2019 was the season that could never be for New England Patriots WR N’Keal Harry.
Preseason hamstring and ankle injuries in mid-August slowly devolved into placement on injured reserve days before the season began. New England did what they had to do by later signing Antonio Brown and Demaryius Thomas. Plus, don't forget that Josh Gordon was reinstated. What a wild carousel the Pats had going at receiver last year, right?
The receiver group was a mess because none of those guys are with the team anymore. One would wonder how much time the coaching staff could even spend on Harry with all this drama going on.
When Harry was finally able to return for Week 11, by then he was competing for snaps with Phillip Dorsett, Mohamed Sanu, and of course Julian Edelman. Consequently, we’ve got this former first-round pick in Harry only getting a handful of targets per week. He’s become more or less an afterthought, and now after one half of a healthy season, the fantasy community has basically walked away from him. It ain’t right!
Entering his second season, expectations still remain low. Tom Brady’s gone and Jarrett Stidham (or maybe Brian Hoyer, you never know) is now in. Most assume this offense is going to be a shell of what it once was so even with an increase in playing time, Harry is the unproven player in an unproven offense now led by an unproven quarterback.
With that expectation baked into the draft value of Harry, there isn’t much of a market for the guy. His 169 ADP puts him in the Round 15, Pick 1 range as the 62nd WR off the board. The little production he did have in 2019 to close out the season isn't that tempting (24 targets, 12 catches for 105 yards, and two touchdowns). In the Pats' Wild Card round loss against Tennessee, Harry had 2 catches on 7 targets for 21 yards. We’re going to have to look into our crystal ball here because the cold, hard numbers aren’t illuminating. Every player has a glowing scouting report you can recite. So what’s the case to be made for him?
Shawn Childs, our resident high-stakes fantasy football guru here at SI Fantasy, wrote this about Harry in his New England Patriots Team Outlook:
New England fans came away from 2019 wondering if Harry would be a stud or a dud. In his limited playing time last year, he struggled to get on the same page with QB Tom Brady, which led to him catching only half (12) of his targets (24). Harry missed the first nine games with his recovery from his right ankle injury. In his seven games played, he gained fewer than 30 yards receiving while failing to catch over three passes in any week. Talented player, but the Patriots’ offense is full of cloudiness this year. Viable flier as WR6 if the summer reports remain positive.
There are lots of moving parts here, starting with the quarterback. My conservative projections for Harry in his sophomore season are 52 catches for 677 yards and 4 TDs.
As noted above, the offense is “full of cloudiness.” What I can say with some certainty is the old saying of “buy low” is the main appeal to me. Until we are much closer to the season and practices occur, even if it may be reported through rose-tinted glasses, the media has to eventually give us some assessment.
Assuming he doesn’t fall off the edge of the Earth and into total irrelevancy, this will be the cheapest draft price Harry will ever experience.
Oftentimes in this game, fantasy owners are buying into their ability to judge talent and opportunity. Even the most talented athletes don’t always end up becoming superstars. Same with the fastest, the strongest, and the most explosive. We can all agree that the GOAT himself, Tom Brady, is not the best because he graded the best or that he throws the best football. It’s between the ears. It’s immeasurable. He wanted it. He worked for it harder and better.
We delude ourselves, as fantasy fans, into believing that we have some sort of sixth sense about players. We cling to some statistics from which we draw conclusions. The best fantasy analysts make you believe that you know. Most times, we don’t.
In this instance, it is not the on-field performance that will carry Harry to success. It’s his own ability to digest his rookie season, put it behind him, and work forward to this upcoming season. For example, Harry is spending this offseason with Rischad Whitfield, putting extra training into his footwork.
Whitfield has worked with guys like Darius Slay, Eric Ebron, Danielle Hunter, Xavien Howard, Odell Beckham Jr., Deebo Samuel, and more. Hopefully, Harry can make the most of it because this is a big year for him. In the end, all I really know is that Harry was a first-round pick with a golden opportunity in front of him to become a great football player.
I tend to believe that players make the biggest leap between their first and second seasons. I’m willing to use a 15th round pick in my fantasy draft to test that theory with Harry. I’m drafting for ceiling in Round 15, not floor, and Harry is a true wild card in providing a very high ceiling.