Josh Harper Was a Steal, but Will He Fit with the Oakland Raiders?

OK, Raiders Nation, I’m going to challenge your preconceptions a little.  I’m going to tell you that Josh Harper was perhaps the best move the Raiders made over the NFL Draft weekend in terms of a receiving option for Derek Carr.

Yup, you heard me right. Josh. Harper.

Amari Cooper - Reuters Photo

Amari Cooper – Reuters Photo

Now, before you throw your computers out the window in outrage, I’m not saying that picking Amari Cooper fourth overall in the NFL Draft wasn’t a good pick. In fact, during our Mock Draft, I picked Amari Cooper for the Raiders, and I even highlighted him as my first overall choice for the Raiders prior to the Draft.  But when I say “best move”, I’m talking both talent and value.  As much as I’d like to think of myself as being able to predict the future, the truth is that Amari Cooper was the obvious choice at fourth overall, for a number of reasons I’ve highlighted before.

And I understand that tight end Clive Walford from Miami was selected in the third round and wide receiver Andre DeBose from Florida was selected in the seventh round, which provide even more options for Derek Carr.  I don’t have any issue with either of those picks (although I’m not completely sold on Walford as an effective move tight end in the NFL).

What I’m referring to is the fact that signing someone like Josh Harper as an undrafted free agent is insane.  Insanely good, that is.

NFL Draft

Josh Harper – AP Photo

As I highlighted before, I thought Harper should go no later than the sixth round, and would have reached at least a round earlier to secure his services.  He was originally pegged as a third or fourth rounder, based off his sharp route running and quick feet/acceleration against opposing corners, but there was concern whether he had enough speed to be a vertical threat in the NFL.  Unfortunately, this concern was compounded by his lack of notable speed at the Combine (a 4.64 second 40-yard dash), which drove his draft stock down (though it should be noted that he improved to 4.52 seconds at his Pro Day).

Josh Harper - USA Today Photo

Josh Harper – USA Today Photo

However, people forget that Harper doesn’t have to take the top off defenses to do damage (though I certainly think he could be effective vertically in the NFL).  At 6’ 3” and 212 pounds, Harper has great size for walling off smaller defenders, thus neutralizing many attempts at one-on-one coverage, as well as minimizing the potential for interceptions.  Harper is incredibly versatile, and although played most his snaps at flanker in college, can play effectively at flanker or from the slot.  He’s a guy that can fit into most any system, and his numbers at Fresno State support his potential.  Perhaps people have forgotten that he was second team All-Mountain West in 2013 based on 79 receptions for 1,011 yards and 13 touchdowns.

And guess who those yards and touchdowns came from?  You got it, current Raiders starting quarterback, Derek Carr.

Derek Carr - USA Today Photo

Derek Carr – USA Today Photo

People tend to devalue Fresno State numbers as being a product of a pass-heavy offense, but we also know that Fresno State’s system is primarily a pro-style offense.  If you need some proof, just take a look at Davante Adams, who’s had a modicum of success transitioning to the NFL last year in Green Bay, after being selected in the second round of the draft, and projects to only get better.  Harper can be that and then some, particularly reunited with his favorite signal caller.

Sure, there’s some risk with the litany of injuries in the past (i.e. a sports hernia, hamstring, foot and knee issues), but that’s something that can’t be predicted, and shouldn’t bear on whether Harper finds a spot on the Raiders’ 53-man roster.

Michael Crabtree - AP Photo

Michael Crabtree – AP Photo

The Raiders haven’t drafted a wide receiver of consequence since, arguably, Denarius Moore in 2011.  Currently, the Raiders have Michael Crabtree as a definite receiving option.  James Jones has already been released.  Clearly, Amari Cooper will be part of the mix in 2015, and maybe Andre DeBose will also be part of the rotation.  Andre Holmes, Rod Streater, Kenbrell Thompkins and Brice Butler remain behind them currently as returning depth.  Do any of those options give you any sense of security?  Honestly, Oakland, it’s time for a reboot.  We already know those options can’t make it work. And with new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave looking to implement an up tempo offense, perhaps with some similarities to that used at Fresno State, taking a chance on Josh Harper over any one of those receivers makes a lot of sense.

Harper knows he has a lot to prove, as he told Rana Cash of The Sporting News:

“What’s most different for me than the other top receivers, I would say, is kinda being the underdog. Nobody really knows me; some do, but I’m mostly still under the radar. The all-star games, Combine and things like that, that’s all real important for me to separate myself from the middle-of-the-pack players. For those guys, they are pretty much set in the first two rounds. On my side, I still have to work to show I deserve to be drafted, especially coming from a small school like Fresno State. I really can’t take anything for granted.”

And he tweeted this out after being signed:

Mark my words, he’s going to put in the work and he’s going to be successful. And next year, when NFL pundits discuss the importance of UDFAs, they’ll refer to the Oakland Raiders and Josh Harper as the primary example, and you won’t have to hear me say “I told you so.”

So Oakland, just do it.  And I mean that in a totally non-infringing on Nike’s trademark sort of way.

By Ha Kung Wong

Twitter: @FBGarbageTime

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