When the New England Patriots drafted N’Keal Harry with the No. 32 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, they hoped they found a special wide receiver to support Tom Brady. Three years later, there is a chance neither is on the roster to begin the 2021 NFL season.
Harry’s first season in New England started poorly. He suffered an ankle injury in training camp which sidelined him until the end of November. He finally made his debut and hauled in his first career touchdown from Brady on Nov. 24, but it proved to be one of his lone bright spots in a rough first year.
Following Brady’s departure, New England hoped that Harry would step up in his second season and become a go-to target for Cam Newton. Instead, the former first-round pick finished behind Jakobi Meyers (81), Damiere Byrd (77) and James White (62) for targets across 14 games with 57.
- N’Keal Harry stats (2019-’20): 45 catches, 414 receiving yards and four touchdowns, 55.6% catch rate in 21 games
As part of ESPN’s 2021 NFL training camp preview, Patriots beat writer Mike Reiss highlighted one key player in danger of not making the 53-man roster and he chose Harry.
“Calling a third-year player a veteran might be questionable, but Harry not only has a crowded depth chart ahead of him in Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne, but also competition for the No. 4 or 5 role from others who seem to provide more value on special teams (such as Gunner Olszewski as a punt returner) or have a standout trait (such as Isaiah Zuber’s speed). Harry’s contract might help him stick around, as the Patriots would take a $2 million cap hit for letting him go. That could ultimately buy the 2019 first-round pick a bit more time to see if things turn around. “New England Patriots beat writer Mike Reiss on future of N’Keall Harry
While avoiding a $2 million cap hit is a decent incentive to keep Harry, it might not matter too much for New England. The Patriots have $14 million in cap space entering training camp and a Stephon Gilmore extension could create even more flexibility.
2021 outlook for N’Keal Harry
N’Keal Harry will be pretty low on the Patriots depth chart entering training camp. Free-agent signees Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne will be ahead of him as will Meyers. There also won’t be many targets for the third-year receiver in a run-heavy offense that also features tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.
Releasing Harry might not be the team’s last option. Given his relatively low salary, a rebuilding team might want to buy low on the former first-round pick. It would likely only cost a conditional Day 3 pick, a bargain considering where Harry was drafted.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, the end result will still be a bad look for Bill Belichick and Co. They drafted him over Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, Mecole Hardman and DK Metcalf. At the very least, New England could have added an All-Pro returner (Hardman) and a No. 1 receiver like Brown or Metcalf would thrive with this team.
No matter how this ends for Harry, the day the Patriots move on from him will be another reminder of their big miss in the draft.