N’Keal Harry’s rookie season wasn’t what many fans in New England were hoping for. The first round pick and second receiver taken in the 2019 NFL Draft didn’t make much of an impact in year one after spending about half of the season on injured reserve with an ankle injury. Harry struggled with drops and getting separation, ultimately landing him in the dog house with his legendary quarterback.
Harry finished the season with just 12 catches, 105 yards and 2 touchdowns in 7 games. He finished tied for 20th in receptions among rookie receivers, 28th in yards and 14th in touchdowns. First year receivers drafted after Harry like Diontae Johnson, Terry McLaurin, DK Metcalf, AJ Brown, Deebo Samuel, Hunter Renfrow and Darius Slayton shined with their new teams while Harry failed to live up to his draft position.
However, despite a poor rookie season, don’t write Harry off as a bust just yet. When looking at the history of Patriots pass catchers, what Harry experienced in his rookie season is far from unusual. Harry’s performance was worse than most, but most of the Patriots best offensive skill players over the course of Bill Belichick’s tenure have failed to make a big impact in their rookie season.
There’s a reason that the Patriots haven’t had a rookie receiver catch 40+ passes since Deion Branch in 2002 and even then, Branch only finished the season with 43 receptions. Just like how you hear about Bill Belichick’s tendency to “bake in” slow starts to the season for his teams, he almost seems to do the same with first year receivers.
Below is a list of some of the most reliable pass catchers that the Patriots have drafted since the start of the dynasty. Here’s how their rookie seasons went:
James White: 3 games, 5 receptions, 23 yards, 0 TDs
Ben Watson: 1 game, 2 receptions, 16 yards, 0 TDs (Placed on IR)
Julian Edelman: 11 games, 37 receptions, 359 yards, 1 touchdown
Shane Vereen: 5 games, 0 receptions, 0 yards, 0 TDs (47 & 52 receptions in his 3rd and 4th season, respectively)
Even Rob Gronkowski was subject to a bit of a developmental year. Despite having a stellar rookie season, Gronkowski still posted what ended up being career-lows in receptions per game and yards per game in his first NFL season. Still, it’s hard to compare Harry to any of these players, but there is a former star receiver with a very similar skillset to Harry that had a subpar rookie season in the Patriots offense. It just wasn’t in New England.
Although the Patriots have never drafted a wide receiver in the first round before Harry since 1996, Josh McDaniels has. McDaniels drafted DeMaryius Thomas in the first round in 2010 during his brief stint as the head coach of the Denver Broncos. Thomas would eventually turn into a 4x Pro Bowler, but things didn’t appear to be headed that way in either of his first two seasons. Thomas finished his first season with just 22 catches for 283 yards and only slightly improved in year two with 32 catches for 551 yards. Thomas followed that up with 6 consecutive seasons over 940 yards and was over 1300 yards in 4 of those 6 seasons.
A subpar rookie year doesn’t mean Harry is a bust and, if anything, perhaps should’ve been expected. Be patient with Harry. It’s tough being a rookie in New England, but it doesn’t mean he’s a lost cause. It shouldn’t be too much to ask for fans to give Harry a mulligan after an injury-shortened rookie season.
Photo: (Matthew J. Lee – Boston Globe)