Why Ja'Lynn Polk will not become the Patriots next N'Keal Harry

Patriots got a football player in Ja'Lynn Polk.
Ja'Lynn Polk
Ja'Lynn Polk / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

When it comes to Ja’Lynn Polk, the New England Patriots drafted a wide receiver with strong hands and some dog in him.  But was selecting him with the No. 37 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft a reach for a team that traded back from the No. 34 overall pick to get him?

In passing over a player like Ladd McConkey who was selected with the 34th pick and passing over top rated receivers like Adonai Mitchell and Troy Franklin, Polk, like the last two high round receivers selected by the Patriots in prior drafts will have his career compared to those receivers the team passed up.

New England Patriots rookie receiver Ja’Lynn Polk already has something to prove

Unfortunately for Polk, the team’s misses in 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry and 2022 second-round pick Tyquan Thornton has and will put him in the spotlight.  Fair or unfair, Patriots fans and critics will compare Polk to Harry because of some of his traits and strengths as a receiver. 

With good size at 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, he has an NFL-ready body. He used that body at Washington to go up and get balls in traffic, the type of receiver the Patriots thought they drafted in Harry and hoped they would get when they went out and traded for DeVante Parker.

Neither of those players worked out in a Patriots’ uniform, so what makes Polk different?  For one, he is a competitor and a football player.  He will go out and block (Harry was successful at that), he will go up and get balls, and he will create separation by being a savvy receiver (Harry was not so successful at that), a player who will be a good target for Drake Maye and a good fit in the Patriots’ offense alongside a player like Kendrick Bourne.

When looking at Polk as a receiver, it is that dog in him that makes him an intriguing pick for the Patriots. Above the 69 catches for 1,159 yards and 9 touchdowns he produced catching the ball from Michael Penix Jr. at Washington, it’s his competitive nature that will set him apart from Harry.

Speaking of receivers who had that dog in them, former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. was one of the best.  Patriots fans may remember his “ice up” comments to Aqib Talib, but NFL fans remember Smith Sr. as a player who became one of the best in the league because of his competitive nature. 

In recognizing that in Polk, Smith Sr. compared him to former Cincinnati Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh in how he overcame his lack of speed by attacking the ball.

“He’s not fast. He’s not slow. He can play football,” Smith said. “…He’s not going to outrun many people, but he’s strong at the point of attack. He’s strong with the ball in his hands. That’s what gives him that advantage. Eye and hand coordination cannot be taught. Ja’Lynn Polk’s ability to adjust to the football is excellent.

Houshmandzadeh had a productive career in the NFL with the Bengals, so if Smith’s comparison is on point, the Patriots got themselves a player who won’t be a WR1, but a player who will be productive, play with a competitive edge, and go up and attack the ball whether it is from Maye or Jacoby Brissett until Maye is ready. 

As a Patriots fan, I must confess.  It was a head-scratcher when Polk was announced as the team’s second-round pick with a player like Mitchell on the board.  But, seeing the type of football player he is, the Patriots may have finally hit on a receiver.

He just sounds, looks, and feels like a player coming to the team with the energy and vision of learning a rookie needs to be successful—the motivation and competitiveness a young player needs not to be a bust.

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