Everyone in New England was ecstatic when the Patriots drafted N’Keal Harry with the 32nd overall pick back in April, making him the first ever wide receiver selected in the first round during the Bill Belichick era. However, due to lingering injuries for basically all of training camp, his availability took a hit forcing him to be placed on injured reserve after registering just two catches on his three snaps in the preseason opener against the Detroit Lions.
With a lot of unusual turnover at wide receiver, the Patriots seem to be getting their big, physical first-round pick back from IR at just the right time. And with Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu carrying the weight at the position anyway, adding Harry to play outside the numbers can help spread the field a bit more.
However, deeming him a ‘savior’ just isn’t fair to Harry despite him being a day one draft selection. Let’s pump the breaks on lofty expectations and also on deeming him a ‘bust’ — it is completely unfair to him. Even if Harry can only offer some help in specific situations once he’s back, the Patriots can still benefit from having him: they have, for example, really lacked a big red zone target, something they hoped Josh Gordon could provide.
“I think the fairest thing to do for any young player, especially a guy that’s missed as much time as N’Keal has missed, is we have to get him back on the practice field.” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said a few weeks back when Harry returned to practice. “We have to make smart decisions about when he’s ready to do what.”
“Certainly, to put a player back in a position to say, ‘Hey, do everything, and do it all well, and do it all well under pressure, against seven different defensive looks that you might get,’ and different personnel on the field each week that he hasn’t necessarily played against — I think there’s things that hopefully we can build into and do quicker than others,” added McDaniels. “I think the practice field and the results we get on the practice field will tell us when the right time is to use him in different roles.”
Harry being inactive for the Patriots’ game against the Baltimore Ravens after being taken off IR one day earlier may have raised eyebrows around NFL media, suggesting that Harry isn’t ready to play yet. However, with the Patriots seemingly sticking with one personnel group and going no huddle for the majority of the second half, that is a tough task for any receiver to be apart of in their first NFL game.
By activating him, on the other hand, Harry got a taste of primetime football, traveling with the team and warming up on the field. Now with the bye in the book as well, Harry gets two extra weeks to rest up and get ready for New England’s stretch run.
Last week week, Devin McCourty said that Harry “upsets the Patriots defense in practice” through his hard work. For now, let him work out the kinks like any other rookie: just because he’s a first-round pick doesn’t mean he will step in and dominate right away.
Be patient, Patriots Nation, N’Keal is the Real Deal.