FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots bucked a 19-year trend late Thursday night when they snagged wide receiver N’Keal Harry with the No. 32 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
No, it wasn’t the fact that Harry is an Arizona State product or that he’s an internationally born player. He became the first wide receiver taken in the first round by the Patriots under the Bill Belichick administration. At some point, folks began to give up hope Belichick would deem a receiver worthy of one of the first 32 picks in the draft.
What set Harry, who was born in Canada but is a native of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, apart? Director of player personnel Nick Caserio was short on details.
“We’re not really concerned with what’s happened in the past,” Caserio said. “I think we look at this year’s group of players across the board then we stack the players up horizontally and vertically, and then we work across. That’s the same thing we did with Sony (Michel) last year when we drafted Sony at the end of the first round. He was a good player. He was a highly graded player relative to some of the options we were looking at, and that’s the choice that we made. Whatever happened in the past really has no bearing, because it has no relevance this year to what happened last year or in years past.”
Harry, at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, caught 73 passes for 1,088 yards for nine touchdowns in 2018. He caught 82 passes for 1,142 yards in 2017 and 58 passes for 659 yards with five touchdowns as a freshman in 2016. The 21-year-old also added 23 rushes for 144 yards with three touchdowns and 14 punt returns for 165 yards with one touchdown during his three-year tenure at Arizona State.
“Productive player over a three-year period,” Caserio said. “Played for a couple of different coaches. Played for Coach (Todd) Graham for a couple years then Coach (Herm) Edwards came in. He’s been a pretty productive player in their system. Big, strong receiver, good hands, good with the ball after the catch. He had a chance to play against some decent people in the Pac-12.”
Caserio also described Harry as “smart,” and it’s clear the Patriots also liked Harry’s strength, which he often displayed after hauling in passes. In 2018, 47.3 percent of his yards came after the catch, a step up from his career mark of 44.3 percent. That’s fairly typical for smaller receivers, but Harry has a large frame.
“He’s a strong guy,” Caserio said. “He’s hard to tackle, so he actually has a little bit of ability to make some people miss. It’s one of the things that he’s been productive doing when he gets the ball in his hands.”
He’s also famous for making contested catches.
“One of the things he does well is he plays the ball in the air,” Caserio said. “I’d say the coverage in this league is tight regardless of the type of player, receiver you are. Coverage is tight. You’re going to have to make plays in some tight quarters.”
Harry said that ability comes down to his love for the game.
“I would describe my game as very passionate,” Harry said. “I play with a lot of passion. Whenever that ball is in the air, I’ll sacrifice anything to go get it. And I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win. Anything coach wants me to do whether it’s on special teams, offense, anything, I’ll do it just to do my part and be one piece of the puzzle in helping us win.”
Sounds like a Patriot.
Plenty of talented receivers still were on the board at No. 32 overall when the Patriots picked Harry. They could have had Mississippi’s D.K. Metcalf or A.J. Brown, Ohio State’s Parris Campbell, South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel or Iowa State’s Hakeem Butler. But they took Harry instead.
Harry already has broken the Patriots’ mold after being selected in the first round. Now, with a depleted wide receiver corps around him, he has to prove he can be a No. 1 or 2 receiver in the Patriots’ system, something other rookies have struggled to do in the past.
Thumbnail photo via Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports Images