The New England Patriots, who are currently in their middle of their 2019 preseason, have 90 players on their active roster at the moment. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with New England’s first selection in this year’s draft.
Name: N’Keal Harry
Position: Wide receiver
Jersey number: TBD (offseason #8)
Opening day age: 21
Size: 6’2, 225 lbs.
2018 review: In 2017, N’Keal Harry showed that he belonged in the conversation as one of the best young wide receivers in all of college football. In 2018, the junior pass catcher also showed that he belonged in the conversation as a potential first-round draft pick — which he went on to become after ending his career at Arizona State in style. After all, Harry’s 2018 was by all accounts another highly productive season for him.
Appearing in twelve of the Sun Devils’ thirteen games — he sat out their bowl game against Fresno State in order to focus on his pre-draft preparation — Harry caught a combined 73 passes on 113 targets for 1,088 yards and 9 touchdowns. Despite clearly being his team’s most talented and dynamic weapon and therefore attracting plenty of defensive attention, he was still able to produce on a consistent basis and show his immense talent.
From his physicality to his ability to make contested catches to his run-after-the-catch skills, Harry proved himself a player to keep an eye on no matter how Arizona State used him. And the school used him in a wide variety of ways: while playing primarily on the boundary, Harry also saw regular action in the slot and caught 22 passes for 399 yards and 3 touchdown when lining up on the inside (per Pro Football Focus’ draft guide).
Furthermore, he also served as one of the team’s punt returners and ran back 9 kicks for a combined 152 yards (16.9 yards per return) as well as 1 touchdown. And if that wasn’t enough already, Harry also scored a rushing touchdown on his 7 attempts that went for a combined 10 yards. Just like his rushing average, his passing numbers were not exactly spectacular either: his lone passing attempt of the year was intercepted.
Nevertheless, Harry still produced another fine season — one that allowed him to manifest himself as one of the most intriguing wide receivers to enter the 2019 draft. The potential first-round prospect was allowed to showcase his skills at the NFL’s scouting combine before ultimately entering the first day of the draft as a potential round one option. And with the final pick of the round, he did indeed hear his name called.
2019 preview: With the 32nd overall selection, the Patriots invested in Harry to add considerable talent and upside to an offense that had lost Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson earlier during the offseason. And while Harry’s skillset is a different one from those players’, he still is projected to bring plenty to New England’s table as an X-receiver capable of also being moved around the formation to create mismatches.
While Harry has so far been used primarily as a boundary receiver during practice — he played only three snaps during the preseason opener before suffering a minor injury — his skillset should make him a viable chess piece for Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels: the 21-year-old can play all over the formation as a potential X/Z hybrid. Of course, there still is a long way to go until he actually reaches this full potential.
For one, Harry has missed time because of his injury. The Patriots, however, also seem content with bringing him along slowly. Consequently, it would not be a surprise if the first-round rookie saw regular but situation-specific action this year. With Josh Gordon and possibly Demaryius Thomas being available as other big-bodied outside receivers, New England can afford to take this approach with Harry.
But even if he may not light up the league in year one, he still is expected to show plenty of growth — and maybe carve out a bigger role as the season goes along.