The New England Patriots’ biggest need to address entering the 2019 NFL draft was their pass catching corps. Especially after the retirement of Rob Gronkowski, the team lacked a physical presence able to win against press-man coverage on the boundary and come down with a contested catch if need be. With the 32nd and final pick of the first round, the reigning world champions addressed the issue by drafting wide receiver N’Keal Harry.
Shortly after the selection, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio stepped in front of the media to discuss his team’s pick — and Harry’s physicality was apparently a key selling point for the 21-year-old. “One of the things he does well is that he plays the ball in the air,” Caserio noted. “I’d say the coverage in this league is tight regardless of the type of receiver that you are — you’re going to have to make some plays in tight corners.”
“Big, strong receiver, good hands, good with the ball after the catch. He had a chance to play against some decent people out in the Pac-12,” Caserio also said about Harry. “He’s a strong guy, he’s hard to tackle. He actually has a little bit of an ability to make people miss. You get the ball in his hands and he’s been able to make some yards. We’ll see if that translates over to us here.”
At Arizona State, Harry did make plenty of plays: during his three collegiate seasons, he caught a combined 213 passes for 2,889 yards and 22 touchdowns — productivity Caserio immediately pointed out in his opening statement: “Productive player over a three-year period, played for a couple of different coaches — played for coach Graham a couple of years and then coach Edwards came in — but he’s been a productive player in their system.”
The Patriots were not only drawn to the 6’2 wideout due to his outstanding college production, though, but also because his top-30 visit to Foxboro. “He came in and presented himself a pretty mature kid, [he] seems like a smart kid,” said Caserio about a key attribute for any wideout playing in an offense as challenging as New England’s and alongside a quarterback demanding his wide receivers to be perfect on any given snap.
For Caserio, however, the approach towards the Patriots’ new first-round investment is clear: take things one step at a time. “We’ll get him out here, trying to get him into the program, get him moving,” he said about Harry. “The expectation will be no different than it is for any other player: come in, try to get started, build a foundation and go from there. That’s really the focus, more than anything else. Anything beyond that is a little much.”
That being said, Caserio was clear to point out what Harry — and any player combing to New England — will have to do to find success in the system. “Show up, work hard, take coaching, and just try to improve each day. Honestly, that’s a formula for every player. If you do those things — show up, work hard, develop a routine, have good habits, get into a consistent day-to-day, you take coaching and you improve — you’re probably going to become a decent player,” said Caserio.
Whether or not Harry will be able to do that remains to be seen. Given his track record and the foundation he brings to the table, however, it would not be a surprise to see the rookie quickly find success in New England — and help the Patriots’ offense stay on course even after losing its best player to retirement one month ago.