As a first-round pick in the NFL, much expectation comes with the selection regardless of what pick you are drafted at. Unfortunately, many booms and busts come from first-round picks and the Patriots’ first-round pick from 2019 has already started his career in the “bust” category.
N’Keal Harry was placed on injured reserve (IR) before the start of the season with a leg injury last year. He was later activated in Week 11 and played the last seven games of the season.
Harry did not reach rookie expectations as he only had 12 receptions on 24 targets, accumulating only 105 yards and two touchdowns.
Harry was robbed of a touchdown during a Week 14 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs, which cost the Patriots the game. However, this technicality does not change the fact that the 32nd overall pick in the 2019 Draft did not perform at the level he was expected to.
He saw more time on the field in the following weeks but failed to capitalize on his opportunity, totaling only 65 yards receiving and a touchdown.
Coming out of Arizona State, Harry had 213 receptions for 2,889 yards and 22 touchdowns in three years. He also reached over 1,000 yards in his last two seasons.
This production shows that Harry is capable of performing at a high level even though he failed to in his rookie season.
Here are three reasons why N’Keal Harry will prove he was a deserving first-round pick in his sophomore year.
1. New Quarterback Situation
With no disrespect to Tom Brady, but he was one of the reasons why Harry could not show his potential. Brady had mentioned in an interview with Howard Stern that he wouldn’t throw to a receiver if he could not trust him.
“I’ve definitely expressed my opinion to say ‘If you put him out there, I’m not going to throw him the ball,” Brady said. He expressed these opinions with Bill Belichick, letting him know not to utilize a play that was meant for a player that Brady would not throw to.
Now with Brady gone, former fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham will take the reigns. Stidham is entering as the starting quarterback in just his second season, meaning he has a lot to prove alongside Harry. Stidham will look to throw to talented receivers Julien Edelman, Mohammed Sanu, and N’Keal Harry to help him reach his potential.
Stidham – Nkeal Harry.
Can’t wait baby.
It’s a new season. pic.twitter.com/SmVqLCgE1e
— Savage (@SavageSports_) March 25, 2020
Stidham and Harry already have some chemistry from working together through rookie camp last season. Along with preseason workouts, the duo has taken countless rookie walk-through reps together, even when Harry was on IR. This already established connection can give Stidham the trust he needs to throw more to Harry and give both players the ability to reach their potential.
2. New Training Regimen
After a disappointing season, Harry dedicated this off-season to get better. He has been working with professional trainer Justin Allen, younger brother of former Patriot Dwayne Allen, and owner of All-En Sports Performance. Though facilities have been closed due to the pandemic, Harry has been finding ways to train in Houston, Texas with Allen at his facility, and has also been spotted working on his footwork with “the footwork king,” Rischad Witfield.
In an interview with Athletic’s Jeff Howe, Justin Allen stated: “I’ve been taking him back to what you were doing when you were first playing the sport as a kid — just those little details, basic fundamentals of getting in and out of your breaks, staying low, eliminating steps in and out of breaks, loosening up his hips, teaching him how to use his hips, be more fluid and move faster than he does. We’re trying to get him to play a little bit faster so he can give a little different look next year.”
You win against Press Coverage with your feet.
— Footwork_King 🤴🏾 (@footwork_king1) May 1, 2020
Harry has a gifted frame at 6-foot-4 weighing at 225, but could we see him slimming down to get quicker?
The main plan for him is to stay healthy so that he can play a featured role with the Patriots this season. He believes that working on his footwork and technique will help his body control which in turn will keep him on the field. This dedication to improving his athleticism, footwork, and play within his frame will help Harry excel this season as long as he can stay on the field.
It will be interesting to see him play with more quickness and allow himself to gain separation from defenders like Tre’Davious White of the Buffalo Bills or Jalen Ramsey of the Los Angeles Rams, who are two premier cornerbacks that he will be facing this year.
3. Receiver Depth and Belichick’s Confidence
N’Keal Harry will be a starter on Week 1 if he can stay healthy all through training camp and the preseason. Of course part of the reason will be because Harry is one of the more talented receivers on the Patriots, but also because there is not much depth in regards to receivers. New England signed free agents Marqise Lee and Damiere Byrd along with multiple undrafted rookies, but no big names.
Harry will have some competition at the position but he should come out on Week 1 as the starting wide receiver for New England.
Heartless on that gridiron💔 pic.twitter.com/T2jS8GB60v
— Keal (@NkealHarry15) May 7, 2020
Belichick made a statement by not drafting any wide receivers in this year’s draft. The wide receiver position in the draft this year was arguably the deepest its been in years and Belichick was criticized and question for his decision to not select a wide receiver. He responded back saying “I’m sure all our young players will improve in year two. Got a first-round pick on N’Keal last year, second-round pick on (Mohamed) Sanu. That was really off this draft. Obviously have Julian (Edelman) and a number of other young players. I think that will be a very good group.”
Belichick’s confidence in Harry can result in more opportunities for the 22-year-old to rise above expectations. He believes that he has the best receiving corps that he can find and Harry is one of the instrumental pieces to that core.
As the season gets closer, keep an eye on the progressions made by N’Keal Harry because he is setting himself up nicely to have breakout sophomore year.