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From Idaho State to Foxboro: Get to know new Patriots wide receiver Chad Hansen

New England picked up Hansen through the waiver wire on Sunday.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at New York Jets Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After cutdown day, the New England Patriots had only three true wide receivers left on their 53-man roster. And while Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson form a solid and high-upside core, the team was unquestionably in need of more depth alongside them. Enter Chad Hansen and Amara Darboh, who were both picked up by the Patriots on the waiver wire on Sunday with the plan to complete the team’s position depth chart for now.

It did not quite work out this way. Two days after getting claimed, Darboh was gone again: he failed his physical with the club because of an injury and was waived on Tuesday. This leaves Hansen as the only new wide receiver to join the Patriots over cutdown weekend and to serve as a fourth option alongside the three veteran wideouts already on New England’s roster. When looking at his career so far, and the skill set he brings to the table, he should fit in well.

After a high school career that can only be described as average, Hansen received just one scholarship offer. He made the most out of it: the California native was able to quickly leave his mark on Idaho State’s offense and finished his true freshman season with 45 catches for 501 yards and three touchdowns. The numbers did not stand out when compared to other wide receivers in the Big Sky Conference or even on his own team, but Hansen was still able to consistently put his technical finesse and smarts on display.

Aiming higher, he decided to try his luck in a more competitive conference and joined Cal as a walk-on. The NCAA’s scholarship rules did not allow him to suit up during the 2014 season, which is why he had to wait for over a year before finally appearing in a game again and seeing his first action in the Pac-12. On the surface, his sophomore season was unspectacular: buried on the Golden Bears’ depth chart, Hansen registered only 19 catches 249 yards and one touchdown.

However, most of his production came late in the season as he caught 14 passes for 201 yards and his lone score over Cal’s final four games of the year. It was a sign of things to come, as Hansen’s 2016 season became his breakout year. With the six wide receivers ahead of him in 2015 all gone, the junior turned into the number one target for quarterback Davis Webb – and the most productive pass catcher in all of the Pac-12.

Despite missing two of his team’s twelve games because of an ankle injury, Hansen finished the year with 92 receptions for 1,249 yards and 11 touchdowns. While his scoring catches ranked him fourth in the conference, the former walk-on was its leader in receiving yards and receptions, and was voted to the first All-Pac-12 team after the season. Hansen was Webb’s go-to guy and proved to be a reliable player able to challenge defenses deep.

How did he do it? By building on the same traits that made him earn a spot in the rotation at Idaho State three years earlier: Hansen ran crisp routes, knew how to use his 6’2, 200 lbs frame to make contested catches, and continued being one of the smartest players on the field. All this mixed together made for a productive junior year and gave him confidence to enter the draft instead of finishing his college career.

After a solid scouting combine, Hansen entered draft season as a projected mid-round pick with the potential to be selected as early as day two. He was not, and had to wait until late in round four to hear his name called after the New York Jets had invested in him. Despite New York’s rather underwhelming offensive talent, the then-22-year old once again found himself near the bottom of the depth chart. And just like during his first year at Cal, he only was partially productive as a result.

All in all, he finished his rookie campaign with just nine catches for 94 yards. Despite his stat-line and relatively small sample size, Hansen still had some moments during his first NFL year: he generally looked good when attacking the middle of the field against zone coverage, was able to make the most of getting a free release at the line of scrimmage, and – something the Patriots value – he was competitive when it came to downfield blocking.

Of course, the potential he showed was not enough for the Jets to hold onto him after a preseason during which he caught only two passes for eight yards. Consequently, Hansen now finds himself on the Patriots – a team that has historically been able to maximize its receiving talent. It would therefore not be a surprise if New England used Hansen the way Cal did in 2016: as a perimeter receiver able to challenge defenses over the top and on intermediate crossing patters.

And while he should not be expected to turn into the 1,000+ yards receiver he was during his final college season, it would not be a surprise if he turned into a valuable rotational option and primary backup for the projected current number one wide receiver Chris Hogan.