Patriots

N'Keal Harry gives Tom Brady a bail-out option due to contested-catch prowess

N'Keal Harry gives Tom Brady a bail-out option due to contested-catch prowess

FOXBORO -- The Patriots picked up a bail-out option for Tom Brady in the first round Thursday. 

N'Keal Harry's calling card is his ability to make contested catches. Go ahead and Google him if you haven't already. The 6-foot-2, 228-pound Arizona State product's tape is loaded with receptions he made despite being blanketed by good coverage. Jump balls in the end zone. One-handed catches deep down the middle of the field. 

To call them "50-50" balls may not be giving him enough credit.

But Harry lasted as long as he did in the draft due in part to the fact that he's not an outside-the-numbers burner. (Oklahoma's Marquise Brown, who was among the fastest players in college football last season, was the first receiver drafted this year. He went off the board at No. 25 to Baltimore.) Harry clocked a 4.53-second 40-yard dash at this year's combine, putting him in the 45th percentile among receivers who ran at the NFL Scouting Combine over the past two decades.

Yet his strength to fight off handsy defensive backs at the catch point (27 bench reps of 225 pounds, 99th percentile) and his eye-popping leaping ability (38.5-inch vertical, 84th percentile) have made him a contested-catch fiend.

I asked Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio late Thursday night if Harry's ability to make plays in contested situations made him a more valuable commodity in the eyes of the Patriots despite the fact that he doesn't have elite speed.

"I would say that one of the things he does well is he plays the ball in the air," Caserio said. "I'd say the coverage in this league is tight, regardless of the type of player or receiver that you are. The coverage is tight. You're going to have to make some plays in some tight quarters. Receivers have to do it. Tight ends have to do it. I mean, James White, I know he plays running back, but he's involved in the passing game, [he has to do it]. 

"The windows are smaller, the catches are going to be more contested. If a player has the ability to do that, that's maybe one of his strengths. It was one of Rob [Gronkowski]'s strengths. He can make contested catches. Everybody has something that they do well . . . They have to maximize the attributes that they have."

The Patriots could certainly use someone with Harry's attributes. 

As Caserio mentioned, making contested catches was one of Gronkowski's many strengths. It was a strength of Josh Gordon's last year as well. How badly will the Patriots miss that dimension as long as Gronkowski remains retired and Gordon remains suspended? In the age of Next Gen Stats, we can actually quantify how often those types of plays were made.

Using tracking data, Next Gen Stats looks at how far passes travel through the air, how far passes are thrown down the field, how much separation a receiver has created, and how closely a receiver is situated to the sideline on a catch to come up with a metric called "improbable completions."

Brady had 17 improbable completions in 2018 that were judged to have a 40 percent or worse chance of being executed. That's a minuscule percentage of Brady's overall completions last season (he completed 460 passes in the regular season and postseason combined), but they were, on average, big-hitters. He averaged 22.9 yards per improbable completion last year (390 yards total), making those plays potential game-changers.

Any guesses at which 2018 Patriots pass-catching tandem accounted for about half of Brady's improbable completions? 

Gronkowski and Gordon had four improbable completions each in 2018 for 229 total yards (28.6 yards per catch). They included a 21-yard touchdown to Gronkowski in Week 1, a 34-yard touchdown to Gordon in Week 5, and Gronkowski's game-clinching 29-yard grab late in Super Bowl LIII.

Trusted as White and Julian Edelman may be, they don't provide Brady with the same type of bail-out ability that Gronkowski and Gordon did. And with those two bigger bodies not currently in the picture, Harry fills a void. According to Pro Football Focus, he reeled in 53.2 percent of his contested targets at Arizona State, which was the second-highest percentage among receivers in this year's draft class. (West Virginia's Gary Jennings was first at 54 percent.) 

The Patriots have more contested catch options available to them on Day 2 of the draft if they want to double-down on that skill set to help replace Gronkowski and Gordon's production on contested situations. There are a number of big-bodied receivers still on the board, including Ole Miss' AJ Brown (51.3 contested targets completed), Stanford's JJ Arcega Whiteside (49.4 percent) and Iowa State's Hakeem Butler (45.2 percent). Tight end Josh Oliver, meanwhile, looks like a "Prototypical Patriot" physically and had more contested catches (16) than any player at his position last season, per PFF.

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Prosecutors' appeal in Kraft case won't be heard before Sept. 4

Prosecutors' appeal in Kraft case won't be heard before Sept. 4

Prosecutors' appeal of the Florida judge's decision excluding videotape evidence in Patriots owner Robert Kraft's solicitation of prostitution case won't be heard until at least Sept. 4, meaning the case likely won't be resolved until after the NFL season begins.

On Tuesday, Judge Leonard Hanser agreed to allow the case to run through the appeals process before it goes to trial. Last week, Hanser ruled two videos that police say show Kraft paying for sex when he visited the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida, in January can't be used as evidence in a trial. The Palm Beach County State Attorney is seeking to have that ruling overturned.

Kraft issued a public apology after the arrest and has pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor counts of solicitation. The Patriots owner also faces discipline from the NFL but the appeal and subsequent delay in the trial and resolution of the case could put that on hold as well.

The Patriots open their season and will raise their sixth Super Bowl championship banner Sunday night, Sept. 8, against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium. 

At a press conference in March, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was asked about the Kraft case and said, "The Personal Conduct Policy applies to everybody. Commissioners, owners, executives, players, coaches. And it will be applied to everybody. But it will be done after we get all the facts. When we have all the information, we'll be fair and smart about it. That's what we'll do."

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Tom Brady reflects on making 'Tom vs. Time' after winning Emmy

Tom Brady reflects on making 'Tom vs. Time' after winning Emmy

Tom Brady has had his fair share of challenges on the field, but one of the biggest challenges of his 19-year career came off of it.

"Tom vs. Time," a six-episode docuseries that centered around Brady's life during the 2017 season, was released in January 2018. On Monday, the series won a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Serialized Sports Documentary.

Brady took to Instagram on Tuesday and opened up about what went into the making of "Tom vs. Time."

Read below:

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When I was approached by @gchopra at ROS, Facebook and @brawitz to explore this opportunity, it was a bit nerve-racking. This was so outside of the things I have always done and I wasn’t sure if we could pull it off. The reality was, before the filming began and even during the filming, it was on and off again at least 5 times. There were a lot of moving parts on all sides and it took a lot of work at every level to pull it together and have it ready for viewing 16 months ago. The Patriots had an amazing season of many highs and lows that added humanity to the story. And it was so much fun to have my family and friends and all the people who support me be a part of it. I couldn’t have been happier with the final product and people getting to see another side of me besides what most people see every Sunday. I can be a very focused and driven person on the field (and off too), but as most of my friends and teammates know, what you saw is just plain me. I can’t thank you enough for going on the journey with me. You all have made it all worth it, and to win an Emmy highlights the incredible work of everyone involved — the @religionofsports team, the @shadowlion team, @facebook, the @patriots, @nflfilms @tb12sports and my family, friends and teammates. Thank you. I love you all!

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It's clear filming the series was a daunting process, but ultimately it was all worth it for the six-time Super Bowl champion as he adds yet another accolade to his résumé.

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