Second-year New England Patriots wide receiver N’Keal Harry is once again saying and doing all the right things before the NFL season.
This time last year, N’Keal Harry was easily the biggest story around the New England Patriots organization.
The month of March 2019 belonged to Rob Gronkowski and his surprise retirement … er, surprise temporary retirement, we mean. The months of April and May 2019? They belonged to Harry.
That’s what happens when you become the first Patriots wide receiver drafted by Bill Belichick in the first round ever. The hype train leaves the station at breakneck speed and it doesn’t slow down unless you do something stupid or you get unlucky.
Unfortunately for Harry, he got unlucky.
Not long after building early rapport with teammates Tom Brady and Julian Edelman by working out together during the month of May, Harry tweaked his ankle during training camp. He attempted to quickly rehab the injury and return for the Patriots’ preseason game against the Lions, but he re-injured himself and ended up on IR to start the regular season.
He returned for the final seven games of the regular season as well as New England’s lone playoff game against the Titans.
All things considered, his rookie year was modest at best and a disappointment at worst. While injuries are mainly to blame, he still only caught 50% of the passes thrown his way, catching 12 of his 24 targets for 105 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also chipped in with five rushes for 49 yards on the ground.
Brady may be gone in 2020, but if anything, that just puts an even greater onus on Harry to step up. Edelman is still the unquestioned No. 1 receiver in the Patriots offense, but there should be an interesting battle this offseason (if there is an offseason) between Harry and Mohamed Sanu for the No. 2 job.
At worst, Harry should open the season as the No. 3 receiver on the depth chart. It would take a monumental collapse on his part over the coming months to slide behind the likes of Jakobi Meyers, Marqise Lee, Damiere Byrd, and others in the wideout pecking order.
So far, so good for Harry … at least in terms of how he’s using his free time this offseason.
NBC Sports Boston’s Darren Hartwell reports that Harry has been busy this spring and summer working out with trainers Rischad Whitfield and Justin Allen.
Whitfield, otherwise known as the “Footwork King,” has an impressive collection of receiver clients he’s worked with over the years, including Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., and DeAndre Hopkins.
Allen, the brother of former Patriots tight end Dwayne Allen, has worked with Kenny Stills, Earl Thomas, and the NBA’s James Harden.
Whether or not all this extra training and preparation actually translates to results on the field remains to be seen. Experienced NFL fans are understandably wary of players doing impressive things during the offseason and making claims like they are “in the best shape” of their lives, since it’s all become a bit of a tired cliche at this point.
Still, Harry could be out partying on a boat somewhere … or doing nothing at all. The fact that this marks his second straight offseason with the Patriots during which he’s putting in extra time and training towards improving his ability should be commended.
Hopefully he’s not unlucky this time around and he’ll stay injury-free.
If so, he has all the talent — and clearly, the work ethic — to become the next great offensive superstar for the New England Patriots.