Josh Harper plans to prove he belongs in the NFL.
So do a couple of the wide receiver’s ex-Fresno State teammates in defensive tackle Tyeler Davison and safety Derron Smith.
And you can count Butkus Award-winning linebacker Eric Kendricks (out of UCLA via Hoover High), safety Tevin McDonald (Edison High/Eastern Washington) and defensive back Steven Nelson (College of the Sequoias/Oregon State) among that group, too.
All six players with central San Joaquin Valley ties are getting their chance to shine among a field of 300-plus players invited to this week’s NFL Scouting Combine.
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Smith, who had sports-hernia surgery in late December, will sit out Monday’s defensive-back workouts but take part in team interviews. He said he has the Fresno State Pro Day, at 1 p.m. March 25 at Bulldog Stadium, circled on the calendar as his big chance to show off his physical skills.
Harper and the rest of receivers group works out Saturday.
“It’s exciting to have an opportunity to go out there and show the NFL what type of skills I have against these other athletes that also are going to the combine,” said Harper, the seventh Bulldogs receiver in the past six years to earn a spot at the invitation-only gathering.
Harper finished his Fresno State career with 228 receptions for 2,938 yards and 29 touchdowns. The reception and touchdown totals are second in school history behind one of last year’s invitees in Davante Adams, who went on to be a second-round pick in the NFL Draft and a star rookie with the Green Bay Packers.
Ahead of the combine, Harper has been working out at EXOS Combine Training in San Diego with players such as Boise State’s Jay Ajayi and USC’s Leonard Williams.
“We’ve been practicing the drills that we’re going to be doing at the combine, as well as get prepared for interviews, and just try to be prepared as possible,” said Harper, also an invitee to the postseason Senior Bowl all-star game. “Making sure nothing surprises me.”
Harper, who some project to go as high as the third round of this year’s draft, said he’s not jittery about performing in front of scouts and front-office personnel from all 32 NFL teams.
“I’ve played a lot big games in college so I figured it would be the same feeling,” he said. “I’m more anxious than I am jittery. Go out there and show them what I got."
More on the others (with the days they are scheduled to work out in parentheses):
• Davison (Sunday): He played in the East/West Shrine Game and is projected by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock to go in the third or fourth round. A three-time All-Mountain West selection, he started each of the Bulldogs’ games over the past three seasons. Davison posted 161 career tackles, with 28.5 for a loss including 14.5 sacks. As a senior, he led in tackles for loss (13.0) and sacks (8.5).
Kiper: “Davison presents a lot of versatility. I think he’s the kind of the guy that he’s the ninth-best defensive tackle going in and he’s certainly a guy that can play in this league.”
• Smith: A three-time All-Mountain West first team-selection, Smith finished his career with 15 interceptions and 304 tackles. As a senior, he had just one interception but 93 tackles, seven pass breakups and two fumble recoveries — despite dealing with the injury. Smith said he needed a painkilling shot before each game.
Kiper: “Smith … third- to fifth-round group. Could bump up a little.”
• Kendricks (Sunday): Kendricks also was the winner of the Lott IMPACT Trophy and led the Bruins with 149 tackles — 101 solo. He’s the Bruins’ leading career tackler with 481, overtaking Jerry Robinson, after three straight 100-plus tackle seasons.
Kiper: “Covers exceptionally well and that’s going to help and assist him at the pro level.”
• McDonald (Monday): Before arriving at Eastern Washington, he had 135 tackles in 27 games at UCLA, with four interceptions and 14 passes broken up. In 2013 with the Eagles, McDonald was limited to nine games because of a broken fibula. But he finished his two years there with 121 tackles, a sack and four interceptions.
• Nelson (Monday): The former COS star was a two-year starter at Oregon State and was All-Pac-12 second team after finishing sixth on the team with 60 tackles. He had two interceptions and eight pass breakups.