For three seasons at Fresno State, Derek Carr and Josh Harper were teammates. After a year apart, it didn’t take long to be reunited in the pros.
Harper agreed to a free-agent deal with the Oakland Raiders on Saturday, just a handful of months after completing his senior season as a Bulldogs receiver and one year removed from Carr’s entry into the NFL.
Unlike Carr, a second-round pick by the Raiders in 2014, Harper found no takers in last week’s draft, leaving him free to negotiate with any of the league’s 32 teams.
But as both players said Tuesday, Harper may have ended up where he belonged all along.
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“(The Raiders) called me and told me they wanted me,” Harper said in a telephone interview.
“I felt like it was the best choice for me and the best opportunity to make a team and make the roster, and I know the quarterback over there and I know he’ll help me out as much as possible. I felt it was the best option for me.”
When the draft finished Saturday, Carr had a feeling Harper would be heading to Oakland.
The 6-foot-1 Stockton native will report to rookie mini-camp Friday.
“My first thought was, ‘Well he’s coming here,’ ” Carr told The Bee. “And as soon as I found out, we were all excited. It’s going to be nice to be reunited with him. It’ll be fun. I think he’ll be able to do some good things for us.”
They certainly did some good things as a college tandem.
Harper totaled 1,841 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns on passes thrown his way by Carr from 2011-13. In that final season together, Harper had 1,011 yards and 13 TDs in just 11 games.
Carr departed, was drafted by the Raiders and quickly became their starter as a rookie.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, rode the quarterback merry-go-round in 2014 with three players struggling to succeed Carr, but Harper nonetheless repeated as a 1,000-yard man on a 6-8 team.
“When you look at that production and you look at his production from last year, they didn’t have the win-loss record that they wanted but he was still able to produce and make plays,” Carr said. “It’s crazy he didn’t get drafted. I still don’t get it.
“That’s one of the things I don’t get sometimes, personally speaking, but it is what it is and he’s with us and I couldn’t be happier.”
Carr slipped himself a bit, with some analysts predicting he would go in the first round of the 2014 draft. Instead, he went four picks into Round 2.
Thirty-five receivers were drafted this year.
“Very frustrating, just because for the fact I feel like I’m as good as those guys,” Harper said.
“They got their names called. I feel like I had a great college career and I feel like I definitely had a chance to get drafted.”
The Raiders cut their leading receiver of a year ago in James Jones. They signed ex-49er Michael Crabtree and drafted Alabama’s Amari Cooper in the first round and Florida’s Andre Debose in the seventh. Holdovers include Rod Streater, Andre Holmes, Kenbrell Thompkins, Brice Butler and Seth Roberts.
Oakland also signed ex-Michigan star Jeremy Gallon to a futures contract this offseason and along with Harper added Delaware State’s Milton Williams as an undrafted free agent.
Even late-round picks often are long shots just to survive the final roster cutdown, but Carr says Harper will get his chance.
“Everyone on our roster has something to prove,” Carr said. “Like I told Josh of what I found out in the NFL ... they don’t care if you’re drafted or if you’re an undrafted free agent ... if you can play football you’re gonna make the team and help us win. That will hold true for anyone on our team.”
Oakland wide receivers coach Rob Moore was the one who called Harper, who then weighed his options.
“I thought about it because more teams called me,” he said. “I looked at what they had on the roster and who their quarterback was and I felt like the Raiders were right for me.”
Carr said it always helps to have some familiarity with new teammates.
“You know strengths and weaknesses and you can help him learn faster,” Carr said. “I know how to talk to him. I can relate to him because we’ve been on the same team and we can make jokes. That relationship is already there. We’re already good friends. He’s already been my receiver and I’m his quarterback. That hasn’t changed.
“The only thing that changed is we’re wearing a different jersey, (but) we can relate because I know how to talk to him, teach him and if something is going wrong in the game I know how to speak to him and in what tone. How does he learn? How does he handle things and change something? I already know how to deal with Josh. I’ve been doing that really for his whole career, except for last year.”
Harper feels the same.
“I’m very excited and I know what he’s capable of,” Harper said. “I had some of my best college (numbers with) Derek, and I’m just as excited to get that chemistry back and excited to have the opportunity to play, really.”