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Why is someone like wide receiver Mark Harrison available to Patriots?

05.20.13 at 6:54 pm ET

At first glance, the numbers jump off the page.

Wide receiver Mark Harrison was a three-year starter at Rutgers who finished his college career with 107 receptions for 1,769 yards and 18 touchdowns. A starter as a sophomore, he had 44 receptions for 829 yards and led the Big East with nine touchdowns. After struggling a bit as a junior, in 2012, Harrison played in 13 games with 11 starts, and he finished with 44 receptions for 583 yards and six touchdowns.

Physically, he appears to have the tools to succeed: The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder doesn’t necessarily possess elite speed, but he’s a big target with a sizable wingspan who can overmatch undersized defensive backs. In addition, he was one of the best receivers at the combine when it came to his vertical jump and broad jump.

So why was a physical specimen like Harrison available to the Patriots in mid-May, almost a full month after the draft? Two possible reasons.

One, fair or not, there are some questions about his background. According to one report, Harrison was one of the players at the combine this past February who had a trashed hotel room. Regarded as mid-round pick, that may or may not have played a role in the fact that he wasn’t drafted.

(For what it’s worth, Rutgers coach Kyle Flood went out of his way to defend Harrison, telling ESPN, “I’ve been on a lot of road trips and we’ve never had a single disciplinary issue with [Harrison]. He’s a model of the type of person we want here at Rutgers. It would be so out of character to be involved in this that I just cannot imagine under any circumstance that it would happen and involve him.”)

And two, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, Harrison failed his physical with the Bears because of a foot injury. (Just prior to Rutgers Pro Day, he apparently broke the fifth metatarsal in his left foot.) However, it was believed that Chicago was interested in re-visiting the possibility of re-signing Harrison when the injury was cleared.

As for how he projects at the NFL level, his size and skill set suggest an oversized receiver, perhaps bordering on tight end. He certainly compares to the 6-foot-1, 245-pound Aaron Hernandez, another big wide receiver who masquerades as a tight end in the New England passing game. As a collegian, Hernandez ran a 4.64 40, displayed a 33-inch vertical leap and a 9-foot, 3-inch broad jump. By way of comparison, Harrison posted a 4.46 40-yard dash, a 38.5-inch vertical leap and a 10-foot, 9-inch broad jump.

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