Josh McDaniels sees some positives in N’Keal Harry’s game. But he’s also realistic.
He knows the New England Patriots’ second-year wide receiver needs to play better than he has to date.
McDaniels, the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, was asked for his take on Harry’s development two days after the wideout finished without a catch on three targets and was flagged for holding in a 20-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals
“I think N’Keal has done some things — certainly some positive things that have helped us during the course of the games that he’s played,” McDaniels said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters. “And I think, like most young players who’ve had to miss time throughout the early part of their careers, he’s got plenty of things that he can improve on and that he needs to improve on.
“The name of the game for young guys is to learn how to play and how to do their job at this level, and then to be able to be consistently dependable doing it against good competition under pressure is the next step for guys in this league.”
Harry, New England’s top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft (32nd overall), now has appeared in 16 regular-season games for the Patriots, the equivalent of one full season. He has 36 career catches on 67 targets for 318 yards and two touchdowns.
Among 105 receivers with 50-plus targets over the last two seasons, Harry’s 53.7 percent catch rate ranks 96th. His 4.75 yards-per-target average ranks 103rd. Twenty-five receivers selected in the last two drafts have more career receiving yards than Harry, including 10 rookies.
In nine games this season, Harry has 24 catches on 43 targets for 213 yards and one touchdown. Eight of those catches and 72 of those yards came in a Week 2 loss to the Seattle Seahawks — the only game in his career in which he caught more than five passes or tallied more than 50 receiving yards.
“N’Keal works extremely hard at practice, and he has to continue to try to do that,” McDaniels said. “And we have to continue to try to coach the things that we need to improve and make better as we move forward the rest of the season that we have left.”
With the Patriots spending much of Sunday’s game in 21 personnel (two wide receivers), Harry played just 49 percent of offensive snaps, his lowest mark in a game he did not leave due to injury since Week 14 of last season.
The first-round pick is the clear No. 3 behind Damiere Byrd and Jakobi Meyers and could fall further down the depth chart in the coming weeks if Julian Edelman returns from injured reserve and the reserve/COVID-19 list or New England opts to give more opportunities to Donte Moncrief or Isaiah Ford.