Just three snaps into his first ever NFL game last August, N’Keal Harry’s trajectory for his rookie season was permanently altered. Catching his second pass of the New England Patriots’ preseason game against the Detroit Lions, the rookie wide receiver hurt his ankle — an injury that would keep him out the rest of training camp and preseason, and eventually earn him a trip to the injured reserve list.
Harry did return to practice in mid-October and made his regular season debut in Week 11 versus the Philadelphia Eagles, but he failed to get up to speed quickly enough to establish himself as the difference maker New England’s passing game was sorely lacking over the second half of 2019. The former first-round draft pick acknowledged as much during a media conference call on Monday.
“I didn’t feel like I was playing catchup mentally as much, but definitely when I got out on the field it was just kind of hard to get in that groove because everybody else kind of got all of that out at the beginning of the season,” Harry said. “So for me, it was just a little bit harder to get going but that’s still no excuse. I’m just looking forward to this year and looking forward to playing my role and helping this team.”
While he ended the season as New England’s third wide receiver alongside veterans Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu, he finished with just 14 receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns in seven games as a rookie. Now, Harry is heading into his second year in the Patriots’ system trying to find the groove that was missing last season. Being able to actively participate throughout training camp is a step in the right direction, though.
“It feels great just being able to build that momentum throughout training camp and keep it going into the season. Really not having any setbacks. It feels great and I’m super excited to get this season started, and I’m just ready to do anything I can to help this team win,” the 22-year-old pointed out.
“Just going out there every day and just making sure I do something to get better every day, no matter what it is. So I just try to have discussions with Coach. Try to discuss what I need to get better at on that particular day and then just stacking days. I’m just super excited. Just getting this season started, it’s been a long offseason. I’ve had a chance to prepare for this so I’m really looking forward to it.”
The Patriots will certainly count on Harry to do just that in Year Two, and to make significant strides compared to his rookie campaign. Not only did they not invest in one of the deepest wide receiver draft classes in recent memory, they also parted ways with the aforementioned Sanu ahead of roster cutdown weekend. At this point in time, Harry is therefore projected to be the number two at the position behind Edelman and the top primary outside option.
Whether he can actually live up to this status remains to be seen, but at times in camp he did look promising and like a legitimate starting-caliber wide receiver for new quarterback Cam Newton to work with. Of course, real football has not yet started — and once it does, Harry needs to prove that he can stay healthy, get more consistent and that his offseason preparation can translate into on-field impact.