2019 was a great year for rookie receivers. Unless you were the New England Patriots.
Four games into his second pro season, Patriots first-round pick N’Keal Harry has lagged far behind many members of last year’s receiver class — an impressive assortment that includes the likes of A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, Terry McLaurin, Deebo Samuel, Marquise Brown, Mecole Hardman, Diontae Johnson, Darius Slayton and Hunter Renfrow.
All of those players have tallied more catches and at least 450 more receiving yards than Harry, the 32nd overall selection last spring. Only Brown (25th overall) was drafted higher.
In 11 regular-season games for the Patriots, Harry has 30 catches on 52 targets for 271 yards and three touchdowns. The 22-year-old was asked Thursday whether he ever compares himself to any of his more productive draftmates.
“No, I can’t compare my situation to anybody else,” Harry replied. “Just like D.K. can’t compare his situation to A.J. and A.J. can’t really compare his situation to D.K. We’re all in different positions so … When I sit there, I’m extremely happy for those guys. I was training with them pre-draft, so I know how much work they put in and I have a lot of respect for the way they grind.
“I’ve never been the type to just sit there and say, ‘Why hasn’t that happened for me?’ I know I’m in a different situation, and I’m just going to just, every day, go out there and work on ways to improve and stay patient and trust God’s timing. That’s my philosophy.”
It’s worth noting that each of the aforementioned wideouts has played at least five more games than Harry, who spent the first half of his rookie season on injured reserve. But efficiency metrics aren’t kind to the Arizona State product, either. Harry trails all nine of those players in receiving yards per game, yards per catch and yards per target.
A total of 28 receivers were drafted in 2019. Twenty-four have appeared in at least one NFL game. Here’s where Harry ranks within that group over the last two seasons:
Catches: T-11th (30)
Receiving yards: 15th (271)
Receiving touchdowns: T-ninth (three)
Receiving yards per game: 12th (24.6)
Yards per catch: 19th (9.03)
Yards per target: 20th (5.21)
Catch percentage: 18th (57.7 percent)
Harry has shown improvement as an NFL sophomore, breaking out in Week 2 with a 12-target, eight-catch, 72-yard effort against Seattle Seahawks. He also caught the Patriots’ lone touchdown in their Week 4 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Through four games, Harry has 18 catches for 166 yards and one score. He’s been on the field for 76.8 percent of New England’s offensive snaps, second-most among Patriots receivers behind Damiere Byrd (91.8 percent).
Helped along by new quarterback Cam Newton — who’s publicly backed the young wideout on numerous occasions — Harry ranks third among 2019 draftees in receptions per game (4.5) behind McLaurin and Slayton. He remains an inefficient pass-catching option, however. His 9.22 yards-per-catch average this season ranks dead last in his draft class and 53rd among the 58 NFL wideouts with at least 15 receptions.
Harry insisted his slow statistical start has not been a source of frustration.
“My mindset is doing whatever coach needs me to do,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m not too worried about personal stats and stuff like that. I’m worried about getting a win. I hate losing. I hate losing more than I love winning, so that’s my No. 1 goal, to win the game and do whatever I can to help us win the game.”
After catching just five passes for 55 yards over his last two games, Harry will look to bounce back Sunday against the Denver Broncos as Newton returns from the reserve/COVID-19 list.