Football: Mel Kiper Jr. projects Jared Goff as No. 3 pick

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. released his latest 2016 NFL draft projections on Wednesday, and he has Cal quarterback Jared Goff going third in the first round.

Here is Kiper’s evaluation:

3. Jared Goff, QB, California Golden Bears

Goff is putting on a show so far this year, separating himself from critiques that say the system creates the QB at Cal. Goff has a hose when he wants to really cut it loose, is able to drill the ball down the field and into tight windows with ease, and he has effective movement skills and anticipation for a player with good length who seems to see the whole field. He can also move defenders with his eyes pretty well and will continue to get better.

Goff has not addressed whether he will enter the NFL draft after this season, saying again Wednesday that he is giving the topic none of his attention during his junior season with the Bears.

Kiper’s top three picks are juniors, with Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche at No. 1 and Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa at No. 2.


Football: Daniel Lasco gets some ESPN love

Who is the best NFL running back prospect in the Pac-12 right now?

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay suggests it’s Cal senior Daniel Lasco.

BTW, check out No. 5 on the list — Sonny Dykes coached him as a freshman in 2012.

Here is McShay’s list top 10 running backs for the 2016 NFL draft:

1. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State*
2. Derrick Henry, Alabama*
3. Corey Clement, Wisconsin*
4. James Conner, Pittsburgh
5. Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech
6. Josh Ferguson, Illinois
7. Daniel Lasco, California
8. Devontae Booker, Utah
9. Russell Hansbrough, Missouri
10. Storm Woods, Oregon State

* – denotes underclassman


Football: Will Chris Harper be drafted?

The safe answer: Probably not.

The former Cal wideout is tough to find on most NFL mock drafts, but that doesn’t mean he won’t play on Sundays, coach Sonny Dykes said.

“You never know about the draft and how it’s going to go down,” Dykes said Thursday before the draft’s first round. “The good thing for Chris is there’s only one team that’s got to like him. And there’s a lot to like. He’s a good football player.”

Rounds 2 and 3 of the NFL draft will go today, with rounds 4 through 7 set for Saturday.

Dykes admitted he was surprised when Harper opted to enter the draft after his junior season. He said Harper told him in December he planned to return to school for the 2014 season.

Although he’s far from a sure thing, Harper is Cal’s best hope to keep a 28-year streak going.

Cal has had at least one player taken in the NFL draft every year since 1986, when no Bears were chosen among 333 players taken in what was then a 12-round draft.


Football: WR Chris Harper to enter NFL draft; O-line coach Zech Yenser follows Rob Likens to Kansas

Cal junior wide receiver Chris Harper announced Tuesday he will forgo his final season of college football to enter the NFL draft as a second assistant on coach Sonny Dykes’ staff was hired away by Kansas.

Offensive line coach Zach Yenser, whose unit made significant strides last fall, will become offensive line coach and run-game coordinator for the Jayhawks, according to multiple reports.

Yenser follows assistant head coach Rob Likens, who was named offensive coordinator for Kansas.

A Cal spokesman said Dykes had no immediate comment on the departure of the two assistant coaches.

KU has not officially announced the hiring of Yenser, but new Jayhawks coach David Beaty had praise for Likens.

“Rob has been a major player in some of the best offenses in the history of college football,” he said. “I have always been a fan of Rob’s ability to develop players who produce at a high level. Rob has learned from some of the best in the country and is as fine of an offensive mind as I have been around. Rob is a man of integrity and character and I cannot wait for our team to be able to benefit from his wisdom.”

Harper, a 5-foot-11, 175-pounder from Northridge, caught 52 passes for 634 yards and six touchdowns last fall. He had 70 receptions as a sophomore and leaves Cal with career totals of 163 catches for 2,030 yards and 13 TDs.

Harper released the following statement.

“Dear Cal Fans,

After having many talks with my family, mentors and coaches I have decided that declaring for the NFL Draft was best for me at this time. Millions of different thoughts and prayers have been put into this educated decision which is why I have decided to enter the draft. These past three years have definitely been some of the best and most memorable years of my life with regards to football, my education, and the endless relationships that I’ve built with my teammates, coaches, ex-coaches and classmates.

“I want to personally take the time out to give a huge thank you to coach Tedford who gave me the opportunity to be a Bear when my offers were very slim and at a time when other collegiate coaches didn’t believe in me. I also want to say thank you to Sonny Dykes and the current coaching staff who gave me the opportunities that were given on the field, and especially to coach Likens who I formed a close bond with in my last season as a Bear. I love everything that Cal had to offer pertaining to football, education and the great culture of the city of Berkeley. I love all of the die-hard Bear fans that made my experience at Cal unforgettable because of their persistent support towards all of us not only when we won but also when we were at our lowest.

“I appreciate everything Cal has done for me and the unbreakable bonds that I’ve formed with so many of my teammates and want to give a last thank you to everyone involved in my success.”

Dykes thanked Harper for his contributions and wished him well in the NFL.

“We look forward to watching his continued success at the next level as he pursues his dream of playing in the NFL and joins a long list of Cal players who have been successful in the league,” Dykes said in a statement.

Harper was part of a deep corps of Cal wide receivers that also includes expected returnees Bryce Treggs, Kenny Lawler, Stephen Anderson, Trevor Davis and Darius Powe. The Bears also redshirted highly rated freshman wideout Erik Brown last fall.


Football: Kam Jackson signing with Colts

In case you missed it, undrafted former Cal cornerback Kameron Jackson agreed to terms with the Indianpolis Colts as a free agent, the team reported.

Jackson becomes the fourth player from Cal’s 1-11 team of 2013 to join an NFL roster.

Tight end Richard Rodgers and linebacker Khairi Fortt were drafted by Green Bay and New Orleans, respectively, and defensive tackle Deandre Coleman signed as a free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Jackson played three seasons at Cal, enjoying a highlight performance with three interceptions against UCLA as a sophomore in 2012.



Football: Saints take Fortt in fourth round


Khairi Fortt’s trek to the NFL isn’t what he ever imagined.

The Cal linebacker was the first Bay Area player chosen Saturday, taken in the fourth round by the New Orleans Saints with the 126th overall pick.

How he got there was often a rough road. The Stamford, Connecticut native began his college career at Penn State, but sought a new environment two years ago after the Jerry Sandusky scandal rocked the Nittany Lions’ program.

He landed in Berkeley, then endured a 1-11 season last fall — Cal’s worst ever.

“Life doesn’t go as planned,” he said after being picked by the Saints. “I felt like you’re always going to have adversity. I learned from every second I was at Penn State and at Cal.

“Now that I’ve made it here, I feel like all those experiences have helped me be the man I am today. I always had trust, faith in God that he’d put me somewhere.”

Fortt was the second Cal player chosen in the draft, following tight end Richard Rodgers, who was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the third round on Friday.

Cal defensive tackle Deandre Coleman expected to be a late-round pick, was not drafted, but signed a free-agent contract late Saturday night with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Fortt said he’d hoped to be picked earlier, but when the Saints called he was excited.

“Right now, I can’t be happier,” he said. “I finally got picked and I just can’t wait to get down to Louisiana to start working out with the team.”

After sitting out the 2012 campaign as a Cal transfer, the 6-foot-2, 240-pounder had a solid junior season with 64 tackles. He reportedly improved his stock with a strong showing at the NFL combine camp.

Fortt will join former Cal star Cameron Jordan, a standout defensive end, when he arrives in New Orleans. Turns out, Jordan was Fortt’s player host when he visited the Berkeley campus as a high school senior.

“It’s going to be great. You have guys there that are experienced, that I can learn from,” he said. “Having another Cal player there in Cam Jordan … it’s going to play for a great defense and great coaches.

“I’m at a loss for words right now.”

Fortt said he’s willing to do whatever the Saints coaching staff needs from him, including playing on special teams.

“It’s your job. You’re not going to say no. You do what’s expected of you,” Fortt said. “I’m going to fit in where they want me to fit.”

Fortt leaves Cal just three classes shy of his degree in American Studies. His mother has degrees from Georgetown and Columbia and is an teacher, so not completing his academic work is not an option.

“You would be naive to think football is a career,” he said. “I could be done in three years, five years, six years. That’s a good term, but it’s not the rest of your life.

“I know a Berkeley degree can take me a long way.”


Football: It’s Rodgers to Rodgers in Green Bay

There’s a new connection in Green Bay: (Aaron) Rodgers to (Richard) Rodgers.

The Packers selected tight end Richard Rodgers in the third round of the NFL draft on Friday with the 98th overall pick, third-to-last of the day.

“Another Rodgers from Cal in Green Bay, sweet,”  tweeted the star quarterback (no relation) who also played his college ball in Berkeley.

Rodgers (the tight end) gave up all social media more than a year ago, so he hadn’t heard the enthusiastic welcome from Green Bay’s all-pro quarterback.

“I think that’s fantastic,” Richard Rodgers said. “I can’t wait to get out there and get to work.”

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Football: Bears to join NFL draft party late

The NFL draft begins with the first round Thursday, then the second and third rounds on Friday.

On Saturday, when players are selected in the fourth through seventh rounds, Cal will check in.

The first first time since 2006, the Golden Bears are not expected to have a player selected in the first three rounds of the draft. Only twice since 1996 — in ’04 and ’06 — has Cal been shut out of the first three rounds.

Here’s a look at Cal’s draft prospects and when they are projected to be chosen:

BRENDAN BIGELOW, RB: Bigelow’s career was a long tease that rarely produced eye-catching results. The exception was a spectaculr four-carry, 160-yard game with two long touchdowns at Ohio State in 2012. That fueled a sophomore campaign in which Bigelow averaged 9.1 yards per carry on 44 attempts. But he never developed any consistency or gained the confidence of two different coaching staffs. Bigelow averaged 4.0 yards per carry last fall while struggling a bit after the latest in a series of knee surgeries. The 22-year-old Fresno native couldn’t even help himself at Cal’s Pro Day, running a 4.41 hand-timed 40 while struggling with a tweaked hamstring. Projection: Free agent.

DEANDRE COLEMAN, DT: The 6-5, 309-pounder from Seattle had a steady, unspectacular career for the Bears. He had 40 tackles, including nine for losses, as a senior. Coleman totaled 7.5 career sacks. The 23-year-old participated in the postseason Senior Bowl all-star game. Projection: Rounds 5-7.

VINCENZO D’AMATO, PK: Cal has a history of sending kickers to the NFL — Doug Brien, Ryan Longwell, Mick Luckhurst, Ray Wersching — and D’Amato has a chance. He converted 17 of 20 field goals last season, and 40 of 55 for his career. He also made 92 of 96 PAT attempts and scored 212 career points. The 6-1, 250-pounder from Orange County seems likely to get a camp invite. Projection: Free agent.

KHAIRI FORTT, ILB: The 6-2, 240-pounder from Massachusetts had 64 tackles last fall in his only Cal season after transferring from Penn State. The 22-year-old performed well at the NFL combine, boosting his stock after Cal’s poor season. NFL scout Greg Cosell said on KNBR this week he likes what he saw while watching tape of Fortt, calling him a fairly complete linebacker prospect. Projection: Rounds 4-6.

KAM JACKSON, CB: You have to wonder why Jackson, still just 20 years old, decided it was time to turn pro, because it seems unlikely he will be drafted. He hasn’t wowed anyone with his 5-9, 175-pound frame and he had a somewhat ordinary junior season with 42 tackles, six pass breakups and just one interception. Jackson’s big game at Cal was a three-pick performance against UCLA in 2012. Cal could have used him next fall and he might have helped himself by playing another college season. Projection: Free agent.

CHRIS McCAIN, DE/OLB: At 6-6, 250, McCain looks the part. But he was erratic through his career at Cal, partly because he struggled academically. He started 18 games, played in 24 and totaled 90 tackles, including 14.5 for loss and 5.0 sacks. But four games into last season, the 22-year-old from Greensboro, N.C., was dismissed from the team for conduct detrimental to the team. Someone may look at his measureables and decide McCain is worth a try. If that happens, it’ll be up to him. Projection: Free agent.

VILIAMI MOALA, DT: The 6-2, 315-pounder from Sacramento entered the draft after his junior season, during which he started in 11 of 12 games and had a career-high 37 tackles. The 21-year-old played 35 career games for the Bears. Projection: Free agent.

RICHARD RODGERS, TE: Displaced from his natural position last season because the Bears’ offense doesn’t use a tight end, the 6-4, 257-pound Rodgers caught 39 passes for 608 yards as a slot receiver. The 22-year-old somewhat relucantly was briefly used as a power back — an experiment that was unsuccessful and short-lived. NFL scouts apparently have some questions about Rodgers’ blocking skills. Projection: Rounds 6-7.


Football: Ex-Cal trio set for NFL combine

Three former Cal players will put their skills on display at the NFL combine, beginning Wednesday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Deandre Coleman will be among 56 defensive linemen being scrutinized by NFL scouts, Khairi Fortt will be one of 35 linebackers on hand and Richard Rodgers is one of 22 tight ends at the week-long camp.

A total of 335 NFL hopefuls will participate in the combine.

Here is the daily schedule of events, courtesy of ESPN.com: 

Wednesday, Feb. 19
• PK/ST/OL/TE medical pre-exam and X-rays, orientation, interviews

Thursday, Feb. 20
• PK/ST/OL/TE measurements, medical exams, media, interviews
• QB/WR/RB medical pre-exam and X-rays, orientation, interviews

Friday, Feb. 21
• PK/ST workout; PK/ST/OL/TE bench press, psychological testing, interviews
• QB/WR/RB measurements, medical exams, media, interviews
• DL/LB medical pre-exam and X-rays, orientation, interviews

Saturday, Feb. 22
• OL/TE on-field workout (timing, stations, skill drills)
• QB/WR/RB psychological testing, bench press, interviews
• DL/LB measurements, medical exams, media, interviews
• DB medical pre-exam and X-rays, orientation, interviews

Sunday, Feb. 23
• QB/WR/RB on-field workout (timing, stations, skill drills)
• DL/LB psychological testing, bench press, interviews
• DB measurements, medical exams, media, interviews

Monday, Feb. 24
• DL/LB on-field workout (timing, stations, skill drills)
• DB psychological testing, bench press, interviews

Tuesday, Feb. 25
• DB on-field workout (timing, stations, skill drills)


Football: Brendan Bigelow makes 5 Cal juniors who intend to declare for the NFL draft

Running back Brendan Bigelow became the fifth Cal junior to announce he intends to declare for the NFL draft, the athletic department confirmed. Wednesday is the deadline for juniors to enter their name.

Bigelow burst onto the scene with a spectacular 160-yard, two touchdown rushing performance at Ohio State as a sophomore in 2012. His spinning, 81-yard sprint around left end at Columbus left Buckeyes defenders groping for air and sparked the imagination of Cal fans.

But the Fresno native couldn’t transform that performance into steady production. He was in and out of the lineup in 2012, finishing the season with 431 rushing yards and a gaudy 9.8 yards per attempt.

His junior season under new coach Sonny Dykes was no more successful. Battling the effects of offseason knee surgery early in the season, Bigelow never found a consistent rhythm and seemed often to run without confidence.

The coaching staff actually moved him to slot receiver at midseason, then returned him to running back. He wound up with 421 rushing yards — 107 of them with his only two touchdowns against Colorado in Week 11. He caught 34 passes for 202 yards.

One of the fastest players on the Cal team, Bigelow finished his career with 877 rushing yards. He will become at least the 18th junior to enter the draft.

Bigelow follows four other Cal juniors who have declared their intention to enter the draft: cornerback Kam Jackson, tight end Richard Rodgers, linebacker Khairi Fortt and defensive tackle Viliami Moala.

A Cal athletic department spokesperson said Dykes would not be available to comment.