It’s not what New England fans were hoping to hear about their first round receiver just a few weeks after he was removed from injured reserve, but N’Keal Harry doesn’t appear to be close to making a big impact in Josh McDaniels’ offense. To put it in the kindest possible terms, the former Arizona State wideout is going to take some time to develop into a star for the Patriots.
Everything was lined up for Harry to have a breakout game last Sunday against the Cowboys. The Patriots receiving core had key players like Phillip Dorsett and Mohamed Sanu out, which presumably meant more snaps and more targets for Harry who was one of only 3 active players who have taken snaps at receiver for the Patriots this season. Their talented young pass catcher even got off to a pretty encouraging start after making an acrobatic catch for the first and only touchdown of the game.
Unfortunately, that would end up being Harry’s only catch on the day. Harry ended the game with one catch on four targets with one brutal drop on what should’ve been an easy reception on the sideline.
A few people also wanted to get on Harry for this play, but it’s really a bit much to place any significant amount of blame on Harry for not coming up with this. That’s a tough adjustment for any receiver to make. Only the elite of the elite in the NFL can be expected to come up with this ball. Harry isn’t that... at least, not yet.
It wasn’t the day everyone was hoping to see from Harry and it hasn’t been the season fans were hoping to get from a player New England invested such a high draft pick in. Still, you shouldn’t give up on Harry too quickly. When looking at the history of Patriots pass catchers, what Harry is experiencing in his rookie season is far from unusual.
Most of the Patriots best players over the course of Bill Belichick’s tenure have failed to make a big impact in their rookie season. There’s a reason that the Patriots haven’t had a rookie receiver catch 40+ passes since Deion Branch in 2002 and even then, Branch only finished had 43 receptions. Just like how you hear about Bill Belichick’s tendency to “bake in” slow starts to the season for his teams, he almost seems to do the same with first year receivers.
Below are a list of some of the most reliable Patriots pass catchers since the start of the dynasty. Here’s how their rookie seasons went:
James White: 3 games, 5 receptions, 23 yards, 0 TDs
Ben Watson: 1 game, 2 receptions, 16 yards, 0 TDs (Placed on IR)
Julian Edelman: 11 games, 37 receptions, 359 yards, 1 touchdown
Shane Vereen: 5 games, 0 receptions, 0 yards, 0 TDs (47 & 52 receptions in his 3rd and 4th season, respectively)
Even Rob Gronkowski was subject to a bit of a developmental year. Despite having a stellar rookie season, Gronkowski still posted what ended up being career-lows in receptions per game and yards per game in his first NFL season. Although New England has never drafted a wide receiver in the first round, Josh McDaniels has. McDaniels drafted DeMaryius Thomas in the first round in 2010 during his brief stint as the head coach of the Denver Broncos. Thomas would eventually turn into a 4x Pro Bowler, but things didn’t appear to be headed that way in either of his first two seasons. Thomas finished his first season with just 22 catches for 283 yards and only slightly improved in year two with 32 catches for 551 yards. Thomas followed that up with 6 consecutive seasons over 940 yards and was over 1300 yards in 4 of those 6 seasons.
A subpar rookie year doesn’t mean Harry is a bust and, if anything, perhaps should’ve been expected. Harry could be a star some day, but it probably won’t be any day soon. Be patient with Harry. It’s tough being a rookie in New England, but it doesn’t mean he’s a lost cause. Don’t give up hope, even if Harry’s struggles continue.
Photo: (Elise Amendola - AP Photo)