Former Cal wide receiver Chris Harper vies for roster spot with New England Patriots

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When former Cal wide receiver Chris Harper announced that he would forgo his senior year and enter the 2015 NFL Draft, his decision came as a shock to some.

Harper had been one of the Bears’ most consistent receivers since his freshman campaign in 2012 and is eighth on the program’s career receptions list. The 5-foot-11 wideout caught at least one pass in 34 of his 35 career games and posted his best numbers during his sophomore season, when he had 70 receptions (placing him seventh on Cal’s all-time single-season list) for 852 receiving yards.

But when February rolled around, Harper was one of the most notable players to be snubbed by the NFL Combine, despite tallying 163 receptions for 2,030 yards during his Cal career. Though some believe that the importance of this annual tradition is overblown, an invite to the combine is still seen as a golden ticket for most prospects. Whether the snub played a role or not, Harper ultimately was not selected in this year’s draft.

Fast forward four months, and Harper now has a legitimate shot at making the New England Patriots’ 53-man roster after being signed by the Patriots in May as an undrafted free agent.

During the Patriots’ first preseason game of the season against the Green Bay Packers, Harper had seven receptions for 48 yards for the reigning Super Bowl champions. Against the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, Harper played 73 of 79 offensive snaps and led New England’s receiving corps with 69 yards, including a touchdown. On that play, Harper hauled in a 24-yard pass from Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who escaped from a collapsing pocket to find Harper in the endzone. Harper, who has seen some playing time with the Patriots’ special teams, also had three punt returns for 32 yards and two kickoff returns for 55 yards against the Saints.

Harper has climbed his way up the Patriots’ depth chart, taking advantage of a diminished roster, with Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Aaron Dobson all nursing injuries. Now that Harper has displayed the talent that made him one of Jared Goff’s favorite targets, he’ll look to earn a spot with the Patriots when their regular season begins Sept. 10.

Michelle Lee covers football. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @michelle_e_lee.