As the New England Patriots’ offense has struggled to produce points this season, quarterback Cam Newton and wide receiver N’Keal Harry, a 2019 first-round pick, have been popular targets in the blame game.
Newton ranks among the NFL’s most accurate passers, but has just four touchdown passes to nine interceptions this season. Harry started the season as the Patriots’ No. 2 receiver but has been demoted to No. 3 status after a slow start with two games missed because of a concussion, plus the emergence of 2019 undrafted free agent Jakobi Meyers.
Newton was asked Thursday about Harry’s potential.
“I’m not here to judge nobody nor am I here to critique anybody,” Newton said. “At the same time, my faith is in whoever is in that locker room and obviously N’Keal is one of those people. Yeah, he’s young. Yeah, there are certain things that he has to get better at, but there’s also certain things I have to get better at, as well. As you grow into the player that you want to be and that you have to be, that may take longer than some people.”
Harry has 36 catches for 318 yards with three touchdowns in 16 career games. He’s caught 24 passes for 213 yards with one score in nine games this season.
“It doesn’t matter if you were a first-round pick or sixth-round pick or undrafted,” Newton continued. “When you get an opportunity, sometimes it does take people a certain amount of games. It does take people a year. It does take people years a la Julian Edelman, who wasn’t even a receiver coming out of college. And I know we’re in a different age and time where just because you got picked certain then that means you have to produce faster or sooner rather than later. But at the same time, people are coming from different circumstances, different programs, different expectations of what was asked of them from their college …
“And I’m not saying all of this for an excuse. But at the same time, he’s doing everything he possibly can to make the proper steps to get better, as well as I, as well as other people in that locker room to not necessarily be on the good list of the good graces of the fans or the reporters or even other peoples’ opinions. It’s just all about what’s asked of you on a day-to-day basis and hopefully, it can kind of turn into in-game success with a great week of practice if your number is even called in a game.”
It’s true that it did take Edelman four years to emerge as a consistent starting wide receiver before blossoming into one of the best postseason performers in NFL history, and maybe the same thing will happen for Harry. But Edelman also, as Newton referenced, was a college quarterback who was selected in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft. And he still caught 37 passes for 359 yards with a touchdown in 11 games as a rookie.
Expectations naturally will be higher for Harry as a first-round pick if only because he’s making significantly more money than a seventh-rounder. And some teams evaluate draft prospects based on whether they’re a Day 1 starter, future starter, special-teamer or project.
The Patriots do need to be patient with Harry, because clearly they saw potential in the wide receiver when they spent a first-round pick on him last spring. And it’s also easy to question how the Patriots are using Harry since they’ve heavily avoided targeting him downfield despite his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame. But they’re also 5-6 and still in shouting distance of a playoff spot. And if the Patriots’ offense would be more productive with another receiver in Harry’s spot, then they need to make a move sooner than later.