N’Keal Harry’s rookie season has been well-documented.
It wasn’t the greatest, as he only played in seven games due to starting the year on injured reserve and finished with just 12 catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
In a draft that produced Deebo Samuel, D.K. Metcalf, Terry McLaurin and A.J. Brown after Round 1, the Patriots deservingly were criticized for selecting Harry in the first round. It was also the first time in the Bill Belichick era the Patriots selected a receiver in the first round.
While a hamstring injury suffered during training camp was the biggest reason for Harry’s subpar rookie season, it also seemed like he could never get on the same page as Tom Brady.
Way back in June’s minicamp sessions Brady and Harry had issues getting on the same page, and it appeared to irk the 42-year-old at times. Those issues were never really corrected and once Harry returned in the middle of the year, the train had already left the station and the rookie could never really catch up.
Brady is not the typical NFL quarterback, as he’s the most demanding in the entire league. He expects perfection, but it’s also not fair to a rookie to expect it right away. Also, Brady wears his emotions on his sleeve, so if a wide receiver runs the wrong route or is not in the exact spot he expects him to be, he’s going to hear about it.
This happened to Harry on multiple occasions over the summer, and then in his third game back — a Sunday night game against the Texans — in the first quarter Harry’s slant route was not run the perfect way that it should have been and it turned into an interception.
Harry wasn’t targeted the rest of the game and until the final week of the season when he saw seven targets, the rookie saw just eight targets in the next four games.
Brady had phased Harry out.
Perhaps Harry’s rookie season was exactly why the Patriots shied away from selecting wide receivers high in the draft with TB12 under center. Since Brady is so demanding, Harry was thinking too much about not making Brady mad and that it was impacting his play on the field. This resulted in wrong routes being ran and also dropping easy passes.
It takes a lot to be a successful wide receiver with Brady, especially a young one, and for Harry it just didn’t work out. And who is to say anything would change all that much if Brady was still in New England this coming season.
But with Brady now in Tampa Bay, things could be trending towards Harry having a breakout season with second-year player Jarrett Stidham as his quarterback.
Harry has been working extremely hard this offseason and with Stidham as his quarterback, someone who is essentially at the same level as he is, the Arizona State product could do a lot less thinking in 2020 and that could lead to making more plays.
Since Stidham is in his second year as well, mistakes are going to be made. With less pressure on him, this could free Harry up to just play and use his freakish athletic ability to his advantage. Also, with a full year in the system, the Patriots and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels have a better idea of what Harry does best and will be able to put him in the best positions to succeed.
All those things combined with Bill Belichick always saying players make the biggest jump from Year 1 to Year 2, things are set up for Harry to have a breakout sophomore year in 2020.
While the Patriots may be feeling the loss of Brady in 2020, for Harry it might actually be a good thing.
We shall see.