The N’Keal Harry watch hits another gear and ratchets up to another level of expectation this week.
Will the rookie first-round pick, a healthy scratch for the Ravens game, finally see the field, or remain on the sidelines with the Eagles on deck?
It would raise many more eyebrows if Harry didn’t make the cut this Sunday. The Eagles don’t have the best set of cornerbacks, or pass defense (16th in rank) in the league.
The Ravens game was understandable to a degree.
With Harry missing the first eight games, it’s possible the Patriots wanted to ease him in before throwing him into the fire. Perhaps they needed an additional defensive player to try and deal with Lamar Jackson. And maybe, going with an uptempo offense with all the calls and checks at the line, that wasn’t ideally suited for the rookie to get his feet wet.
Whatever the case, the excuses can only go on for so long, especially when you see former Patriot Josh Gordon jump into the Seattle offense after a week, and contribute to the Seahawks’ thrilling 27-24 overtime win over the 49ers on Monday night.
Gordon, who was claimed off waivers by the Seahawks after being released by the Patriots, made a pair of significant catches to help propel his new team. One of the reasons Gordon was presumably put on IR with a minor knee injury and ultimately let go was to make room for Harry, who was due to come off IR. The Patriots also made a trade for Mohamed Sanu, and he certainly factors into the Gordon equation as well, but they needed to make a move in order to activate Harry or have him sit the rest of the season.
The rookie has a similar skill set to Gordon. At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, he’s a big, physical receiver who can play outside or inside, and make contested catches.
From Bill Belichick, to Josh McDaniels, to Tom Brady, the Patriots have been somewhat guarded with their remarks about Harry the past few weeks, saying he’s making strides, hoping “he’ll put the effort in,” so he can eventually contribute.
McDaniels gave the latest on a conference call Tuesday.
“He continues to make progress. Works hard. Each week is an opportunity we’re trying to add more in terms of the things he can do, the things he’s comfortable doing, things we’re comfortable with him doing within our offense,” McDaniels said. “I think it’s all positive. Everybody’s working hard for the same goal, which is to have him contribute and have him help us win games moving forward.”
There’s no reason to think Harry can’t do what Gordon did for the Seahawks Monday night. On a pivotal third-down play, the former Patriot delivered, as his first catch as a Seahawk came on a 3rd-and-6. Russell Wilson hit him on a quick slant that went for a 13-yard gain. Gordon also had a 14-yard catch in overtime that went for another first down.
Yes, Harry’s a rookie, but there are plenty of rookie receivers making an impact this season. Seattle also has one who’s doing pretty well – D.K. Metcalf. He was a second-round pick.
Speaking on WEEI’s “Ordway, Merloni and Fauria” on Monday, Belichick was noncommittal with respect to Harry playing Sunday, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s never been one to tip his hand.
“We’ll see how it goes, relative to the (Philadelphia) game,” Belichick said. “N’Keal’s practicing well, so those are good things.”
Has he not been grasping the plays? Has he not been putting in the effort? What was he doing during his time on IR? Surely they can shorten the playbook and have him run certain routes where they can utilize his strength and ability to make contested catches.
If Harry doesn’t play this week, there will certainly be more questions, and it won’t look all that favorable for the first- round pick, or the team.
Herm Edwards, his former coach at Arizona State, was convinced after the Patriots drafted him, that he would be a contributor to the Patriots offense. Edwards was well aware of all the dynamics involved with learning all the intricacies of the playbook and getting on the same page with Brady. He told the Herald in April he thought Harry would be fine.
He said Harry loved to compete and wanted to make plays that helped win games.
“That’s the NFL. You have to be comfortable when it’s uncomfortable. He’s okay with that. He’s like any good player, when the bright lights come on, he doesn’t run to the shade,” said Edwards. “He runs to the middle of the arena, and says, ‘C’mon, I want to compete.’ That doesn’t mean he’s going to win every time, but you want a guy that has that mindset. You want to play with guys like that.”
He’s the first receiver Belichick has ever taken in the first round. With a receiving corps in need of a player with his capabilities, the suspense is on overdrive to actually see him play.
Will this finally be the week for Harry? Stay tuned.
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