Cal football’s Chad Hansen declares for 2017 NFL Draft

Ethan Epstein/Senior Staff

Redshirt junior wide receiver Chad Hansen, perhaps the Cal football team’s biggest and brightest star, announced Wednesday that he has chosen to forgo his senior year to enter the 2017 NFL Draft. After entering the season completely off the radar of NFL talent evaluators, the former walk-on is looking to leverage his big year into a spot in the pros.

“Competing in the NFL has always been among my highest goals and I believe the time to pursue this opportunity is now,” Hansen, who boasts a 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame, said in a statement announcing his decision. “This was an extremely difficult decision to make — my time at Cal has been amazing.”

Hansen’s decision was likely made easier by the prospect of deflated numbers if he returned next season. Stud freshman Demetris Robertson is primed to take on a bigger role in the passing game and a new quarterback is stepping in to lead the offense with quarterback Davis Webb exhausting his eligibility and looking to land in the NFL as well.

Even with Hansen and Webb set to leave, however, it’s unlikely the Bear Raid will suddenly become the Snail Raid, as six of the team’s eight leading receivers are returning next season, led by Robertson and Melquise Stovall. Additionally, the battle to replace Webb will be staged by a deep group of potential successors. Ross Bowers may enter as an early favorite, with Max Gilliam, Victor Viramontes, Chase Forrest and incoming freshman Chase Garbers all likely to contend as well.

They will go into the job, however, without one of the nation’s best receivers. Hansen, who racked up prolific receiving stats despite playing in only 10 games, shot into the national spotlight after back-to-back 14-catch games to open the year. He did well to step into a void left by the departure of the Bears’ top six receivers heading into the 2016 season. Hansen tallied 92 catches that produced 1,249 yards and 11 touchdowns, all best on the team. He is third in the nation in receptions per game and fourth in yards per game, rankings that helped him earn a slew of Pac-12 honors.

“Chad played a significant role in our offensive success last season and was certainly one of the top receivers in the nation,” said Cal head coach Sonny Dykes on Wednesday in a Cal Athletics press release. “We’re certainly going to miss Chad, but I’m excited for him and this opportunity. He has a skill set that will translate well to the NFL.”

Despite Dykes’ effusive praise and Hansen’s eye-popping stats, the Cal star has largely been left out of the conversation for the best receivers in the coming draft. With only one productive year under his belt and a troubling tendency to make body catches, Hansen may be dragged down to the later rounds of the draft. But given his physical tools — he’ll likely run his 40-yard dash in the 4.4-second range — and the potential he flashed this season, Hansen could end up being a good value pick for his future team.

Hooman Yazdanian covers football. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @hoomanyazdanian