In the first 19 drafts under head coach and de facto general manager Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots drafted four wide receivers in the second round but never once invested in the position in round one. Draft number 20, however, brought a change in draft approach: with the 32nd overall pick this year, the reigning world champions selected N’Keal Harry to bolster a receiving corps that saw considerable turnover during the offseason.
Harry’s tenure with the Patriots was off to a solid start as he looked good in his new environment during spring workouts and training camp practices. But only three snaps into his first game — New England’s preseason opener against the Detroit Lions — he hurt his ankle and subsequently had to sit out the remainder of the exhibition schedule before finally being placed on injured reserve in early September, shortly after roster cutdowns.
The timing of the transaction allowed Harry to return off the list at a later point, and six weeks after being moved to IR he was back on the practice fields. The Patriots’ first player designated to return from injured reserve this season, the 21-year-old made enough progress over the following two weeks to be activated to New England’s 53-man roster on the day before the team’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Harry did not dress for the Patriots’ 37-20 defeat in Baltimore — the team’s physically challenging up-tempo game plan likely played a big role in this decision — but could very well appear in his first NFL regular season game this Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. How his role will look like is yet to be determined, but fans expect him to ultimately carve out a considerable rotational role over the remainder of the year.
Such is the result of SB Nation’s latest FanPulse survey: participants were asked what they expect of Harry this season, and 54.2% voted for him to become a key reserve. For comparison, 29.2% think that he will earn a starting role alongside Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu. 7.3% see him as little more than an emergency option, meanwhile, with 9.4% choosing the fourth option of him not having any impact during his rookie campaign.
While the latter option is a possibility considering his lack of practice time and inexperience compared to the other pass catchers on the roster, seeing Harry turn into a key reserve appears to be the most realistic scenario — and definitely the preferred one from the team’s perspective. After all, his upside as an X-receiver and potential red zone target cannot be denied and should help him earn regular playing time even after his injury.
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