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Dissecting an Enigma: Undrafted New England Patriots Wideout Mark Harrison

There Are Many Layers to the Rutgers Product

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COMMENTARY | Walking across the stage at Radio City Music Hall to accept a jersey and hat from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is a moment only a select few college football prospects get to experience. All the more often, future pros are sworn in via an unannounced blip across the television screen during the draft's final rounds.

But to those NFL hopefuls who never get to live either extreme, it's not the end all, be all. In fact, according to Chris Carlson of Syracuse.com, there are about 50 percent more undrafted players on 53-man rosters than there are first-round picks.

Rutgers wide receiver Mark Harrison is looking to add to that rate. And he's got a chance to do so with the New England Patriots.

Despite often getting overshadowed by current Cincinnati Bengals receiver Mohamded Sanu during their time in Piscataway, N.J., Harrison is an NFL caliber player in his own right.

He's also one of 2013 draft's biggest enigmas.

Harrison, the Football Player

A 6'3", 235-pound target, Harrison was hard to miss over the last four years. He wasn't your prototypical go-to threat, but he still enjoyed a productive college career at a revered football program.

Although he caught just 19 passes during his freshman and junior seasons combined, Harrison did reel in a cumulative total of 88 passes for 1,412 yards and 15 touchdowns during his sophomore and senior campaigns. In his first season as a full-time starter in 2010, Harrison even ranked first in the big Big East with 18.8 yards per reception and second with nine receiving scores.

He doesn't have a lot of flash to his game, but Harrison displays all the qualities you want from a big-bodied outside receiver. He's got deceptive short-area quickness, he runs comeback routes to a tee, he uses his wingspan to his advantage, and he also has the presence of mind to work the sideline.

He has a slight issue with dropping catchable balls, yet once Harrison is in possession and sees the open field, defensive backs face the tough task of essentially bringing down a linebacker.

And more often than not, that downfield running results in a lucrative gain, if not a TD.

Harrison, the Athletic Specimen

Harrison was gaining steam heading into Indianapolis's NFL Scouting Combine this past February. Within the confines of Lucas Oil Stadium, he displayed the kind of measureables that make scouts drool. Because of his athletic prowess, Harrison left the combine as one of the draft's biggest "risers".

Per NFL.com, Harrison's arm length was notched at 35 inches, which positioned him among the rangiest receivers in this class. An undervalued number, arm length plays a big role in a receiver's ability to shield cornerbacks and stretch out for the football.

Harrison's vertical leap at the combine was 38.5 inches, which slotted him No. 4 among all participating route-runners. For a man pushing 240 pounds, his ability to go up and get a jump ball is vital for his effectiveness, particularly when going over the middle against safeties.

He recorded a broad jump of 10'9", which landed him fifth in his group. Some may cast the broad jump aside as an irrelevant test, but it actually goes a long way towards indicating a player's lower body strength and explosion off the line. Harrison has the leg drive to fight through line-of-scrimmage jams and lunging tackles.

While these three aforementioned physical statistics are impressive, Harrison's straight-line speed was the icing on his combine's cake. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds, which is unheard of for a player of his size. The fact that Harrison was just .02 seconds behind lanky 6'4", 200-pound Tennessee receiver Justin Hunter -- a second-round pick -- is nothing short of remarkable.

It's no wonder why most evaluators considered Harrison an early Day 3 draft choice.

Nevertheless, February seemed like a distant memory once April rolled around. Speed bumps prevented Harrison's projected draft stock from coming to fruition.

Harrison, the "Faller"

Some two months after the combine, reports surfaced that Harrison and fellow receiver DeAndre Hopkins trashed their hotel room in Indy. If there were a list of things not to tamper with during a week-long job interview, leaving your room in disarray would be atop of it.

Yet while Hopkins's character concerns wouldn't keep him out of the first found, it was a different case for Harrison, even with the support of his coach Kyle Flood. As cited by ESPN.com NFL Insider Adam Schefter, Flood vouched for the three-year starter:

"He's been on a lot of road trips and we've never had a single disciplinary issue with him. 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."

Harrison had to fend off more than just character knocks, though; he had to fend off the trainer's table.

On March 12, Harrison was prepping for the Rutgers pro day when he suffered a left foot injury. A day later, the 22-year-old did his best to downplay his health while talking to Matt Sugam of SNYRutgers.com:

"It's nothing major, Harrison said. "Just doing drills. I'm going to see a doctor today to get it cleared up."

Well, as we learned later, it was more serious than Harrison initially let on.

He went undrafted before getting picked up by the Chicago Bears last month. Then he failed his physical, as Brad Biggs of The Chicago Tribune first reported, and was never signed. According to Christopher Price of WEEI.com, the deal fell through because Harrison had a broken fifth metatarsal bone, retroactive to his March 12 training.

It has been a very humbling past two months for Harrison. But it didn't take long for him to land on his feet again after seeing his deal fall through with Chicago.

Harrison, the Patriot

It's no secret that New England's brass had their sights set on Harrison through the pre-draft process, even holding a private workout with him (h/t NEPatriotsDraft.com). So the fact he ended up a Patriot -- albeit through an unconventional route -- is not all that surprising.

In the land of Scarlet Knights, also known as Foxboro, Mass., Harrison joins a receiving corps than runs 12 deep. One should expect that list to be sliced at least in half by the time the final cuts are made in September. Don't be shocked if Harrison ends up on the right side of the ledger, either.

When dissecting New England's receiving corps, it's important to note that the roster locks are few and far between. In reality, only slot receiver Danny Amendola, second-rounder Aaron Dobson and fourth-rounder Josh Boyce are guaranteed spots.

So all things considered, the rookie sporting No. 13 has as good of a shot as any. Even with his question marks, it is still a mystery as to why Harrison was on the market this late in the offseason.

After all, the words "athleticism" and "size" are not often used in the same sentence as "camp casualty."

Oliver Thomas is a Yahoo! contributor who also covers the NFL and the New England Patriots for Bleacher Report and NEPatriotsDraft.

You can follow Oliver on Twitter @OliverBThomas

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