FOXBORO — The Patriots need N'Keal Harry. Need him badly.
More specifically, they need someone who can be a go-to option in the passing game. They need someone who can take some of the load off the 34-year-old shoulders of Julian Edelman.
Harry, taken in the first round of last year's draft, just happens to be the best option.
An argument could be made that the best option is Mohamed Sanu, but he's on the wrong side of 30 and hasn't looked particularly sudden in training camp. The two rookie tight ends selected in the third round of this year's draft — Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene — hold promise, but Asiasi has looked like the better athlete of the two and he was limited in practice this week with an injury. The running back group is made up of capable pass-catchers, but that's not a dependable source for chunk plays.
That leaves Harry, whose physical skill set as an overpowering wideout who can wrestle footballs away from defenders and break tackles after the catch makes him an intriguing option to lift the Patriots passing game one year after it produced middle-of-the-pack results with Tom Brady behind center.
But he says he's not feeling "pressure" to be that guy in his second pro season.
"I would use excitement more than pressure," he said after Friday's practice. "I'm really looking forward to getting out there and doing my part to help the team. I just want to do everything I can and I want to play to the standards I know I can play at. To me, it's more excitement than anything."
Taken in a draft that saw Niners wideout Deebo Samuel, Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf and Titans game-changer AJ Brown go off the board with later picks, Harry has the tools to threaten defenses in ways his teammates can't.
He could attract coverage. He could open up throwing lanes for Cam Newton to find others. But Harry hasn't proven that he deserves that kind of attention just yet. He caught a dozen passes as a rookie after missing the first half of last season on IR.
He's looked strong in the latest week of Patriots practices, but only after missing three sessions last week. Can't change the passing game of the club in the tub . . . or something.
"It was definitely tough just because we only have, what, two weeks now until the first game," Harry said Friday. "That's something that you never want to happen. But life throws things at you so you gotta adjust."
Despite having to make up for lost time, Bill Belichick praised Harry's development and work ethic before the team's Friday practice.
"He’s much more comfortable, has a much better understanding this year than what he did last year," Belichick said. "He’s been productive for us on the field. He still has a lot of football in front of him and a lot of growth and he works hard every day. He’s a physical, tough kid that likes to compete. You can see his competitiveness out there on the field and that allows him to get better."
The Patriots need Harry to get better. And even if he's not putting any pressure on himself to perform better, fans can be counted on to provide their fair share of the stuff if their team's aerial attack starts slowly in 2020.