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NFL Draft

What Is N’Keal Harry’s Upside This Season?

  • The Draft Network
  • July 11, 2020
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It was unfortunate we couldn’t see N’Keal Harry’s upside last season. The second-year wide receiver was selected with the 32nd overall pick by the New England Patriots in the 2019 NFL Draft after three years at Arizona State. He was mostly given a strong draft grade and getting ready to start his career catching the rock from one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

The Patriots liked Harry enough to do something they had never done in the Bill Belichick era and drafted a receiver in the first round; that’s 19 drafts. The expectations for Harry were high, but his rookie season, instead, was derailed by injury. 

He suffered an ankle injury in training camp but still played the first preseason game. Harry was eventually placed on injured reserve before the start of the regular season. He made his debut in Week 11 and played the remainder of the season and into the postseason. Harry capped off a less than ideal rookie season with 105 yards and two touchdowns on 12 catches; he had a 50% catch rate on 24 targets. He fell deep down the receiving corps but is now set to be a starting Patriots pass-catcher alongside Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu. 

I hate to sound too cliché but timing sure is everything. 

New England is getting ready for life without Brady and as much faith as it wanted to put in Jarrett Stidham, the team made the incredibly smart decision to go after another available quarterback. Harry is arguably in a better position entering his sophomore season with Cam Newton than he was less than 12 months ago. 

The expectations for Harry aren’t diminished by his shortened first year. The challenge will be how the mastermind, Belichick, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will incorporate Harry into the offense. The pre-draft consensus from The Draft Network’s scouts was Harry projected as “a prototypical X-receiver” with his strengths being his size and contested-catch ability. When Harry got the chance to show this last season, he was thrown into the more grueling part of the Patriots’ schedule. He was also unable to build the chemistry he needed with Brady and properly acclimate to NFL speed. In the build-up to Year 2, however, Harry has been addressing the concerns that followed him out of college—quickness and speed—and has recently trained with New England newcomer Newton.  

Harry’s upside in 2020 is high and Newton’s addition can complement that well—maybe even in more ways than teaming up with Brady. When Newton wins the starting quarterback competition—which he should without question—he’ll offer a different skill set that will better suit Harry.

Last season, New England’s receivers ranked 32nd in yards of separation per route, according to NFL reporter Don Kleiman, and had the second-most drops in the NFL (34). Harry was the lowest-ranked receiver out of the 143 qualifying pass-catchers while each Patriot WR was in the bottom 100. How exactly will this help Harry?

“Cam poses that kind of threat the defense really has to respect,” SiriusXM NFL analyst Solomon Wilcots told the Boston Herald on Monday. “In a way, it makes your receivers a little better. It will help N’Keal Harry because the run-fake action causes defenses to have a moment of hesitation, and that allows for greater separation.”

While the Patriots don’t have the most talented receiving corps, Harry should be a solid WR3 and could likely compete with Sanu for WR2 if he stays healthy and the offseason work translates on game days. In the past, Harry has struggled to create consistent separation, and I wouldn’t go as far as saying Harry will lead all New England receivers in yards, at least not yet. With continued development and the aging Edelman at the tail end of his career, Harry can be WR1; it just isn’t a fair expectation to place on him this season.

Harry is very physical and, with his brief opportunities last season, showed promising red-zone ability; his first NFL touchdown was in the red zone in a matchup with the Dallas Cowboys’ Byron Jones. With more work on his speed and route-running, Harry can have a breakout sophomore season with a very high upside.

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