The New England Patriots actually, finally, seriously did it. They selected a wide receiver in the first round of the NFL Draft for the first time since Bill Belichick took over as head coach in 2000.
The Patriots grabbed Arizona State “X” receiver N’Keal Harry with the 32nd overall pick, filling New England fans with unbridled joy before hitting the hay late Thursday night.
Harry is a massive target for quarterback Tom Brady at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. He ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash with a 7.05-second 3-cone drill and 4.28-second short shuttle. He’s considered a top-tier route runner and can go up and get the ball with his 38.5-inch vertical leap. He’s not an elite athlete for the position, but he can box out smaller defensive backs with his frame.
The 21-year-old caught 73 passes for 1,088 yards with nine touchdowns last season. He was even more productive in 2017, catching 82 passes for 1,158 yards with eight touchdowns for the Sun Devils.
He was strong after the catch in 2017 and 2018, picking up 962 yards combined over those two seasons.
Harry was unbelievably productive on deep targets in 2018, catching nine passes on 18 targets for 276 yards with four touchdowns, per Pro Football Focus. He also has experience out of the slot, catching 22 passes for 399 yards with three touchdowns from the inside position last season. Harry dropped just six passes last season, per PFF. He was a monster on contested catches.
Harry fills the Patriots’ biggest need at wide receiver, where they had just Julian Edelman, Demaryius Thomas, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, Bruce Ellington, Maurice Harris, Damoun Patterson, Braxton Berrios and Matthew Slater entering the draft.
Thomas is coming off of a torn Achilles injury, while Gordon still is suspended.
There’s no guarantee Harry will be able to pick up the Patriots’ playbook and contribute from Day 1, and the Patriots have struggled to draft wide receivers in the past. But they’ve also never spent a first-round pick on a wideout in this millennium. Harry will be given every opportunity to succeed in the Patriots’ offense, and he won’t have much competition for a role in spring practices and training camp.
The highest the Patriots previously had taken a wide receiver in the draft was at No. 36 overall in 2006 when they grabbed Chad Jackson out of Florida. They’re bucking a major drafting trend by taking Harry.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images