PITTSFORD – Chris Hogan is an example of the kind of phenomenal athleticism it takes just to get a foot in the door in the NFL.
Hogan, entering his second year as a receiver with the Buffalo Bills, is an amazing athlete. He was the New Jersey high school player of the year in lacrosse and starred for four years in the sport at Penn State. Only then did he turn to football, because he had a year of college eligibility left, and he played a season of “Division I-AA” ball for Monmouth.
He got a shot at the NFL coming out of Monmouth in 2011 because he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds. That’s better than the NFL average, better than a lot of successful receivers, like ex-Bill Stevie Johnson (4.58), and even better than superstar A.J. Green (4.48). What’s more, Hogan bench-pressed 225 pounds 28 times, better than any receiver at the NFL combine in the last 10 years.
He’s such a good athlete that this spring when the Bills players ran an offseason conditioning contest, splitting the roster into four different teams, Hogan was the No. 2 overall pick, behind fullback Frank Summers. The contest encompasses a variety of strength and speed tests. The players don’t try to “max out” in weight-lifting, but Hogan was able to bench-press 275 pounds 12 times in a row. Pretty good for someone 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds.
By any physical measure, Hogan has legitimate NFL credentials, which is why he’s got a great chance to make the Bills’ 53-man roster for a second straight year.
Hogan is the top backup slot receiver behind Robert Woods in training camp at St. John Fisher College.
Sammy Watkins, Woods, Mike Williams and Marquise Goodwin are the top four Bills wideouts. Hogan looks like the next most valuable WR. Marcus Easley has a good chance to make the team as a special teamer and receiver. Barring injuries, veteran T.J. Graham is going to have to beat out Hogan or Easley to crack the top six. (NFL teams keep between five and seven WRs.) But neither Graham or Easley are as good in the slot as Hogan, where shiftiness is especially key.
Hogan, five years removed from tiny Monmouth, thinks he is just coming into his own as a pro receiver.
“I’m really excited about this camp,” he said. “I feel really confident, having a year under my belt and an entire offseason. … From where I started in college to where I am now, I am a 100 percent completely different receiver, completely different. When I first came into the league it was based off of pure athleticism. I was raw. Playing receiver in the league is completely different than in college. You have to master your craft, be so much more precise.”
Hogan caught only 12 passes in college. Compare that to most NFL prospects. Woods caught 252, Watkins 240 and Graham 137.
So Hogan’s past three NFL seasons have been an apprenticeship. He spent the 2011 training camp with San Francisco and the 2012 camp with Miami. That’s where he earned the nickname “7-11” (because he’s always open). Bills teammates still call him that on occasion.
“Every year I’m in the league, I’m just soaking in every little bit of knowledge I can about the position,” he said. “Every year I feel I’ve gotten better.”
Hogan caught 10 passes last season. He played 11.7 snaps a game, or 16 percent of the offensive plays. If everyone stays healthy, his workload doesn’t figure to increase this season. But Hogan aims to prove this preseason he can be counted upon by quarterback EJ Manuel if needed.
How is he better in the slot than last year?
“Being more precise with the routes,” Hogan said. “Being able to get off releases, and reading defenses is huge.
“If you’re able to read the defense, you know exactly where you need to be. If the ball’s going to come to you, where the ball’s going to be? This year as opposed to last year, I think I have a better idea of reading defenses and timing with EJ.”
Hogan has dropped weight this season in an effort to aid his separation ability. He played at 215 to 220 in previous years.
“I’m the type of guy that can be 205, but I can also be 220,” he said. “It’s one of those things I felt better at 205. … It’s helped me on the field. I feel quicker, I feel a little faster.”