Looming N’Keal Harry divorce underscores New England’s struggles with young receivers

USA TODAY Sports

The bad news is that the Patriots made receiver N'Keal Harry the 32nd overall pick in the 2019 draft. The worse news is that they supposedly had him graded “a lot higher” than that.

Now that his agent has done what agents are supposed to do when it comes to salvaging Harry’s career, attempting to quit the Patriots before he’s inevitably fired, the broader question is this: Why do the Patriots keep getting it so wrong with rookie receivers taken in the upper rounds of the draft?

Who can remember Aaron Dobson, a second-round pick in 2013? More accurately, can anyone remember Aaron Dobson? Then there was Taylor Price, a third-round pick in 2010.

Brandon Tate, a third-rounder in 2009, was cut after two seasons. Second-rounder Chad Jackson became a bust as the 36th overall pick in the draft.

Other than Deion Branch, a second-round pick in 2002 who became a Super Bowl MVP, the Patriots have struggled to find competent, productive, consistent receivers in the first three rounds of the draft.

It’s easy to attribute these issues to a failure to make good draft decisions. And that surely becomes a factor, especially with coach Bill Belichick and company often valuing intangibles like leadership and love of football over raw ability.

At some level, however, the question becomes whether the Patriots are properly developing these players. Is the coaching staff sufficiently patient with young receivers who may be overwhelmed by the Patriots Offense and/or The Patriot Way? Or do they quickly pivot to someone else, treating these young players with the same sink-or-swim standard that applies across the roster?

Whatever the case, a 2019 first-rounder seems to be on his way out. And the Patriots drafted Harry with guys like D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, Deebo Samuel, and Terry McLaurin on the board.

50 responses to “Looming N’Keal Harry divorce underscores New England’s struggles with young receivers

  1. I feel like if it was culture or coaching, some of those guys would have gone on to success with other teams. Tate became a decent kick returner and had full if not spectacular career, but the others pretty much busted. So unless the culture or coaching completely broke them, they were likely just way overdrafted.

  2. Lets see what happens to him after he leaves NE. I don’t think he has it in him. He doesn’t set himself apart from the rest.

  3. As a Pats fan it’s been frustrating for aure over the years, I think it’s a combination of things. A Tough playbook and one that doesn’t necessarily value the outside receivers or deep threats. BB not wanting to pay a premium for WR, much like RB, wanting the offense to be multi dimensional and definitely a bad evaluation on their part too. It’s been painful to watch WRs over the years, but they’ve run their offense between the numbers, RBs, TEs, etc… so it changes each week and difficult to game plan for. I’d say overall they’ve managed my expectations as fan just fine over the last 20 years.

    BB seems to thrive coaching up UFAs, with little money incentives and strong will to listen/work, but few high round picks have worked out, especially at WR and I’ll throw in CB too.

    But let’s not crush BB the GM as he’s managed the cap, players and drafted other positions well overall, keeping the team ‘in it’ for over two decades. Now we’ll see over the next couple years ‘how much was Tom, how much was Bill’ but my guess is it was both, hence the 6 championships together.

  4. We are quickly learning it was 100% Tom Brady. Now the Pats went out and had a panicked off-season. Throwing tons of money at very mediocre players. Going to be fun watching them struggle to a .500 record again.

  5. Eagles should trade JJAW for Harry and let these two shoot for better luck on new teams as both are flaming out

  6. Pats definitely overpaid the offensive free agents this off-season cause years of bad drafting on that side have finally caught up to them. And with Brady no longer on the team no one is coming to NE to play for cheap cause the chance of playing for a ring is no longer there.

  7. Just wait…Pats fans will hang on to the successes of the past to make them feel better about the failures of the the present and future. Much like Cowboys fans who still brag about their run in the 90s. Tom Brady was and will always be the only real reason this team dominated.

  8. Turns out the BB way is way less fun when you’re losing. It still isn’t fun when you’re winning, but at least you’re winning.

  9. Outside of wee little slot receivers, they’re simply just turrible at evaluating talent at the wide receiver position. It’s not coaching, because they’ve been able to pick up via trade or free agency good to great wideouts. Although even that may be tested without Agholor and Bourne having solid seasons.
    They should probably pick the brains of Steelers scouts to help change that.

  10. Brady had a knack of making average receivers into productive ones. BB messed up there.

  11. It was obvious, even to the untrained eye, he did not get separation. I will be surprised if they get a 6th rounder for him.

  12. I’d like to see the stats league-wide. NE can’t be the only team whiffing on some of these guys. I suspect its like QBs – some get it and succeed in the NFL, some are a product of college ball and the level of competition. That’s the toughest part: evaluating play versus competition. As one commenter noted on another article, “Harry caught the ball, broke three tackles and outran the secondary for a TD – in the NFL, not too many DBs miss tackles, and most are hard to outrun, so a 3 yard pass is a 3 yard play, not an 80 yard TD.”

  13. K’neal Harry “dominates the point of attack”

    According to his agent.

    🙄

  14. This is uniquely a Patriots problem. A problem that the Patriots have not been able to figure out and adjust/correct. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Patriots have drafter so few WRs in the top 3 rounds. Their playbook is too complex and expectations are too high. They don’t slow down for anybody. I think Branch’s success was because he joined at a time when Brady was also learning the playbook. Once Brady mastered it, you get to his level or you’re not going to make it. That is why NE prefers veterans at the position. They can evaluate them better.

    Also, don’t forget, Chad Johnson’s career died there. The drop off was very high.

  15. Productive vets don’t get the system easily either, but people are still shocked that a lot of drafted players don’t make it. The funny thing is that back when the Steelers ran this system under Ron Erherdt, they didn’t produce many good receivers for decades. It was Hinds Ward, Louis Lipps, and then you had to go back to Stallworth and Swann before they switched over to the offense they implemented during the Arians years to find a good one produced by that franchise.

  16. They’re bad at drafting, and have been for decades. It was covered by catching lightning in a bottle with a 6th round QB, and now that he’s no longer playing hall of fame football under center for them game in and game out, its finally caught up to them.

  17. Hindsight is always 20/20 but you look at Harry and have to question what the Pats thought they saw in him to have him rated so high. Most draft reports questioned his speed, explosiveness and route running which are obviously a huge part of playing receiver. And his gaudy college stats came in a conference where pass coverage is frequently considered optional and half his TDs his senior year came in just a couple of games. It’s backhanded praise but I’m kind of surprised he didn’t look even worse given all that and the Pats QB struggles last season.

  18. mogogo1 says:
    July 7, 2021 at 10:19 am
    Hindsight is always 20/20 but you look at Harry and have to question what the Pats thought they saw in him to have him rated so high.

    ————

    It was a BB whiff…..especially given the guys available at the time

  19. Also, by running that /Perkins systems and not emphasizing wide receiver, Belichick understands that flashy ones don’t win anybody Super Bowls. I mean think about it. Tampa was stacked last year in that department, and that’s not why they beat KC. The most one of those Pro Bowl receivers had in the game was like 50 yards or something. I love the dominant receiver as much as the next fan, but in team building, it’s a waste of resources when you overemphasize that position if you think about it. You just need guys who can move the chains, dominant running by committee, and defense is always the key component, even in this era.

  20. The Patriots have not drafted a game breaking wide receiver since Terry Glenn in 1995 RIP. Just like he did that year with Parcells it might be time for Mr Kraft to help Belicheck pick the groceries!

  21. NKeal knows he wont be developed as long as the Pats are a tight end ONLY system.

  22. as over time more than a few pat coaches and executives have been poached by other teams …. now its time for the pats to start poaching receiver coaching and talent from other teams !!!! … i.e. simply take this position out of BB’s hands and too bad if he does not like it … lots of time and history have proven to be this is one of his blind spots, it happens so just deal with it

  23. realfootballfan says:
    July 7, 2021 at 10:51 am
    Also, by running that /Perkins systems and not emphasizing wide receiver, Belichick understands that flashy ones don’t win anybody Super Bowls. I mean think about it. Tampa was stacked last year in that department, and that’s not why they beat KC. The most one of those Pro Bowl receivers had in the game was like 50 yards or something. I love the dominant receiver as much as the next fan, but in team building, it’s a waste of resources when you overemphasize that position if you think about it. You just need guys who can move the chains, dominant running by committee, and defense is always the key component, even in this era.

    1 0 Rate This

    ———————

    Bingo.

  24. The Pats aren’t based on big play passing. These young guys come in, learn the system, and everyone is upset that they don’t put up DK Metcalf or Megatron numbers. They’re not supposed to, that’s not the Pats system. But learning that system so early in their careers, I think ruins them for other teams, because the Pats are really one of a couple teams that operates like this.

  25. The best players GMBB has drafted are a 6th round fluke and a 7th round QB that ended up a WR. Luck not skill.

  26. It is complex offense for veterans, so it is difficult for rookies. However, the investment in WR is not really there. Since 2010 they have drafted 10 WR, but only 3 in the top 3 rds. Meanwhile a team like the Steelers who always have good wideouts have drafted 13 but 8 have been in the top 3 rounds. The Ravens are worst than NE. 17 WR drafted in the past 11 years, 6 in the top 3 rounds and the only great one was Darren Waller.

  27. I am sure Belichick put him on notice after the mini camp, thus the trade request.

    As for WR misses, maybe the systemic problem was Nick Caserio’s scouting and BB weighted ranking of attributes. 1/2 of that problem could be gone.

  28. All this, and yet they led the league in offense or were at the top for years and years and collected 6 Super Bowls.

    Tell me again how Belichick the GM let down BB the coach?? The results and amazing consistency just don’t bear that out.

  29. What role does McDaniels play in all of this? How much influence does he have in the draft evaluation process, and coaching up the results? The Pats have passed on drafting quite a few more successful recievers; is McDaniels responsible at all?

  30. It shows that he is just not a great developer of WR talent. Slot fits the offence but not wr. Bill is blame on this one he insisted on this particular pick.

  31. “We are quickly learning it was 100% Tom Brady.”

    All that says is you know nothing about the Pats teams that competed so well the last 20 years and the players on them other than Brady.

  32. New England, the new home of mediocrity. “Have fun storming the castle!”

  33. You can’t say it is the offense, because many young receivers have had success in that scheme. Buffalo is running the same offense and they had two new receivers last year pick it up quick and one was a rookie, Gabriel Davis, who was productive year 1.

    Trace it back to the OC and scouting. Bill makes the picks and there is Josh McDaniels.

    I can’t understand a HC getting power to make draft picks. There is only so much time in the day for all the work you have. How can you be more familiar with those players than the area scouts in those regions?

  34. 6 super bowl championships in 20 years. They’re doing something right. Perhaps it has more to do with the players ability to adjust to being pros. Branch, Givens, Edelman, Mitchell etc all were hard workers who put the time in to learn and succeeded because of it. Many WRs depend too much on physical talent and don’t put in the extra time needed to succeed.

  35. If another team signs him we’ll see what he does on that team but judging what he’s done in New England, I don’t think it’ll be any different.

  36. Not a Patriot fan, but valuing intangibles like character and love of football have served Bill Belichick and company pretty damn well over the years. Not sure why that’s commented on in a disparaging way.

  37. Receiver tend to be showboats. Randy Moss was a showboat. Belichick fired him for going off script in a news conference. Receivers want the spotlight on them. They want to make brag after making a big play. That’s their DNA. None of that fits Belichick’s mentality.

  38. BB HAS to be wishing Billy O was still the Texans HC for this potential trade opportunity.

  39. The guy had very little competition to take the #1 job in NE and couldn’t, so how the hell is gonna beat out legit NFL receivers on another team?

  40. High ceiling/low effort guy. Without Tom Brady there to try to motivate him, you’re better off moving on. No time for guys like that. Better to cut your losses, than to keep him around.

  41. This is going to be an easy one wherever Gilmore goes Harry is going to be packaged with him

  42. “Also, don’t forget, Chad Johnson’s career died there. The drop off was very high.”

    Also, don’t forget that Reggie Wayne went to NE and then decided he would rather retire.

  43. The Patriots just don’t know how to draft good wide receivers.

  44. I don’t care what team you’re on, or who your QB is. If you run lazy routes, can’t get open, and have hands of stone, you’re not be a good player.

  45. Chad Jackson, Taylor Gabriel, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce it goes on and on receiver is a weakness for Belichick.

  46. Harry BLOWS…. It is what it is…..use him as camp body with Hoyer throwing to him….if nobody trades for him just cut him….

  47. Much like chad Jackson it’s on harry not the Pat’s! they drafted his potential which he has a world of. With all the wrs added he knows hes on the outside looking in and so he wants out.

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