Patriots’ Top Draft Pick Has Gronk-like Traits
By Karen Guregian
FOXBORO -- Wide receiver obviously was a huge need for the New England Patriots. But not just any kind of receiver.
N’Keal Harry boasts a certain quality they absolutely had to have in Tom Brady’s huddle going forward, especially with Rob Gronkowski now retired.
Here are a few lines from Pro Football Weekly’s Draft guide that illustrate what we’re referring to when it comes to Harry: “Makes the contested catch ... will be a matchup problem for many defenses because of his size and athleticism.”
Just taking stock of Brady’s weapons before draft night, after Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett there wasn’t much for the four-time Super Bowl MVP to rely on in a pinch. That included newly signed Demaryius Thomas, who is coming off a second torn Achilles tendon, and Josh Gordon, who is waiting to be reinstated from his indefinite suspension by the league.
But looking even closer at the depth chart of receivers, not to mention tight ends, Brady is lacking a big body who can go up and get the football in a crowd, not to mention win in the red zone.
That’s one of the biggest elements they’re missing without Gronk. Watching Harry’s highlights at Arizona State, and seeing how gifted he is at making those tough, contested catches, that was one of the primary reasons the Patriots took the wideout with the 32nd pick in Thursday night’s first round.
Those special playmaking skills and ability made Harry the first receiver Bill Belichick selected in the first round during his tenure as Patriots head coach.
Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio acknowledged Harry’s special skill set, and the connection with Gronkowski after the team made the pick.
“Every player has a skill set and attributes that are specific to them. Some players have certain qualities. I would say one of the things (Harry) does well is he plays the ball in the air,” Caserio said. “I would say the coverage in this league is tight, regardless of the type of player or receiver that you are, coverage is tight and you’ll have to make some plays in tight quarters. Receivers have to do it, tight ends have to do it.”
Harry, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 228 pounds, was an impact player with the Sun Devils. In three years, he caught 213 balls for 2,889 yards and 22 touchdowns.
He’s not a burner per se, running a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in March. He wouldn’t be described as explosive, but he’s proved to be playmaker at key times at the college level, and his ability to catch the ball and make plays when it looks like he’s covered will be a welcome addition, assuming he can pick up the offense and get on the same page with Brady.
That’s always a big if when it comes to receivers drafted by the Patriots. But if he can click with No. 12, there’s at least the possibility he’ll be a red zone weapon and a lot more.