New England Patriots: N’Keal Harry has no one to blame but himself

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 29: N'Keal Harry #15 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball against the Arizona Cardinals during the first quarter of the game at Gillette Stadium on November 29, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 29: N'Keal Harry #15 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball against the Arizona Cardinals during the first quarter of the game at Gillette Stadium on November 29, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

When the New England Patriots selected N’Keal Harry with the 32nd overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Pats fans were optimistic that the powerful receiver from Arizona State would be able to jump right in and help replace Rob Gronkowski in the New England offense.

Two seasons later, it’s safe to say that was wishful thinking. After missing most of his rookie season with injury, and struggling to adapt when he was on the field, things were looking up for Harry heading into his second season. He had developed a solid rapport with new quarterback Cam Newton, and finally seemed to be finding his footing with an eight catch, 72 yard performance against the Seattle Seahawks.

But that was pretty much the highlight of not only Harry’s season, but his time in New England so far. We have seen fleeting moments of his potential, but nothing to suggest that he is on the cusp on having a breakout season. With the Pats restocking offensively this offseason, it has left many to question whether or not Harry will have a spot on this roster come Week 1.

Those odds have certainly taken a hit after Harry’s agent said Harry has officially requested a trade away from New England. Just two seasons after being a glimmer of hope in a weak wide receiver core, Harry has come to personify that weak receiver group to a T. Now his time in New England seems to be coming to a fast end, and it may be best for both parties involved.

Is it fair for Patriots fans to blame N’Keal Harry for his struggles?

Despite Harry’s short tenure, his struggles seem to continue a trend of New England’s inability to find production out of the wide receiver position in the draft. It’s fair to wonder whether Harry has really had a fair shot to succeed in the Patriots offense, or if he simply couldn’t keep up and do what was required of him when he was on the field.

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From Harry’s standpoint, he seems to think that he wasn’t given much of an opportunity to succeed. He’s only seen 86 targets over two seasons, and was pretty quickly leapfrogged in the wide receiver rotation by Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd last season.

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Yet despite his qualms, Harry had a pretty decent opportunity to establish himself this past season. He played 58 percent of the offenses snaps this past season despite missing two games, so he was getting his chance to make his mark.

The problem with Harry has consistently been his inability to get open. In his agent’s statement, he claimed Harry was “a dominant downfield threat” and was “virtually unstoppable” during his time in college. Those two phrases couldn’t be any farther from the truth during his time in the NFL.

Harry’s blend of unique size and speed made him appealing to the Patriots, and rightfully so. But Harry only generated an average of 2.9 yards of separation on his routes last season, meaning he is struggling to shake off defenders most of the time, allowing them to stay on him and make a play on the ball.

Even if Harry wasn’t getting open in college, he could use his size to his advantage to bully cornerbacks into submission. But again, that hasn’t been the case in the NFL, as Harry has only managed to haul in 55.6 percent of his targets so far in his career, which isn’t going to cut it for an NFL caliber wide receiver.

Opposing teams haven’t had that tough of a time guarding Harry. They can stick a bigger corner on him and he is basically neutralized from there on out. He can’t outrun or out-jump opposing defenders like he could in college, and sometimes that’s just how it works in the NFL.

There’s nothing we have seen from Harry to suggest he’s worth holding on to if he is going to request a trade. Having an unhappy player around the team creates an unwanted distraction, and the Patriots already have one of those with Stephon Gilmore.

The problem now is that the Patriots limited leverage in this situation just vanished when Harry went public with his desires to leave. They were rumored to be shopping Harry for a third or fourth round pick during the draft, and if they couldn’t find anything then, it’s unlikely they will get much of a return for him now.

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Realistically, New England is going to be shopping for a sixth or seventh round pick at this point for Harry, which is a far cry from the first rounder they appear to have burned on him just two years ago.

Maybe a team like the Washington Football Team, who was supposedly interested in him earlier this offseason, takes a flier on him and pair him with their new dangerous duo of Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel, but the market for Harry most likely won’t be too deep.

Harry’s public announcement through his agent showed that the young receiver fully believes he has what it takes to make it in the NFL, and that the New England Patriots aren’t giving him a fair shot to make it. But they have; he just hasn’t been able to make the most of it.

Despite Harry’s complaints to the press, he has nobody to blame but himself for the situation he finds himself in, and the Patriots should respect his stance and move on from him.