No player at New England Patriots minicamp is likely getting a closer look than rookie receiver N’Keal Harry. The team’s first-round draft pick (No. 32 overall) is expected to contribute immediately as a starter and help relieve the burden on Julian Edelman among the receiving corps.
Two days into minicamp, the Arizona State product has struggled a bit in making a positive impression. But that’s due in part to being covered by All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore. (Harry wasn’t matched up against Gilmore during OTAs.) According to first-hand accounts, the rookie has had some “welcome to the NFL” moments.
However, what’s been most notable is Harry, 21, getting extra work in with quarterback Tom Brady, part of a group including Ben Watson and James White. Those two veterans figure to see plenty of targets (White led the Patriots with 87 receptions last year) from Brady during the regular season, so Harry joining them indicates the team’s expectations.
Additionally, Harry has worked in drills with former Patriots Deion Branch and Troy Brown, two of the team’s best receivers during the Brady-Bill Belichick era. As ESPN’s Mike Reiss points out, the coaching staff would be thrilled if Harry matched — or better yet, surpassed — Branch’s rookie production from 2002. However, at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Harry is a much bigger receiver.
Later, Edelman and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels joined in to provide mentorship and coaching during Harry’s side work. The Super Bowl LIII MVP explained to reporters that he feels it’s important to help out a new teammate, something he appreciated when he was a rookie.
“I had teammates that help you, and then you had teammates that didn’t,” Edelman said, via NESN’s Zack Cox. “I like to be known as a guy that helped you. I like to give little pointers here and there, because the better we all are, the better the team is going to be. I like going out and trying to give information if they want information from me and go from there. It’s part of my job, I guess.”
On Day 2 of minicamp, most of Brady’s attention went to Maurice Harris, who signed with the Patriots as a free agent following three seasons with the Washington Redskins. Meanwhile, Harry hadn’t caught a pass during 11-on-11 drills. But when he finally made a catch, it got everyone’s attention.
Despite not making plays on slant and fade routes, Harry is certainly saying all the right things off the field while speaking to the media. He expects to make tough catches. That’s consistent with a perfectionist approach that he applied to himself at Arizona State, according to his college position coach.
The expectations are high for Harry, as they should be for a first-round pick. Rookies have struggled in picking up the Patriots’ offense in past years, but Brady appears to be making an effort to give Harry plenty of targets. That’s surely an indication of how badly he and the coaches need Harry to break out as a receiving threat and establish himself as a NFL starter.