By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Patriots won Super Bowl LIII in spite of their outside receivers, not because of them. So Bill Belichick went and drafted an outside receiver in the first round for the first time as Patriots head coach.
N'Keal Harry brings a distinctive blend of size (6-foot-2, 228 pounds), ball skills, power, and elusiveness to the Patriots offense. Had he run faster in the beloved 40-yard dash (4.53), he might have gone markedly higher than 32nd. And despite lacking the build of a prototypical Patriots receiver, you can see why they decided to take him.
The former Arizona State wide receiver produced both outside the numbers and in the slot for the Sun Devils, most recently making 73 catches for 1,088 yards and 9 touchdowns as a senior. He consistently produced highlight reel-quality results, winning contested catches with his hands and high-pointing. And while he lacks breakaway speed, he can break tackles after the catch and turn short plays into long ones with his strength and field vision.
Harry has the size and skill to be an "X" receiver for the Patriots. He clearly has the talent to go up and get the football in one-on-one situations. His ability to make guys miss after the catch could really help Tom Brady slice up softer zone defenses. And there's still his punt return capabilities and willingness to throw a block or play over the middle.
He just might already be the second-best receiver on the Patriots.
The concerns with Harry are the same for every receiver to come to New England through the draft. Can he build a rapport with Tom Brady? Can he execute the playbook well enough to become a consistent weapon? More importantly, can he do that as a rookie?
Malcolm Mitchell did. Aaron Dobson looked promising as a rookie before a foot injury derailed him and he was never the same in New England. Taylor Price, Josh Boyce, Devin Lucien, and Jeremy Gallen never panned out at all. But none of these guys were first-round picks.
Belichick just stamped one hell of an approval on Harry's ability to impact the offense in a short window of time. Harry himself sounded confident that he can when he spoke to reporters in a post-draft conference call.
Asked what clicked between him and the Patriots, Harry said: "I just feel like the way I retained some of the information as far as some of the plays they were going over with me. Also, I just felt like coming in, I’ll be expected to know a lot and be prepared, and I’m ready for that."
Harry just transformed the Patriots' receiver depth chart overnight. He'll have a great chance to earn a significant role in the offense some time in year one. Free-agent signings Demaryius Thomas, Maurice Harris, and Bruce Ellington are all questionable to make it through training camp healthy. Phillip Dorsett has shown that Brady can depend on him as a target and has come up with some big catches in big games, but has yet to realize the first-round potential that Harry promises.
Assuming all goes well in Harry's connection with Brady, they might have found the dynamic weapon No. 12 needs. Harry just has a tough history to overcome. But just because other receivers didn't work out doesn't mean Harry will not. The Patriots' biggest need after 2018 was an outside receiver, both short-term and long-term. Belichick wasted no time with his draft arsenal to address that.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].