The NFL Combine is officially underway, which means it’s time to start thinking about the 2020 season and which future rookies will run, lift, and jump their way onto the New England Patriots - who are drafting uncharacteristically high this year. They usually draft much lower, which is as good a segue as any into our Number 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moment of 2019.
Since this list is meant to encapsulate the season as a whole, it’s only fitting that we kick things off on Draft Day.
20. The Patriots draft N’Keal Harry.
There is very little to complain about if you’re a Patriots fan; the team wins consistently, they have the greatest coach and quarterback of all time, and there are currently six Lombardi Trophies adorning One Patriot Place. Overall, we have it pretty good.
However, the price we pay as fans is that when it comes time to get excited for the NFL Draft, we often have a hard time mustering up any real enthusiasm. The Patriots are always picking towards the bottom of the first round, assuming that pick hasn’t been taken away for being generally aware that the possibility exists that someone might have hocked a loogie on the sidelines at some point over the past 50 years. They always end up selecting a lineman of some sort. A lot of the time nobody has even heard of the guy they select. So while everyone else gazes longingly at stud QB, beast running backs, and wide receivers with elite measurables, Patriots fans are placing bets on how many times Bill Belichick is going to trade back to amass more picks and which poor DB is going to get selected in the second round, all but guaranteeing him zero shot at success in the NFL. It’s a net positive at the end of the day, but April is usually seen as a time for the other 31 teams in the league.
Which is why it was such a refreshing surprise to see Bill Belichick do something he had never done before: select a wide receiver with his first round pick.
N’Keal Harry was a 6’4”, 225 pound, two time 1st-Team All PAC receiver out of Arizona State with a 40 inch vertical and a 33 inch wingspan. He was a big, rangy target known for high-pointing the ball, winning the contested catches, and generating yards after contact. A dual threat as receiver and return man, Harry was a downfield player, a red zone threat, and the kind of physical offensive weapon the Patriots hadn’t seen since Randy Moss.
The Patriots were coming into the 2019 season without Rob Gronkowski. Josh Gordon was still trying to figure out whether or not he was going to be able to play. Julian Edelman was on the wrong side of 30. They did little to concretely address the receiver position thus far in Free Agency. But they saw enough in N’Keal Harry to select him 32nd overall in hopes of giving Tommy B a vertical threat and red zone body that Gronk was before he retired.
After spending the prerequisite moments of stunned shock that the Patriots actually drafter a receiver, fans everywhere were ecstatic. Harry was only the 2nd receiver taken at that point and was ranked extremely high on all of the completely useless draft boards that the experts get totally wrong every year. Here was a real, genuine skill player who would hopefully be able to contribute right away. Expectations were tempered, of course - New England’s offense isn’t an easy one to pick up - but there are few draft picks sexier than a big, fast wide receiver that can do this, and he was going to be catching passes from Tommy B.
Unfortunately, injuries derailed much of Harry’s early development, and he didn’t see the field for the first half of the 2019 season. He finished his rookie year with 12 grabs for 105 yards and 2 TDs - the kind of numbers Gronk or Edelman would put up in a single game. However, he showed flashes of awareness and toughness, was able to run the ball on end arounds, and excelled as a blocking receiver. He’s a player with a bright future ahead of him, looking to build off a promising but injury-plagued rookie campaign, and if all goes well from him, ranking his drafting all the way down at Number 20 will be one of the biggest oversights of my career as a wannabe sporstwriter.
Check out some Harry highlights here.