We have entered the deepest depths of the NFL offseason. Free agency and the draft are behind us, while minicamp and training camp won't start until early June and late July, respectively.
However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop. After all, by late August, each team has to start making its roster cuts. Until then, players have to secure their spots on the team; they need to do their jobs (well) or someone else will.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots on the 2016 New England Patriots. Today, we'll take a look at wide receiver Chris Harper.
Name: Chris Harper
Position: Wide receiver
Jersey number: 14
Size: 5'11, 185 lbs.
2015 review: After not getting selected in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Patriots signed Chris Harper in early May. The former Cal receiver had a very good first summer in New England, and thanks to an impressive preseason – 15 catches for 150 yards and a touchdown – earned himself a spot on the team's initial 53-man roster.
However, Harper, who was active for five games during his rookie campaign, could not establish himself as a consistent option on offense and special teams. He was cut and re-signed twice, and finished his first NFL season with one catch for six yards and three punt returns for 17 yards.
His most memorable play was one he didn't make – one that played a key role in losing to the Denver Broncos in week 12: in the game's fourth quarter and with the Patriots leading 20-7, Harper tried to field a Broncos punt but was tackled immediately. He lost the football, which was recovered by Denver and four plays later turned into a touchdown, while his team lost momentum.
2016 preview: In 2015, Harper's performance in training camp and the preseason earned him a spot on the Patriots' initial roster. Despite increased competition this year by newly acquired wideouts Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell as well as recently extended Keshawn Martin, the 22-year old could find himself on the team once again due to the uncertainties surrounding the injury statuses of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
If Edelman and Amendola recover as expected from their respective offseason surgeries, Harper faces an uphill battle to survive cuts this year. While he offers some experience as a pass catcher and return man, those qualities might not be enough to earn him a spot. After all, the wide receiver depth chart is crowded as six players (the above mentioned five plus core special teamer Matthew Slater) are locks or near-locks to make the team. It's a numbers game and Harper's might not be prominent enough to win it.
Therefore, Harper's best chance to stick around in Foxboro seems to be via the Patriots' practice squad and in a role similar to last year's: an emergency option, promoted only in case of injury to a wideout or kick returner.
Chris Harper left a tremendous first impression in New England but couldn't keep up once the games became more contested and the opponents better. Still, he should get more chances this summer to show that his 2015 preseason was no fluke and that he is worthy of a spot on the Patriots' payroll.