In case you have been living under the world’s largest rock for the past seven months, the New England Patriots are the defending Super Bowl champions. Normally the talking heads at ESPN won’t shut up about what’s going on in Foxborough, but as teams across the league open up camp, there is not even a peep out of New England. Perhaps people have forgotten about the Patriots in an attempt to convince themselves Super Bowl 53 never happened, and can you blame them?
In the meantime, the Patriots have added to an already stout defense and head into the preseason as the Super Bowl favorites once again. However New England’s biggest addition has come on the offensive side of the ball in the form of Swiss Army knife wide receiver N’Keal Harry. With the departure of frat country’s favorite tight end Rob Gronkowski and the uncertainty surrounding Josh Gordon, the Patriots entered the draft in dire need of pass catching playmakers. Bill Belichick addressed these concerns immediately on draft night, spending his first-round pick on the 6’2″ receiver out of Arizona State.
Who is N’Keal Harry
In short, N’Keal Harry is the best receiver prospect in the 2019 draft class. Standing at 6’2″ and weighing in at 228 pounds, Harry measures as an ideal modern day X receiver. Harry put up an eye popping 27 bench press reps at the combine, and his 4.51 40 time pleasantly surprised scouts in Indianapolis. He does a lot of things well on the field, but his greatest tool is his ability to make plays with the ball in his hands after the catch.
In this clip Harry shows the ability to slip and slide through an entire defense before reversing fields and turning a six yard curl into a 31 yard highlight reel touchdown. It is rare to see prospects of Harry’s size possess this kind of elusiveness and vision. Not only does Harry blend his size with elite shiftiness to make would be tacklers look silly after the catch, but he knows how to use his big frame to position himself to win 50/50 balls, adjust to poorly thrown passes, and create windows for his quarterback out of thin air.
Here you can see Harry straight up bully Steelers third-round pick Justin Layne by using his hands to create space and beat him to the back shoulder for a touchdown grab. I can gif N’Keal Harry exposing corners on fades all day long, but the bottom line is that this guy is a back shoulder machine with the athletic ability to play in the slot and strength to win battles on the outside. Harry’s versatile skill set makes him a dangerous weapon and with the greatest quarterback to ever live throwing him the ball, the sky is truly the limit.
If I listened to a single word of what I’ve been hearing odds are I would not be writing this article right now. The buzz around Harry seems to be that “he’s a project“, and that “it will take him a while to learn the playbook“, and that “he’s dropping too many passes at training camp“, and that… okay you get the point. It just doesn’t make any sense, why would the defending champs use a first-round pick on somebody in a position of need that they don’t plan on using right away? Well I did some research and learned that since 2010 the Patriots have drafted nine players in the first-round. Out of those nine players, seven started 13 or more games in their rookie season. So if the past tells us anything, it’s that Harry is at the very least going to be on the field.
As far as production goes, that is a different story. Rookie receivers are mystery boxes and tend to start slow, so to gauge potential one would have to measure the opportunities available to get a grasp on what to expect from first year wide-outs.
The list includes all of the major pass catchers for the Patriots in 2018, backup tight ends and full backs were excluded to make it easier. All of the players highlighted in red are no longer with the team, and with their departures 164 targets leave with them. If you want you can throw some red in Josh Gordon’s ledger because of the question marks surrounding his return to New England, no matter how you slice it there is no denying that N’Keal Harry will basically be forced into a meaningful role in Josh McDaniels’ offense from week one. I’m not worried about him being able to learn New England’s complicated offense either, in fact Herm Edwards’ first order of business upon being name coach of the Sun Devils was to call Harry into his office and slap an NFL playbook on his lap. Out in Tempe Harry played most of his snaps outside but flashed in the slot and even carried the ball 10 times, as well as contributing as a returner on special teams. Harry will likely see most of his snaps coming on the outside due to Julian Edelman’s stranglehold on the slot position, but don’t be surprised if McDaniels gets creative with Harry and even uses him to run the ball on occasion. This is a lot to take in, but I know you’re all reading this to find out what Harry will do for your fantasy team.
Why Should I Draft Him?
If you have been playing fantasy football for a number of years you would know that it is a cardinal sin to draft a rookie wide receiver. It takes them a long time to pick up an NFL offense, develop chemistry with their quarterback, and so on. However, that philosophy may be more myth than motto. Here’s a look at the rookie year numbers of receivers drafted between 20-40 since 2016:
|Josh Doctson (2017)||78||35||502||6||85||49|
Harry’s ADP is currently sitting around 101 overall, good for WR 38. While most of the guys on that list did not become instant fantasy stars, plenty had productive first years and none of them have found themselves in as good of a spot as Harry. Edelman is turning 33 years old and is already injured less than two weeks into training camp, Josh Gordon is an unknown, and there is no word of who may emerge as Brady’s primary tight end. Ultimately Harry’s production will primarily depend on the status of Gordon, and if he doesn’t play for New England this season (let’s be honest, does anyone think he will?) Harry should easily be able to eclipse 90 targets and use his size and strength to feast in the red zone. It really isn’t out of the question for Harry to quickly develop a solid rapport with Brady and go for 800 and 8 in his rookie season, which would surely be a Top 25 finish.
At the end of the day Josh Gordon might play this year, Harry might take some time to adjust to an NFL offense, and he might not earn Brady’s trust right away. If all of these things happen, Harry’s numbers should still fall in line with where he is being drafted. If you draft Harry in the ninth-round or later he can be a serviceable WR3 at worst, and a dark horse rookie of the year candidate at best.
(Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)