For the first time since 1986, the Cal football team saw an NFL draft come and go without any players being drafted. There was a silver lining to the weekend’s events for the Bears, however, as junior wide receiver Chris Harper was picked up as an undrafted free agent by the reigning Super Bowl champion the New England Patriots.
Harper played a vital role in Cal’s Bear Raid offense and was the team’s second leading receiver in the 2014 season. The 5-foot-11 receiver tallied 159 catches for 1,963 yards and 13 touchdowns in his three years on the team.
Harper will need to further impress the Patriots in the off-season training camps to make a similar mark on the champion team and make its final 53-man roster.
The Patriots are perhaps the NFL’s preeminent team at making use of unheralded receivers, turning overlooked players such as Wes Welker and Julian Edelman into bona fide stars. Making it onto the Patriots would also allow Harper a chance to play with star quarterback Tom Brady, which would certainly be helpful for Harper’s development.
The soon-to-be Cal alumnus will hope to replicate the NFL success of other former Bears’ receivers such as Desean Jackson and Keenan Allen. Harper, however, will not have the kind of head start that Jackson and Allen had, as second- and third-round picks, respectively. As soon as training camps start, the former Jared Goff target will find himself in a battle every day to keep his name on the roster.
If, by opening day, Harper still hasn’t been cut, he could become the next unexpected receiver to contribute to the Patriots and represent a rare high point at a time in Cal football that has seen many lows, coming off three consecutive losing seasons.
A previous version of this article stated that Desean Jackson and Keenan Allen were first-round picks. In fact, they were second- and third-round picks, respectively.