The Patriots haven’t drafted well at wide receiver under Bill Belichick for a long time. The imminent departure of 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry is an extension to that trend.
Belichick is an all-time great coach and has been a personnel genius when making decisions at many other positions, especially on defense. But since early in his tenure as as coach and general manager, Belichick has failed to hit on impact wide receivers.
Since stealing Julian Edelman as a versatile cog in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft, the Patriots have selected 10 wide receivers in various rounds, Harry was the ninth and as the highest pick at No. 32 overall, he has been the biggest bust.
Harry, already hard-pressed to make the Patriots’ final roster in their upcoming 2021 training camp, is hoping to traded to revive his career post New England. His agent, Jamal Tooson, relayed a statement via NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo that included a formal request to trade Harry.
“For the past several months, I have been working in cooperation with the Patriots behind the scenes to put a plan in place to allow N’Keal to thrive in New England. Through two seasons, he has 86 targets, which obviously hasn’t met the expectations the Patriots and N’Keal had when they drafted a dominant downfield threat who was virtually unstoppable at the point of attack in college,” Tooson wrote.
“Following numerous conversations with the Patriots, I believe it’s time for a fresh start and best for both parties if N’Keal moves on before the start of training camp. That is why I have informed the Patriots today I am formally requesting a trade on behalf of my client.”
Harry’s short time with the Patriots has yielded more misfortune than productive results. In 2019 as a rookie, he missed 9 games with an ankle injury. Last year he had a scary concussion that cost him 2 more games.
In two regular seasons, Harry has seen only 81 targets in 21 games, catching 45 passes for 414 yards and 4 TDs. Playing in his lone playoff game with Tom Brady at QB, Harry caught 2 of 7 targets for 21 yards.
With the additions of free agents Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne and the promise of Jakobi Meyers, Harry is looking at fourth on the depth chart at best. He has a lot of competition for bottom-roster space in the wake of Edelman’s retirement, including Gunner Olszewski and journeyman Marvin Hall.
Since the clutch Super Bowl combination of Deion Branch and David Givens were drafted for Brady in 2002, there hasn’t been much beyond Edelman working out as drafted wide receivers in New England.
Harry is about to join a dubious club since ’09 that includes Bethel Johnson, P.K. Sam, Chad Jackson, Brandon Tate, Taylor Price, Jeremy Ebert, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Jeremy Gallon, Malcolm Mitchell, Devin Lucien and Braxton Berrios. Good luck to rookie seventh-rounder Tre Nixon avoiding the common fate.
On the bright side, Belichick signed both Meyers, who can be a key third wideout this season, along with young return ace Olszweski as undrafted free agents much later in the same Harry class of ’19. On the “what if” side, the Patriots drafted Harry ahead of Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, Diontae Johnson and Terry McLaurin. Ouch.
The Patriots are trying to support their quarterbacks better, now Cam Newton and rookie first-rounder Mac Jones. They’re hoping for Agholor and Bourne to step up from valuable role players from other teams and Meyers to round into a more complete target.
They can’t afford to wait for a third-year breakout that’s unlikely to come from Harry, at least in their offense. Harry, only 23 and once a big-time playmaker at Arizona State, has too much raw talent not to see some interest. To the Patriots, he is the latest drafted wideout to go through the revolving door after not being a good fit for their demanding scheme.