FOXBORO — Talk about pressure before you even step into the building.
For the first time in the Bill Belichick era, the Patriots selected a wide receiver in the first round of the NFL draft as they picked Arizona State wide out N’Keal Harry with the final selection of Round 1 Thursday night.
Prior to Harry, the highest a receiver had ever been drafted under Belichick was No. 36 overall (Chad Jackson, 2006) and they haven’t even selected one in the top 100 since Aaron Dobson went No. 59 in 2012.
The trend has been swing-and-misses at the position, but Harry has a very good chance of breaking it, as he’s a dynamic talent who can make a ton of plays.
“It means the world to me,” Harry said when told he was the first receiver ever picked by Belichick in the first round. “For him to have that much faith in me and have that much trust in me, it just makes me want to work that much harder. I’m going to come in with a workhorse mindset and try and get better every day.”
The Arizona State product was one of the most competitive players at his position in the entire draft as he has the ability to battle with members of the secondary for contested catches, and also the athleticism to beat them up the field.
In addition, Harry has made some of the best catches you’ll ever see. Just search “N’Keal Harry” on YouTube.
The 6-foot-2, 228 pounder played in 37 career games before declaring for the draft as a junior. In his career as a Sun Devil, he finished with 213 catches for 2,289 yards and 22 touchdowns. As a junior this fall, he hauled in 73 passes for 1,088 yards and nine touchdowns. The yards were second in the Pac-12, while the receptions and touchdowns were fourth.
Furthermore, he had a catch in all 37 collegiate games he played in, which was tied for the 10th-longest active streak among FBS players.
Harry is also skilled enough to do some other things when called upon. Over his three years, he had 23 carries for 144 yards and 14 punt returns for 165 yards. We’re not saying he will have a Cordarrelle Patterson-like role by any means, but he can do things that will keep a defense on its heels.
When it comes to fitting into the Patriots offense, there’s more than just on-field skill. It takes a devoted, passionate player to be able to pick up the system, and by all accounts Harry can be that guy.
Just listen to his coach last fall in Herm Edwards, who knows a thing or two about life in the NFL.
"Is he willing to compete?,” he asked in an interview with ESPN. “Check that box. Does he prepare himself when he is not in the building, when he's off the field? Check that box. In the community, does he have any issues in the community? Does he have any red flags of him being obviously social problems and outside the community? Has he been arrested? Check that box off, nope. There's a lot of boxes he checks off. Probably the biggest box of all that he checks off, and I've discussed it with the pro guys, is he loves to compete."
Harry has also been through a great deal over the course of his life just to play football.
He was born in Canada, but shortly thereafter went to the small Caribbean island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to where his family is from. But, when he was four years old, he and his grandmother moved to Arizona in order to give him more opportunities and so she could see the world.
It was just the two of them, and in order to support Harry and herself, as well as an aunt who later joined them, his grandmother worked two jobs. This forced Harry to do a lot of things on his own. It also made him try a number of different sports to keep him busy, including basketball, track and field, baseball, martial arts, soccer, swimming and of course, football.
His grandmother was originally against him playing football, but he ultimately convinced her, and it clearly has paid off.
Harry’s story gets even better as his mom was able to get a visa in the last couple weeks in order to be with her son for just the fourth time ever when he got the call that he was drafted by the Patriots Thursday night.
If Harry can get through all that he has to this point in his life, learning the Patriots playbook should be a piece of cake.
There’s no question given the past picks at the position Harry will be under more scrutiny than most Patriots selections, but he has a very good chance to work out and be a receiver the organization can count on for the years to come.