throughout his route progression and flashes the flexibility to get to the off-target throws.
The Bulldog is very sharp to turn in and out of his patterns and shows ease of movement getting his head turned around to look the ball in. His agility and cutting ability coming out of his breaks compensates for a lack of blazing speed. He is active with his hands in attempts to defeat the press and has enough strength to separate after the catch. He makes sharp cuts coming out of his breaks and has an array of moves to get into his route cleanly.
You can see on film that Harper is smooth in his patterns and is physical working off and riding up the defender to get to the ball in flight. He has the short area quickness to separate and has developed good hand placement to defeat the jam. He does a nice job of settling into the zones and shows natural hands to look in and secure the ball.
Harper’s ball concentration skills and ability to track the ball in flight allow him to make the tough grab. He is the type that builds up his acceleration nicely, demonstrating the athletic agility to adjust to the ball in flight. He is flexible making adjustments to uncover and has the quick vision to come back for the ball when the pocket is pressured. He is used more in the slot than as a deep threat, but builds to top speed quick enough to be a valid target in the secondary. He has that long stride that sneaks up on a defender, showing fine body adjustments to get to the ball.
Harper is sharp in his cuts and does a nice job of sinking his weight and opening his hips to get under most balls thrown to him in the short-to-intermediate areas. He shows loose hips in his patterns and the body control to separate after executing sharp cuts. He maintains eye contact with the backfield to work back for the ball and is very effective locating and settling into the zone’s soft areas.
The receiver is showing a good ability to sell his fakes and even though he is used mostly as a zone route runner, he works hard in his patterns and is quick to find the open area. He is most effective on comeback routes, where his deceptive speed is a benefit. He lacks the deep speed and explosion to go vertical, but has good quickness in his stride when working horizontally.
Harper is determined to come up with the ball in traffic and has that body contortion agility to easily work his way under the ball to catch it in stride. He uses his body control and balance to catch and turn with the ball without having to gather in his cuts and will generally put himself in good position to catch the ball with his hands extended.
Harper has to rely on his lateral agility and moves to separate after the catch. He lacks the strength to run through arm tackles or the speed to simply fly past defenders in the open field. However, his nifty moves do help him get some yardage after the catch. He has the vision to settle into the soft areas on the field, but is not the type that will get much yardage after the initial hit (lacks explosion in the deep areas).
Josh Harper Scouting Combine measurables
6-1/191 (4.64 forty)
30 7/8-inch arm length
8 3/4-inch hands
32-inch vertical jump
108-inch broad jump
7.15 3 cone drill
4.36 20 yard shuttle
12.26 60 yard shuttle
Dave-Te’ Thomas is a sports writer, talent evaluator and scouting personnel consultant for a majority of teams in the National Football League. Thomas runs a scouting information service called NFL Scouting Services and produces THE NFL Draft Report, a publication provided by league headquarters to the media in preparation for the NFL Draft.
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