The New England Patriots finally got their talented first-round draft pick — the only wide receiver Bill Belichick has ever taken in round one in his 20 years of leading the team — back onto the field on Sunday afternoon: N’Keal Harry returned against the Philadelphia Eagles after starting his rookie season on injured reserve.
Despite catching just three balls for a combined 18 yards, Harry showed promise as a receiver and a blocker as he was on the field for the Patriots’ first four run plays from scrimmage. He finished the night playing 31 of a possible 74 offensive snaps snaps with, 20 of them being passing plays and the other 11 being runs.
However, the plan may have been to ease Harry back into it which could be why he played just seven snaps in the first half. But when Phillip Dorsett headed to the locker room with a head injury suffered on his go-ahead touchdown grab, and when Mohamed Sanu got banged up on a punt return, Harry was sprung into action and was given a much bigger role than the one the coaching staff may have had in mind for him.
At one point, he was on the field for 25 consecutive offensive snaps and made a key block on one of James White’s runs late in the third quarter. One of his key moments, however, was his first career catch when he went over the middle against Ronald Darby on a slant route. The play came at a time when the Patriots couldn’t get anything going offensively and helped pick up a key first down on a 13-play, 59-yard drive that ended with three points.
Moving forward, I would expect the Patriots to use Harry in different packages and expand his route tree on a week-to-week basis. We saw him run some ‘Josh Gordon’-type routes — mainly slants with one screen mixed in. He is a project, though, and it’s going to take some time to put it all together. However, given the environment and circumstances thrown his way last night, I think he did a nice job adjusting and making plays when he needed to.
“N’Keal has worked hard,” said quarterback Tom Brady when speaking about the 21-year-old during his weekly appearance on WEEI’s The Greg Hill Show. “He got some opportunities and we’ve got to just keep getting him up to speed. He missed a lot of football, so we’re going to try to incorporate him the best way we can and use his skills to see if he can be a productive player for us in the second half of the year.”