Chris Harper could be the missing piece in the Redskins' receiving corps.
While Pierre Garcon, Joshua Morgan, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson did a good enough job catching the ball last year, the receiving corps is not complete.
The Washington Redskins need a genuine red-zone threat, able to rise above cornerbacks and snatch the ball out of the air, while also possessing the strength to come down with it under control.
Chris Harper is that player, and he is the only receiver the Redskins should be picking up in the 2013 NFL draft.
Most people would point to the secondary as the one area in which the Washington Redskins were deficient last year, and that this should be the area addressed first in this year’s NFL draft.
This is true, but the class is deep at safety and cornerback, leading to many options, equally as good as each other.
Jonathan Cyprien, Matt Elam, Phillip Thomas, DJ Swearinger, TJ McDonald, Baccari Rambo, Darius Slay, David Amerson, Jordan Poyer, Blidi Wreh-Wilson; all those players have their supporters among the Redskins fanbase, but none of them would be a disappointing pick.
Assume that the secondary is addressed with the first two picks the Redskins possess, in the second and third rounds. We now come to the business of bolstering the squad in other positions.
While it’s possible that Harper could be off the board by the time the Redskins pick in Round 4, it’s more likely that teams will reach for bigger names in earlier rounds, leading to Harper as a prime candidate for slipping down.
Harper converted from quarterback to wide receiver at Oregon, then transferred to Kansas State to play quarterback there. Again, he was moved to wide receiver and this time it stuck. From 2011, Harper led the Wildcats in receptions.
Although K-State is primarily a run-first offense under Collin Klein, when the quarterback needed a big catch, he would consistently opt for Harper.
At 6’1” and 229 pounds, Harper is a strong receiver whose playing speed belies his perceived lack of straight-line speed. He has excellent hands, runs crisp routes and gains good yards after the catch.
His size allows him to shield the ball effectively, as well as using that frame to overpower cornerbacks and make tough catches. In the open field, he might not be the quickest receiver in the draft—he ran a 4.55 40-yard dash at the combine—but he’s incredibly tough to bring down.
In a few games last year, the Redskins lacked that sort of strength among their receivers. Against Pittsburgh and Carolina, they were pushed around and looked uncomfortable, dropping passes and bringing an end to promising drives.
In a similar way that Logan Paulsen was a good option for Robert Griffin III last year, Harper can be the same this season. He won’t top Garcon’s 88-yard run, but he’ll pick up key first downs with good routes and a quick burst down the sideline.
Although he doesn’t have the level of experience of other receivers in the class—which could also cause him to fall to the Redskins—Harper has played in the slot and as the “Z” receiver, proving equally successful in both positions.
The Redskins’ offense was imaginative last year, thriving on misdirection and the threat of Griffin on the ground. Harper adds that extra dimension to the attack, and Kyle Shanahan could use him to create mismatches across the field.
Even if Griffin’s rehab is behind schedule, Kirk Cousins will have a reliable possession receiver who can be trusted to make the catch. He’ll run the play as instructed and be in the right position when the ball comes.
Comparisons to Anquan Boldin are starting to mount up, and Harper certainly has the potential to make a real impression on the NFL.
Dezmon Briscoe had a strong preseason last year, and looked to be in position to become the red-zone threat the team needed. He had opportunities, but they literally fell to the ground and he wasn’t entrusted with the ball as the season wore on.
While the Redskins were relatively successful in the red zone last year—TeamRankings.com ranks them fourth in the NFL in red-zone scoring percentage—this was often due to Griffin and Alfred Morris scoring on the ground.
Sometimes the team tried to be too cute and run the same play over and over again, often using up all four downs in a rigid attempt to force their game plan into the end zone.
Whether it’s through letting Griffin call his own plays at the line or just varying the play-calling to a greater extent, something needs to change.
Harper brings an extra dimension to the short-to-medium passing game, using his strength and initial acceleration to get separation and be in a position to come down with the ball. He’ll keep the chains moving and the defense off the field, as well as offering a genuine threat in scoring positions.
Of all the receivers in this year’s draft, Harper is the one who can seamlessly drop into the team and carve out his own niche. For a fourth-round pick, that’s astounding value.