Despite playing within the confines of an offense built heavily around running the football, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw a career-high 35 touchdown passes and engineered one of the NFL’s most efficient passing attacks in 2018.
Though Seattle’s receiving corps often goes unnoticed due to the lack of overall targets, an underrated unit led by Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin only dropped eight passes this season, the best mark in the league. If there’s one deficiency with this group, however, it’s the lack of a big-bodied, game-changing receiver that has seemingly eluded the franchise since Sidney Rice retired.
While the Seahawks have plenty of other areas of need, Arizona State receiver N’Keal Harry could be an intriguing first-round option to finally address that void. Could the 6-foot-4, 213-pound target, who amassed over 2,800 yards and 22 touchdowns during three years with the Sun Devils and garnered First-Team All-Pac 12 honors each of the past two seasons, finally change Seattle's fortunes?
If EA Sports still produced an NCAA video game, Harry likely would have a 99 rating for spectacular catches. He consistently made highlight-reel snags during his three seasons with the Sun Devils, including emulating Giants star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. on a jaw-dropping one-handed catch against USC this season. Whoever drafts him in April will be giving their quarterback quite the security blanket due to his impressive catch radius and hand-eye coordination.
The sure-handed Harry rarely misses when the ball is thrown in his direction and tracks the football proficiently. Using his muscular 6-foot-4, 213-pound frame to his advantage, he walls off defenders and high points the football with great effectiveness, making him a premier red zone weapon. He’s a physical receiver who battles through contact at the point of attack to find the football and if he’s able to get his hands on the ball, he’s going to haul it in.
Few receivers in college football were more dangerous with the football in their hands than Harry, who finished his junior campaign with 515 yards after the catch. According to Pro Football Focus, he used his strength and quickness to force 15 missed tackles during the season, fifth-best in the Pac-12 conference.
While he didn’t see much action on special teams during his time at Arizona State, Harry did return a punt 92 yards for a touchdown against USC, showing he’s capable of making an impact in the return game.
Though it’d be inaccurate to classify Harry as an insufficient route runner, he certainly needs refinement in this part of his game, especially on intermediate-to-deep patterns. On film, he rarely ran anything other than fade routes and post routes on deep patterns, but he was so physically dominant against inferior cornerbacks and safeties that he could get away with it. That may not translate to the NFL, however.
Teams didn’t really try to press Harry much out of fear of giving up explosive pass plays downfield, which allowed him the opportunity to have clean releases and achieve consistent success on quick routes such as bubble screens and curls. At the NFL level with more talented, physically-gifted cornerbacks defending him, the young receiver will have to prove he can handle contact working off the line of scrimmage.
If there’s one area in Harry’s game that creates concern about his fit in the NFL, it’s his overall speed and ability to break away from defenders in coverage. In a telling performance against Washington, a team boasting plenty of NFL-caliber talent in the secondary, he struggled mightily to get open. Unable to create separation working against cornerback Byron Murphy and company, the Huskies held him to only four receptions for 20 yards.
Why He Fits in Seattle
Coach Pete Carroll has always loved bigger receivers, but he hasn’t exactly had much success finding and developing one during his tenure. Chris Matthews had his one night of glory in Super Bowl XLIX, but Chris Harper and Kris Durham never panned out as draft busts. Maybe Jimmy Graham could have been used as a big-bodied receiver, but the Seahawks tried to transform him into an inline blocking tight end that he certainly isn’t.
Harry has his flaws and will need time to develop as a route runner, but his rare combination of size and ball skills should make him a desirable late-round option for the Seahawks if he remains on the board. He’d provide Russell Wilson with another reliable deep threat who possesses outstanding hands and his ability to create after the catch would be a welcome development for an offense that ranked 30th in total yards after the catch last season.