Earlier this month, ESPN polled a panel of experts about the major questions heading into the NFL’s 2020 offseason. While the discussion delves into speculation quite a few times — one writer, for example, suggests the New England Patriots will be leap-frogged in the AFC East by either the Buffalo Bills or the New York Jets this year and miss the playoffs — it does include some interesting perspective about certain players and their future.
The upcoming free agency of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is obviously one of them (four of five answers have him staying put), but another includes the progression of 2019’s rookie players. New England’s haul during last year’s draft was recently ranked as one of the worst in the league, but according to one of the experts polled by the self-proclaimed “world wide leader in sports” it does feature the premier breakout candidate for 2020: N’Keal Harry.
Field Yates, who worked in Boston before moving to the national level, picked the wide receiver as the second-year player to make the biggest jump this season. He explained his selection as follows:
It was a slow start impacted by injuries — he had 12 catches in seven games — but a close look at Harry’s traits reveals a physical, imposing presence. The Patriots will likely be busy shopping for pass-catchers this offseason, but Harry’s development is a prime route to get better; I’m a firm believer he’ll look like a stud in 2020.
Yates points out a key aspect of Harry’s first year in the NFL: he struggled with injury. The first-round selection hurt his ankle on just his third preseason snap and missed valuable practice and in-game time because of the injury and before being placed on temporary injured reserve. Harry eventually was re-activated again, but he never caught on and finished his rookie campaign with in a marginal role and with little actual impact.
As for 2020, however, Yates is certainly correct in proclaiming that his development “is a prime route to get better” when it comes to the Patriots’ struggling aerial attack. If the 22-year-old can stay healthy throughout the offseason and develop a rapport with his quarterback — probably Tom Brady after all — he could play a huge role in year number two and possibly take over a starting role alongside veteran Julian Edelman.
The Patriots need to improve Brady’s weaponry after a down-year in 2019, and getting Harry going might just be the easiest way to do this. He has the tools and one year of experience, after all, and could single-handedly make New England’s entire wide receiver corps a better one. The potential certainly is there, Harry just needs to show that he can deliver.