His first year in the NFL was a challenging one for N’Keal Harry. After the New England Patriots selected the Arizona State product with the 32nd overall pick in the 2019 draft, an ankle injury suffered just three snaps into his preseason debut derailed his summer: Harry missed considerable and valuable practice time and in-game experience, and was ultimately placed on temporary injured reserve shortly after roster cutdown day.
New England eventually reactivated him to its roster in early November, but Harry’s time away from the field and Tom Brady hurt his development. As a result, the rookie saw only irregular snaps after his return from the sidelines and frequently failed to get on the same page as his quarterback. While he did settle into the third receiver role by the end of the year, he finished it with only 14 receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns.
Heading into his sophomore season as one of just two roster locks on the Patriots’ current wide receiver depth chart — the other being veteran Julian Edelman — Harry therefore has plenty of room to grow. The 22-year-old acknowledged that during a recent appearance on NFL Network, when Patriots-defender-turned-TV-analyst Willie McGinest asked him about his offseason and preparation for what lies ahead of him in year two.
“It’s good, just trying to get my body back — resting, recovering. Just working on the things I need to work on for the next season to get ready,” Harry said during the short segment. “You know, just really focusing on everything as far as getting my body right, getting in the film room. Just making sure I’m doing everything I can do to be a true pro and just really making certain I’m taking advantage of the opportunity that I have.”
Despite the challenges he faced in 2019, Harry still showed plenty of promise during his first eight games with the Patriots: he looked good with the football in his hands and his blocking and physicality improved significantly over the course of the year, all while the offensive coaching staff trusted him with a bigger role along the way. Entering into his second season, Harry’s main goals other than “getting his body right” therefore have to include his rapport with Brady.
Of course, the Patriots’ long-time starting quarterback is no lock to line up under center for the team again next season after being scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency later this month. Harry, however, does not seem to worry about the status of the future Hall of Famer and is instead focused to his own improvement: “In my position I just have to be ready regardless of who it is, whether it is Tom or somebody else.”
“I just have to make sure I’m getting my technique right, getting my footwork right in the offseason. Just making sure I’m ready for whoever is tossing the ball out,” he added. No matter who eventually ends up starting at quarterback for the Patriots next season — whether it is Brady, Jarrett Stidham or somebody else entirely — Harry projects to be a key part of the team’s aerial attack. By the sounds of it, he certainly appears to be working his way towards that role.