The New England Patriots N’Keal Harry is a former first-round draft pick who has floundered as a wide receiver, but he could flourish as an H-Back. Why and how might this make sense?
Harry was the New England Patriots first-round pick in 2019. Things have not gone well for the former Arizona State star in Foxborough at that position.
Due to injuries and other factors, he has only caught 51 passes to date with zero touchdowns in those two plus seasons of work. Those statistics have to look underwhelming.
Yet, perhaps there is a way for the Patriots to salvage Harry’s tenure in New England and utilize the skills he has rather than those they thought he had. And maybe they have already realized it.
The New England Patriots can use N’Keal Harry as a running back
Harry is big, strong, but not a super-fast wide receiver who has had moments when he shined. Yet, he has had difficulty getting open in the NFL.
While he could go over-the-top (and still can) in college, getting separation in the NFL has been an issue for the big wide receiver.
So why not utilize his available skills at a position that would take advantage of his size, his catching ability to an extent, and most importantly, his emergent blocking skills.
Here’s how patspulpit.com described his efforts against the Cleveland Browns in Week 10,
Playing 35 of a possible 67 offensive snaps, Harry did not only see regular action but he also played a pretty big role in New England’s offense having one of its best days of the season: he was impressive when asked to serve as a run blocker, something he did on 23 of his snaps according to Pro Football Focus.
The most significant aspect of that quote is the number of snaps, 35. It’s unlikely that Harry has ever had that many snaps before in any game. His blocking has become his primary ticket.
On a run-first offense team like the Patriots, that is a skill that can be of significant use. And that’s what an H-Back does. And it seems like they’ve recognized this and are heading in this direction.
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An H-Back is usually a hybrid receiver/tight end. In many cases, his main skill is catching the football. Yet, in Harry’s case, maybe it may be the blocking aspect. Either is just fine.
In fact, being primarily a blocker can have ancillary benefits for someone who is also well-versed in receiving the ball. The element of surprise is always there.
Harry as an H-Back would always be a threat to take a pitch or a short pass from his super-accurate quarterback Mac Jones and take it downfield.
New England Patriots still need a third tight end
The Patriots signed two higher-priced tight ends in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith in free agency. To date, Smith has 21 receptions in nine games with one touchdown. Not a great return thus far.
Conversely, Henry has been productive and is getting more so all the time. He is developing a nice rapport with Jones and making it count on the scoreboard.
Henry has 31 receptions in 10 games, but more importantly, he has caught seven touchdown passes. Last season he had four in 14 games for the Los Angeles Chargers. As for the Patriots in 2020, the sum total of tight end touchdowns was one. Just one.
What all this has to do with Harry is this; the Patriots need three tight ends on their gameday roster.
Smith is more of a pass-catching H-back type while Henry is more of an all-around tight end. Harry, however, complements those two by being a blocker first and a pass-catcher second.
Having flopped on two third-round picks in the 2020 draft, the Patriots still really need a third tight end, especially in case of injury.
Using Harry as primarily, but not exclusively, a blocker (the threat of a catch is still there) fits the Patriots in that role to a tee as an H-Back/tight end.
Letting Harry contribute in that way best fits his abilities. The thought here is that Harry should be encouraged to bulk up from his 225 pounds to perhaps 235 or 240 pounds.
This added heft will make him more of a tight end than a wide receiver and will augment his already sound blocking ability in the running game, as well.
Harry has not succeeded as a wide receiver, but it seems that the Patriots are already headed down the road of using his strengths as a blocker first (let’s say a blocking H-Back) with this player.
Hats off to the New England Patriots for this creative thinking. Tinkering a bit with his position may be all it takes to make Harry, a truly likable player, productive. It’s well worth the try.