NFL Scouts from dozens of the leagues premiere franchises flew into town and flocked to the campus of Rutgers on Wednesday to grade out some of the schools finest football talent with hopes of making the jump to the next stage of their careers as the school hosted their annual Pro Day workouts. One player that teams were eager to rate was 6’3” receiver, Mark Harrison.
The 230 lbs. wideout from Stratford, CT is coming off a disappointing 2012 season that had such high expectations for the towering speedster as he hauled in just 44 catches for 583 yards and six touchdowns on the year. Blessed with tremendous size and height, Harrison needed to go to the NFL combine late last month and demonstrate consistency across the board in all of the workout events in Indianapolis to effectively bolster his draft stock in the eyes of prospective NFL franchises.
Typically at the combine the most scrutinized event by both scouts and media is the 40-yard dash. The 40 time of fringe players in the past has either bolstered their stock dramatically to catapult them into earlier rounds or it has caused them to fall back further or even out of the draft all together in some cases. Some teams take more from it than others, but in a constantly evolving league that is now predicated on speed, the nature of the beast that has become the NFL Draft and the slotting process in which it unfolds is very much hinged on a player’s 40-yard dash showing.
To prepare for the showcase in the weeks leading up to the event, Harrison trained with a guy with a similar size and skill set to his own; Chicago Bears All-Pro receiver, Brandon Marshall.
“They want to see me be consistent, that’s what I have been working on,” said Harrison. “I worked on the little things with Brandon Marshall. He taught me to look into the ball all the way and not to worry about turning up the field before I catch it. It’s those little things that separate people.”
Almost a mirror image, standing at 6’4” 230lbs, Marshall is regarded as one of the NFL’s most lethal vertical threats due large in part to his rare size and concentration on the deep ball. Those assets also happen to be the strength of Harrison which is why he thinks his game at the next level could translate most to Marshall’s.
“He’s a big guy and I’m learning everything from him,” said Harrison. ‘What you see from me is a lot like what he does.”
Harrison said the element of Marshall’s game that he is most trying to emulate is his awareness and intelligence in game situations.
“He’s smart, he really knows the game well,” explained Harrison. “He knows it inside and out and that’s one thing I can really learn from him when competing at a high level.”
Now equipped with a broad base of knowledge from one of the league’s elite and a four year body of on-field work that has been very much a staple of inconsistency, Harrison took the steps necessary to be successful leading up to the draft and as a result had scouts buzzing at the events conclusion.
In the combine’s most crucial event, Harrison ran a 4.46 40-yard dash which is unprecedented for a player of his size. With scouts already in awe, Harrison showed that he has all of the physical ability of a big outside receiver, posting a great 10.75 broad jump, a 38.5 vertical jump, and a 6.99 three cone time.
“I brought my A-game to that high level stage,” said Harrison. “I prepared for months at a time so I felt very confident going into it. I’m just trying to show teams that I have the work ethic. I come to work every day, I stay in shape in the offseason. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make that team.”
With sudden league wide attention now set on Harrison and his stock seemingly soaring to new heights, scouts made it a priority to come out and see him at Pro Day on Wednesday. Unfortunately, that never happened. After going through drills early on Tuesday afternoon, Harrison felt a tweak in his foot which forced him to sit out of the showcase in Piscataway.
“I hurt my foot doing drills, it’s nothing major,” explained Harrison. “I’m going to see a doctor to get it cleared up.”
While most players would have been down on themselves and brought a somber attitude to the event, Harrison felt confident enough in what he did at the combine and his four years of lining up on the field that scouts should have a good idea of what he is as a player at this point and moving forward as he continues to grow.
“Things happen; it’s part of the game, guys get injured left and right so I’m not really disappointed,” explained Harrison. “I’m more excited for the rest of my guys out here to be able to showcase their talent and show everybody what we stand for and believe in and that is family. They’re standing with me in this time that I can’t be out there.”
Harrison added, “I’ve been great feedback from teams. For a guy of my size to run that speed, it’s something not too many guys have done. I’m definitely happy but I definitely want to be in that 4.3 range; I feel like I’m faster than that. If I could have run, I probably would have today.”
Harrison is trying to become the second Rutgers wide receiver in as many years to be selected in the draft after Mohamed Sanu was selected in the third round (83rd overall) by the Cincinnati Bengals last April. Having been in essentially the same position one year ago, Harrison has turned to Sanu for guidance during the draft process.
“When he comes back I talk to him all the time,” Harrison said. “I always communicate with him. If I need something he always gives me advice and he has never failed or let me down. That’s the type of guy I talk to because he’s done it and he’s been in these shoes.”
While Harrison may not have had the most prolific college career he has certainly showed glimpses of elite caliber potential. The biggest asset for Harrison entering the draft on April 25 is size, it cannot be taught or learned and it is a premium commodity in today’s NFL.
While it is fun for fans to talk about, Harrison doesn’t get caught up in mock drafts or worrying about what round or organization calls his name during draft weekend.
“I try to stay away from all of that. I wish I could have a definite day or a definite hour of when they’re going to call,” said Harrison. “I just keep praying on it and staying focused and worrying about doing what I need to in order to get to that league.”
Harrison added, “Whatever team picks me up, that’s a blessing. I’ll be happy wherever I go as long as I make a roster, I’m going to compete.”