Patriots Injuries Could Save a Roster Spot for Young Pass Catcher

Getty NKeal Harry

The New England Patriots have played just one preseason game, but the past 2-4 weeks have still been pretty eventful for polarizing wide receiver N’Keal Harry.

After asking for a trade before training camp, a motivated and physically-fit Harry has proceeded to shine in the early going. Some will make the argument he has been the Patriots’ best receiver during camp.

While that might be the case, what has become an even more intriguing thought of late is Harry’s potential for blending his pass-catching duties as tight end. It’s something we’ve heard mentioned for the past two years from Patriots fans who have noticed the 24-year-old’s muscular 6’4″ 225-pound frame.

Harry’s power, mean streak and proficiency as a blocker would seemingly allow him to fill in at the spot if needed. Based on some recent developments at tight end, the Patriots might need him.

Injuries at Tight End Could Change Things

Both of the Patriots’ prized free-agent signings at tight end have dealt with injuries during the offseason. Hunter Henry has been out with an injured shoulder. Jonnu Smith has had ankle issues, and Matt LaCosse was knocked out by a controversial hit during a joint practice with the Philadelphia Eagles earlier in the week.

On top of that, the team just released Troy Fumagalli, Dalton Keene is on injured reserve and Devin Asiasi lacks experience and reps considering he missed time last year as a rookie, and was out much of OTAs and the first weeks of training camp with COVID.

To say the Patriots are a little thin at tight end might be an understatement. If you look at the wide receiver position where the Patriots would appear to have more depth, Harry’s best chance of sticking might be if he can run some routes usually reserved for tight ends.

Sports Illustrated’s Mike D’Abate has already discussed the possibility. D’Abate wrote:

With receivers Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers expected to play significant roles in the Patriots passing game this season, Harry is expected to find a more specialized role in the Patriots offense. Of course, that is assuming he earns a roster spot. To do so, he will have to prove that he can operate outside his comfort zone. At 6-foot-4, 225-pounds, Harry’s size and strength could make him an effective weapon in short yardage situations, in both receiver and tight end packages. At present, the Pats are thin at the tight end position. Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith and Matt LaCosse are nursing injuries; leaving Devin Asiasi as the lone healthy tight end available for Thursday’s preseason game against the Eagles. If Harry does align in such sets on Thursday, his versatility might be an asset that makes him invaluable in New England.

Could we see some of this on Thursday night when the Patriots meet the Eagles in their second preseason game?

N’Keal Harry Getting Hybrid Looks Up the Seam

It sounds like many are reading from the same playbook. ESPN’s Mike Reiss noted some different, tight-end-like looks Harry has been getting in practice.

In No. 5 on Reiss’ list, he writes: “For those who wanted to see N’Keal Harry in more of a tight end type role, one could make a case that Tuesday’s practice was as close to it as we’ve seen.  Because the Patriots only had one pure tight end healthy for practice (Devin Asiasi), they had to adjust and run more 3-WR packages in the red zone. Harry worked the middle of the field on one rep, and caught a pass where he used his body to wall off the defender.”

If Harry can find success in this sort of specialized role, he could not only solidify his spot on the Patriots’ roster, but also raise his overall value across the league in the event the Patriots decide to honor his wish, and trade him.


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