The New England Patriots used the 32nd overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft to select 6’3, 228 pound wide receiver N’Keal Harry out of Arizona State. The Patriots have a glaring need at wide receiver, but the Patriots had never taken a wide receiver in the first round with Bill Belichick at the helm.
That’s clearly no longer the case. Here’s why Belichick and the Patriots decided to draft Harry.
Harry’s measurables match-up to what you see on tape. He’s a big and strong receiver at 228 pounds with a 99th percentile 27 reps on the bench press. He has an impressive 38.5” vertical jump that he uses to pluck the ball out of the air. And he uses his 6.89s three cone to shake defenders and pick up yards after the catch. He’s a dominant athlete for his size. We’ll cover all of these factors later.
But what’s super notable is that he’s only 21 years old and doesn’t turn 22 until December. Of the 76 wide receivers taken in the first or second round over the decade spanning 2009-18, 31 of them were 21 or younger on draft day (~40%). And yet of the 29 receivers to average 50+ yards per game in the NFL, 66% of them were drafted at the age of 21 or younger.
Receivers aged 20-21 include Brandin Cooks, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Dez Bryant, DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, and Mike Evans. It’s not a perfect science, but generally receivers that dominate the college level at a young age are able to continue their success in the NFL and Harry is unrivaled in this draft class when it comes to producing at a young age.
The Patriots need some strength at the receiver position with Chris Hogan now in Carolina with the Panthers and Harry has it in spades. Harry tied for the most reps on the bench press at the combine with 27 (only four other receivers surpassed 20) and that strength shows up on tape.
“I would describe my game as very passionate,” Harry told the media after being selected by New England. “I play with a lot of passion. Whenever that ball is in the air, I’ll sacrifice anything to go get it. And I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win. Anything coach wants me to do whether it’s on special teams, offense, anything, I’ll do it just to do my part and be one piece of the puzzle in helping us win.”
Harry is also a willing and able blocker. Blocks with great effort, strength and technique. He's built like a bull and he'll let you know. Ultra-physical blocker. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/fR2qmjtd0R— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) February 9, 2019
Harry has a fiery energy to his game that is certain to mesh well with Julian Edelman as the Patriots receiving corps will make opposing defensive backs think twice before engaging against the run.
Versatile Route Runner
Harry is a polished route runner with an expansive tree that should allow him to find a role in the offense on day one. Former Patriots’ exec Mike Lombardi says that Harry is “a legitimate receiver. That guy can play anywhere on the field, he can play F inside, he can play X outside, he can go inside and make the catch, and when the ball’s in his hands, he’s a beast. He can go get it.”
Harry is capable of disguising his routes and shaking defenders just enough to create separation and he can do it from anywhere on the formation. He can line up outside and run a go route, or an in-route, or a comeback. He can do anything from the slot. Unlike some other receivers, Harry isn’t limited in what he’s able to run on every single play.
Elite at Contested Catches
Harry is great at making sure the ball gets in his hands, even if he’s covered by a defender. According to Pro Football Focus, Harry had the third-most contested catches in college football over the past two seasons and “ranked first with a 57.5% contested catch percentage.” So if Tom Brady throws the ball up, Harry is likely to come down with it.
“One of the things he does well is he plays the ball in the air,” Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said after the draft. “I’d say the coverage in this league is tight regardless of the type of player, receiver you are. Coverage is tight. You’re going to have to make plays in some tight quarters.”
So not only are Harry’s routes clean to give Brady some separation space to work with, but Harry’s also able to make plays on the ball when that space doesn’t develop.
Harry did struggle with some drops in the red zone this past season, but he also wasn’t given a lot of help from the rest of his offense.
Dominant Yards after the Catch
According to Pro Football Focus, no receiver has more plays of 15+ yards than Harry over the past two seasons of college football. Harry’s able to change direction on a dime, even though his size should prevent him from doing so, and he’ll always fight for extra yardage.
“He’s a strong guy,” Caserio added. “He’s hard to tackle, so he actually has a little bit of ability to make some people miss. It’s one of the things that he’s been productive doing when he gets the ball in his hands.”
#ArizonaState WR N'Keal Harry is a unique player. He's built like a downfield threat as a jump ball guy but he might be the best YAC receiver in the class. He's impossible to bring down because of his frame/strength and his moves and vision in the open field are superb. pic.twitter.com/0TIs8gYPj4— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) February 9, 2019
Harry has a good feel for finding soft spots in defenses and gaining extra yards and has the balance to stay on his feet after contact. The Patriots can focus on getting the ball in Harry’s hands and letting him do the rest.
And so there you have it. Harry is already great at running routes to generate separation, fighting for the ball when that separation doesn’t develop, and gaining extra yards once the ball is in his hands. His attitude is great and he has a ton of upside.
What more could you want?