INDIANAPOLIS — A former teammate of N’Keal Harry’s shared some interesting insight about the New England Patriots’ top 2019 draft pick.
Wide receiver prospect Brandon Aiyuk played one season with Harry at Arizona State and remains in contact with the young Patriots wideout. During Tuesday’s media availability at the NFL Scouting Combine, Aiyuk was asked what advice Harry has given him about navigating the pre-draft process.
His response added some context to Harry’s underwhelming rookie season.
“We were a signal offense (at ASU),” Aiyuk said. “So for (Harry), going into camp, he was hearing NFL play calls and verbiage for the first time. So that’s one thing I’ve been working on this offseason, even before I get into camp, just so I can get used to hearing it.”
Coincidentally, Las Vegas Raiders general manager Mike Mayock mentioned that same issue — a lack of experience with pro-style play-calling — when explaining why so many highly drafted receivers flame out. (The Patriots took Harry 32nd overall last year, marking the first time in the Bill Belichick era they’d used a first-round draft pick on a wideout.)
“I think there are several reasons,” Mayock said Tuesday during his combine news conference. “The lack of quality press coverage in college football. When you’ve got a grown man trying to keep you from getting off the line of scrimmage, that’s competent, long and tough. That’s a different issue.
“No. 2, when you are able to get off the line of scrimmage, the picture changes, the coverage changes. You could go from being the third option on the backside, to the first option on the front side. And you have to filter that on the run without slowing down. So think about it, when you have to slow down, and you’re thinking, what happens? Physically, you’re slower. You’re not there. Why do guys not look as quick as they were in college? That’s usually the biggest telltale, because they’re confused. They don’t know where they’re going.
“And No. 3, it’s just how much offense you have to absorb. If you met with some of the college wideouts already this year, and what they’re doing, half of them are doing this (turning their head) pre-snap. They look over to the sideline, and they have their own individual coach telling them what route to run. Jon Gruden’s head would explode. You’d better get in there and get in the huddle, and you better learn three positions, not one. What he’s asking you to learn is mind-boggling, so those are the three main reasons why rookie wide receiver production isn’t where it should be in the NFL.”
Harry made several acrobatic catches during his first Patriots training camp but struggled to consistently create separation from New England’s defensive backs. Then, he suffered an injury in the Patriots’ preseason opener that landed him on injured reserve and kept him out of practice for 10 weeks.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder was able to return for the second half of the regular season but made only sporadic contributions, catching 12 passes on 24 targets for 105 yards and two touchdowns with five carries for 49 yards in seven games.
The Patriots, who have met with more than a dozen receiver prospects during the pre-draft prospects, are hoping the obviously talented Harry can take a step forward in Year 2.