Despite having a wide receiver win Super Bowl LIII MVP, that position has been one of the biggest question marks for the Patriots since the season ended. Julian Edelman is now securely on the wrong side of 30 and even though he will likely continue to produce at a high level, the Patriots receiving corps cannot be a one man band. The suspension of Josh Gordon and the departure of Chris Hogan leave voids that need to be filled. The retirement of future Hall of Fame Tight End Rob Gronkowski takes the passing game void and turns it into a chasm.
The Patriots looked to address the position with several additions including fliers on Demaryius Thomas and Dontrelle Inman. The player who may have the most important role coming in is rookie first round draft pick N’Keal Harry. The Patriots have a spotty history when it comes to drafting and developing wide receivers, due in large part to the heavy demands placed on receivers in the Patriots offense. Harry, however, looks like the type of player who can follow Deion Branch or Edelman’s trajectory and develop into a solid contributor. No, this is not predicting he will be a Super Bowl MVP. But Harry could be an important cog in the New England offense this season.
Harry is the first receiver that Bill Belichick has drafted in the first round since coming to New England and so far it has been easy to see why. His massive 6’4”, 213 pound frame already looked NFL ready in minicamp. His coaches from Arizona State have raved about his work ethic and football intelligence, two things that are crucial to succeeding in New England.
One thing that also stands out about Harry is his work in the dirty areas against defensive backs. Harry appears comfortable in traffic and he is adept at separating his body and hands from defensive backs while making catches. He is not going to fly past everyone, but he consistently makes the defender’s job exceedingly hard.
Outside of having Gordon for 11 games last year, the Patriots have mostly lacked a big, physical outside receiver that can scare defenses in recent years. With Gronkowski gone, that empty hole becomes more glaring. Harry will have some growing pains, as all young receivers do, but he looks like he has the potential to give the Patriots some of what they got from Gordon last season and, eventually, be a strong presence on the outside that defenses will have to plan for.