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Mark Harrison, an Intriguing Receiver Competing for a Patriots Roster Spot

PISCATAWAY, NJ - OCTOBER 6: Wide receiver Mark Harrison #81 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Connecticut Huskies in the first half as during a game at High Point Solutions Stadium on October 6, 2012 in Piscataway, New Jersey. Rutgers defeated Connecticut 19-3. (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
Randolph CharlotinAnalyst IIJuly 26, 2013

That “13” doesn’t fit.

Usually a receiver that wears 13 is no more than 5’11," probably smaller. A slot receiver, at best. More likely a fourth or fifth wide out on a team who must earn a roster spot by playing special teams. Maybe he hung on by being the kickoff or punt returner. Otherwise, enjoy coverage units and maybe three snaps with the offense.

In other words, a long shot.

So to see Mark Harrison squeezed into a 13 jersey is like watching a contradiction. The only thing that makes sense is that he’s a long shot.

But it’s that size that’s so intriguing. It’s as if New England’s coaching staff grew tired of the cries for bigger receivers and said, “Alright already! Is this big enough?”

6’3” 235 pounds of “are you kidding me” and Harrison ran a 4.46 40-yard dash at the NFL combine to boot. Another chocolate chip cookie and he would be a tight end. Harrison makes 2013 second round draft pick Aaron Dobson (6’3” 204) look like Marc Anthony.

Can you imagine the reaction of an oblivious cornerback that is told to cover New England’s number 13? He might think, “Cover number 13? Heh…all day! I can’t wait to get my hands on him and…what the hell?”

But New England gave Harrison 13 for a reason. He has a long road ahead of him to convince the Patriots to keep him either on the roster or the practice squad. But since New England added 27 percent of Rutgers’ 2012 defense through the draft (plus rookie free agents OT Kevin Haslam and DB Brandon Jones), Harrison hopes the Patriots’ affinity for Scarlet Knights give him a better chance of sticking with the team.

Taking a look at New England’s depth chart, Harrison has a chance. Certainly veterans Danny Amendola, Matthew Slater, and Lavelle Hawkins are virtual locks. And draft picks Dobson and Josh Boyce are almost automatics.

Competition begins after the top five. Julian Edelman might be on shaky ground because of his inability to stay healthy. Michael Jenkins, a.k.a. “Molasses Mike,” won’t be able to outrun the turk if he comes after Jenkins.

The final group consists of Kamar Aiken (6’2” 213), Perez Ashford (5’11” 182), T.J. Moe (6’0” 200), Quentin Sims (6’3” 202), and Kenbrell Thompkins (6’1” 190). Harrison can’t count on being the biggest overall out of the group or that he edged his colleagues in yards per reception and touchdown receptions in college.

To win the battle royal, Harrison must do enough little things better than his fellow long shots. Maybe it starts with being a great red zone target. Or his edge could be blocking, even against linebackers. Will Harrison have to be an effective gunner or have a knack for blocking field goals? He needs to make a mark somewhere.

If Harrison makes the Patriots, he won’t be the first 13 anomaly in the league. He’s preceded by the New York GiantsRamses Barden, who stands 6’6” and 224 pounds. Barden switched to 85 because by making it to his sixth season, Barden earned the right to wear a receivers’ number. Harrison should hope to follow in those footsteps.

Harrison certainly can fill those footprints. Maybe they’re size 13s, at least.

 

Questions? Comments? Send to randolphc82@comcast.net.

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