Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio have shown the ability to build a championship team from the ground up, but the duo had a strange blind spot at wide receiver, with former Arizona State star N’Keal Harry in danger of becoming the latest in a very long line of misfires at the position.
While Patriots fans have rightfully been grilling Harry for taking so long to get things into high gear, a strong finish to the season means that there is some legitimate optimism for the young wideout heading into 2021.
However, if he fails to produce in 2021, he could find himself out of a job.
While he wasn’t a star, N’Keal Harry improved slightly in 2020
Harry is one of the weirdest evaluations of any first-round prospect in recent memory. His 6-4 frame, huge catch radius, and struggles with getting separation due to a lack of long speed suggest that he’s a physical boundary receiver. But Arizona State used him like a 5-9 slot receiver, utilizing his surprising slipperiness in the open field to get him involved as a runner.
The Patriots have used him as a sort of hybrid of both of those archetypes, and the results have been disastrous, as he recorded just 45 catches during his first two seasons in the league.
Harry was used as a runner more frequently last year since Josh McDaniels didn’t let Cam Newton cut it loose down the field that often. While he did record 33 catches and two touchdowns, his limited route tree doesn’t bode well for his long-term potential in a league where college receivers are making the jump to the pros more seamlessly than ever.
As encouraging as last season was, this is Harry’s last chance. If he doesn’t take a huge step in the right direction, he will end up alongside Aaron Dobson and Chad Jackson in Belichick’s wide receiver graveyard while going down as one of the worst first-round picks in Patriots history.
And we’d really, really rather that not happen.