When the New England Patriots selected N’Keal Harry with the 32nd pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Bill Belichick hoped it would turn around the franchise’s recent woes at wide receiver. Just a few years later, Harry was traded for a seventh-round pick.
It became evident this past season that Harry’s days in New England were numbered. Twice first-team All-Pac-12 selection at Arizona State, the 6-foot-4 receiver quickly found himself out of favor with the Patriots’ coaching staff.
As the 24-year-old now looks to turn his NFL career around with the Chicago Bears, a team desperate for pass-catching help, a top NFL insider has shed light on what happened in New England.
- N’Keal Harry career stats: 57 receptions, 598 receiving yards in 33 games
It all started with who Belichick reportedly trusted before the 2019 NFL Draft. According to Doug Kred of Pro Football Focus, the Patriots’ executive and head coach opted against the advice of his scouting department. Instead, per a league source, a glowing report from former Arizona State coach Todd Graham influenced Belichick’s decision to draft Harry.
New England hoped it could make things work, getting the most out of Harry even if the outside perspective was that he didn’t fit in the offense. While Belichick thought he and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels could find a way to fit Harry into the offense, others around the NFL saw it as the Patriots trying to force a square peg into a round hole.
“Everyone says, ‘he gets no separation … He got no separation in college if you watch the tape. You’re not drafting him to out-finesse the man in front of you. You’re drafting him to out-physical the man in front of you.”NFL source on New England Patriots attempting to fit N’Keal Harry into their scheme (via Pro Football Focus)
Harry suffered an ankle injury in training camp and wouldn’t make his NFL debut until late in the season, playing in just seven games. It became even more challenging because the Patriots’ offensive is widely viewed as the most challenging to learn in the NFL and there are no accommodations made for players really struggling with it.
According to PFF, multiple sources made it clear they don’t believe the blame falls on Belichick entirely. Harry reportedly struggled to build connections with the coaching staff. When he wouldn’t communicate with coaches regularly and he failed to improve, the young wideout fell out of the rotation quickly.
New England is now hoping Tyquan Thornton, selected 50th overall in the 2022 NFL Draft, reverses a troubling trend. Among Belichick’s recent premium draft investments at wide receiver, Harry joins a list of whiffs that includes Taylor Price (2010, 3rd round pick), Aaron Dobson (2013, 2nd round pick) and Malcolm Mitchell (2016, 4th round pick).
As for Harry, he is still at an early stage in his career where things can be turned around quickly. There will be plenty of snaps available for him in Chicago and if he can make an impact in the Bears’ offense, it’s possible that will reflect even worse on the Patriots.
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