FOXBORO, Mass. — N’Keal Harry finished Sunday’s New England Patriots game with one catch for 26 yards. And that came from backup quarterback Brian Hoyer in garbage time.
Why, then, did multiple Patriots players praise Harry during their postgame news conferences? One word: blocking.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound receiver was a menace in the run game during New England’s 45-7 rout of the Cleveland Browns at Gillette Stadium.
“N’Keal Harry, man. Shoutout to him,” said fellow wideout Kendrick Bourne, who had 43 rushing yards on three misdirection handoffs. “He made a lot of tremendous blocks today, getting the edge started. On a couple of those runs, he helped me get the edge, and it looked really good out there.”
Harry delivered key blocks on a second-quarter Rhamondre Stevenson touchdown and a handful of other chunk-gain carries, including a 17-yard end around to Bourne that set up another score. On multiple plays, he blocked Myles Garrett, washing out the All-Pro edge rusher to clear a lane on Stevenson’s touchdown.
Harry was Pro Football Focus’s second-highest-graded Patriots run blocker in the win, trailing only right tackle Trent Brown.
“I thought he did a good job for us,” head coach Bill Belichick said Monday morning. “N’Keal’s got good size, he’s a competitive blocker. Cleveland played a lot of loaded fronts there with a safety in (Ronnie) Harrison down in the box, so for the receivers, somebody’s got to block those guys. There’s multiple players that have to do it, but N’Keal had a number of opportunities to block them, and I thought he blocked competitively.”
At this point, it seems unlikely Harry ever will live up to his draft status as the 32nd overall pick in 2019. In six games this season, he has just six catches on eight targets (though he’s averaging an impressive 17.2 yards per reception on those grabs). The odds of him suddenly morphing into D.K. Metcalf or A.J. Brown after three seasons of subpar pass-catching production are slim.
But the big-bodied 23-year-old has found a valuable niche as a borderline blocking specialist for a Patriots team that wants to punish opponents on the ground. New England has rushed for 148, 142, 151 and 184 yards during its current four-game win streak.
Harry played a season-high 35 offensive snaps (52%) against Cleveland and was used as a run blocker on 23 of them, per Pro Football Focus. His lone target came midway through the fourth quarter with the Patriots leading 35-7.
“I said this since Day 1: N’Keal has come in here and kind of just rolled with the punches but continued to be who he is,” said receiver Jakobi Meyers, who was part of Harry’s rookie class. “He’s a guy that’s going to go out there and grit it out and just make the tough plays that we need him to make. I kind of admire it. Just being able to see him do his thing, it’s little things like that that make you want to be a better player and just try to match his energy.”