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Inside N'Keal Harry's turbulent stint with the New England Patriots

N'Keal Harry played just 1,175 snaps for the New England Patriots since being drafted 32nd overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. 

• In all, he recorded 59 catches from 107 targets for 619 yards and four touchdowns. He has never graded above 70.0 over a season. 

• Harry was traded to the Chicago Bears for a 2024 seventh-round pick.

Now-former New England Patriots wide receiver N’Keal Harry finally got his wish Tuesday, just over one year after first requesting a trade from the team that selected him with the 32nd overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Harry became the third wide receiver from the 2019 draft to be traded this offseason when he was dealt to the Chicago Bears for a 2024 seventh-round pick.

During the 2022 draft, Marquise Brown was traded from the Baltimore Ravens to the Arizona Cardinals for a first-round pick, and A.J. Brown was dealt from the Tennessee Titans to the Philadelphia Eagles for first- and third-round picks.

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So, what caused such a precipitous fall from grace for the Arizona State product — the first wide receiver Bill Belichick selected in the first round during his two-plus-decade tenure in New England?

One source believes Harry was never deployed on offense the way Belichick envisioned the 6-foot-4, 225-pound wideout being used.

Early in Harry’s career, Belichick mostly ran the defense after New England lost defensive playcallers Matt Patricia and Brian Flores to head coaching jobs in successive offseasons. Josh McDaniels ran the show on offense. But Harry was a Belichick pick through and through, and he was a failed one. The Patriots head coach eschewed advice from scouts and instead leaned on intel from Harry’s college head coach at Arizona State.

“Todd Graham gets to own that one,” one source league said.

“I just think [Belichick] went against what the scouts wanted, and it didn’t work out,” another league source said. “It happens.”

N'Keal Harry: PFF grade and rank among WRs (2019-2021)
Season Snaps PFF grade PFF grade rank
2021 323 69.1 56 of 119
2020 585 57.8 103 of 114
2019 221 66.6 N/A

Harry excelled with his physicality during his college career at Arizona State, hauling in 19 contested catches — third in the FBS — during his final season. He showed flashes in those jump-ball situations during his first training camp with the Patriots, but outside that and the designed plays to get him the ball in space, the pass-catcher's fit was believed by one source to be akin to a square peg being forced into a round hole.

“Everyone says, ‘he gets no separation … He got no separation in college if you watch the tape,” a league source said. “You’re not drafting him to out-finesse the man in front of you. You’re drafting him to out-physical the man in front of you.”

Harry missed the first eight games of his rookie season after being placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury suffered in training camp. He caught just 12 passes for 105 yards with two touchdowns while carrying the ball five times for 49 yards during his rookie season.

Some believe Harry was destined to fail with the Patriots before he even stepped inside Gillette Stadium. The Patriots’ system is notoriously difficult to learn. One source believes it’s the most difficult offense to pick up in the NFL.

“Just picking up the system that has been in place for 20 years and the type of routes and adjustments,” a league source said. “Sometimes they just need to get the best damn players the ball and not be cute.”


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