Few draft selections in New England Patriots history have been mired in as much scrutiny, controversy, and criticism as Bill Belichick's selection of N'Keal Harry in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Yet, after two lackluster years of poor play, it seems that Harry is finally primed to, at the very least, be a solid contributor to the Patriots' offense.
From his college years to the first two years of his professional career, the most glaring issues in Harry's game remained consistent; slow feet, little separation, and fickle hands. These traits were always readily apparent -- regardless of whether it was practice or a game setting.
As a result, it became immediately obvious when Harry showed improvements at the beginning of camp this year. Though fan-filled practices started with Harry being greeted by sporadic heckling in light of his trade request, Harry quickly seems to have reinspired some of the enthusiasm that New England fans once had in April of 2019.
Perhaps no moment encapsulated Harry's growth better than what is widely being considered one of the most impressive catches of training camp.
Granted, Harry still might not have Nelson Agholor's route separation, James White's hands, or Gunner Olszewski's shiftiness -- but he's, at the very least, finding his niche as the Dez Bryant archetype receiver the Patriots envisioned him as.
In his latest press conference today, quarterback Cam Newton was asked about Harry's recent development, and of course, Newton had nothing but positive words to say:
I've always had the confidence in 'Doughboy' to be what he is. He's still not scratching the surface. He's believing in it and you guys are seeing it, and it's good for his confidence. But nevertheless, he's taking initiative and he's more comfortable. Before the play's even called, he understands the personnel groupings, he understands what Josh [McDaniels] is trying to do to him and for him...
Newton has always been vocal in his support of Harry, so what really stands out is his specific compliment -- much like how offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels explained to media yesterday. While Newton is starting to understand "the 'why' on most things," it seems that Harry is also beginning to overcome a mental hurdle.
Harry has certainly earned his fair share of criticism throughout his first two years, but it finally seems like his mental grasp of McDaniels' offense is catching up to his physical toolset. If his strong camp presence is any indication, there's a good chance he very well may burgeon into a safety-blanket downfield receiver yet.