The former first-round draft pick, who was expected to get another start with Nelson Agholor out with a concussion, was deactivated in favor of practice squad elevatee Kristian Wilkerson. Harry had been dealing with a hip ailment, but he was removed from the injury report two days before the game.
Against Jacksonville, he was a healthy scratch. Wilkerson, meanwhile, received his third in-game opportunity this season. He sure made the most out of it.
Wilkerson, who had played only nine offensive snaps over his first two years in the NFL, was on the field for 60 on Sunday. He also caught the first four passes of his career — including a pair of touchdowns — for a combined 42 yards.
“I’m just doing whatever I can to help the team win. It doesn’t matter if it’s a catch or blocking, just trying to help the team win,” he said after the game.
Despite a standout career at Southeast Missouri State that saw him set multiple school records with 219 receptions for 3,540 yards and 33 touchdowns, Wilkerson had to go through undrafted free agency in 2020. He eventually signed with the Tennessee Titans, but was released on roster cutdown day.
Wilkerson joined the Patriots’ practice squad, and spent the remainder of his rookie campaign there. He did play two snaps in a game against the New York Jets but in general had a limited impact.
This summer, however, he appeared to take a serious second-year jump. Wilkerson was consistently among the best wide receivers in training camp and ended up catching 13 passes for 147 yards in preseason. Nonetheless, he was released and eventually added to the practice squad again.
He was elevated twice earlier during the season, playing a combined seven snaps against the Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills, but once more served as a depth and scout team receiver. That all changed versus Jacksonville. With Agholor out and Harry a healthy scratch, Wilkerson received the opportunity to show that his training camp performance was no fluke.
“I did the same thing I do in practice every day and every week,” he said about his preparation leading up to the game. “Just trying to get better whoever lines up in front of me or whatever receiver I’m playing, if it’s on the offense or scout team I just want to be the best receiver out there and do my best, work hard. ...
“I feel like there’s just a standard here to come in and work hard every day so it’s not like I think about it. But just working hard is the standard here pretty much if you want to make it or play. You’ve got to work hard, be on top of your game, and know what you’re doing out there for the coaches.”
Wilkerson did just that on Sunday, and drew plenty of praise from the rest of the team. Head coach Bill Belichick, for example, spoke highly about his practice preparation and his work ethic.
“Wilk is a hardworking kid,” he said. “He normally plays the top or one of the top receivers of our opponents for our defense, so he gets targeted a lot in practice. But he’s always ready to go when we’ve had injuries or guys that needed to step in, didn’t practice or that type of thing, he’s stepped in and is always well prepared, knew what to do, and has been productive in practice.
“It was nice to see him get the opportunity today and take advantage of it, cash in and play well. He also played in the kicking game. He was able to contribute there. Just overall he’s helping us in both phases of the game, and the more you can do.”
Fellow wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, who also ended up catching a touchdown versus Jacksonville, sang a similar tune when speaking about his teammate.
“It was amazing honestly,” he said about Wilkerson. “Just understanding where he came from, undrafted, guys probably doubting you, you’re just waiting on your moment, working hard every day. He’s in here at six every morning. Seeing him go out there and make plays that we all knew he could make, now everybody gets to see it. I’m real happy for him.”
Given that he joined the game-day roster as a practice squad elevation, Wilkerson is expected to revert back on Monday. Considering his performance on Sunday, however, the Patriots might be willing to bring him up to the 53-man team for their playoff run — if only to keep another club from poaching him.
No matter what happens, though, Wilkerson seems to have earned himself more playing time even if it comes at the expense of a former first-round draft choice.