The New England Patriots have missed on early-round draft picks before, but rarely have they seen their first two selections in one year fail to work out.
The 2017 draft is one example, with neither Derek Rivers nor Antonio Garcia making much of an impact during their time in New England. Rivers and Garcia were both selected in the third round, however, and were relatively minor investments compared to the organization’s top-two selections a couple of drafts later.
N’Keal Harry and Joejuan Williams were selected with the 32nd and 45th overall picks in 2019. They have had some encouraging moments over the last three seasons, but those war few and far between. All in all, the two have not lived up to expectations since their arrival despite receiving regular opportunities to prove themselves.
Now, the writing appears to be on the wall for both of them.
During last week’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Patriots decided to sit them both as healthy scratches. In their place, practice squad members Kristian Wilkerson and D’Angelo Ross were elevate to the game-day roster.
Wilkerson ended up catching four passes, including two touchdowns. Ross was used primarily on special teams, but also saw action as a defensive back after Adrian Phillips left the game. Most importantly, though, the two were given an opportunity even though both Harry and Williams were available.
“It’s really a kind of week-to-week thing on who we activate, who’s at the game, who isn’t, and so forth,” head coach Bill Belichick said earlier this week. “Certainly, last week, there was a lot of fluctuation on the roster, as you saw, from the beginning of the week, who was on the roster, to the end of the week, who came back onto the roster, but those are all unknowns as we went through it.
“That’s little bit the situation that all teams are in right now and little bit this time of year. We’ll take it, really, day by day, but the decisions will be weekly.”
The fact that a former first-round pick and a former second-round pick are even in consideration to be deactivated on a week-to-week basis — especially in favor of practice squad options — says it all. It also does not bode well for their outlook beyond this season.
Regardless of what happens in the future, their tenures in New England so far have been disappointing.
Harry was the second wide receiver to come off the board in what turned out to be a strong draft at the position. Unlike Marquise Brown (1-25/Baltimore), Deebo Samuel (2-36/San Francisco), A.J. Brown (2-51/Tennessee) and DK Metcalf (2-64/Seattle), however, he never truly established himself as a starting-caliber receiver; injuries and inconsistent play have hurt Harry and in turn allowed him to play only a limited role in New England.
Thus far, he has appeared in 33 regular season and playoff games. He has caught just 59 passes for 619 yards and four touchdowns. This season, Harry has seen most of his action as a blocker rather than a wide receiver. When he did get the opportunity following Nelson Agholor’s concussion suffered in Week 15 he has failed to take advantage — unlike Kristian Wilkerson, for example.
Williams, meanwhile, was brought aboard following a trade-up. The Patriots invested second- and third-round picks to move from the 56th to the 45th overall selections to grab the Vanderbilt product.
His potential as a big-bodied defensive back with smooth movement skills was undeniable, but Williams never made the next step upon arrival in the NFL. He has appeared in 36 games over the last three seasons, failing to grow beyond rotational status. The 24-year-old did see somewhat regular action this season but over the last four games has played only four defensive snaps; he was a healthy scratch the last three games.
Where do the Patriots and their former early-round selections go from here? That is anyone’s guess; there is a chance that they will still receive some action down the stretch if the game plan calls for it. Long-term, however, they do not appear to have much of a future in New England.
The last few weeks have made that painfully clear.