FOXBORO — N'Keal Harry was a specimen at last year's NFL Scouting Combine. He measured in at 6-foot-2, 228 pounds. He clocked a respectable 4.53-second 40 time, jumped a whopping 38.5 inches in the vertical and posted 27 bench reps of 225 pounds (99th percentile for receivers).
The first-round pick's measureables stacked up with fellow rookie A.J. Brown of the Titans, who set the league ablaze in 2019. They were also similar to those of Braylon Edwards, a first-rounder in 2005, and former Patriots wideout Josh Gordon. Coming out of Baylor in 2012, Gordon checked in at 6-foot-3, 224 pounds with a 4.52-second 40 time and a 36-inch vertical.
But winning the combine doesn't translate to winning routes, Harry found out last season.
Harry's rookie season was all but lost when he had to sit out the first eight games on injured reserve. Upon his return, outside of a few flashes that showed what someone with Harry's physical skill set — strong hands for contested catches, a hard-to-bring-down 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame — could accomplish, it was not a resounding success. His end-of-the-year statline? Twelve catches for 105 yards and two scores.
This offseason, after a week or two off to recover, he attacked his offseason program. On the menu: route-running refinement and a trimmer build.
Harry is still listed at 225 pounds on the Patriots roster, but he acknowledged in a WebEx call with reporters Tuesday that he's altered his physique. Even with pads on early this week — and certainly when photos were shared on Patriots.com of players working out with no pads last week — it's apparent that Harry has shed some weight.
"I just felt like I was a little bit big," Harry said. "I just felt like slimming down a little bit and being a little more thin would help me getting off the top of my routes, getting in and out of my breaks and my releases."
Harry explained that by changing his weight room routine — "not lifting as much," he said — and eating better, and by doing those things in conjunction with sharpening his route-running technique, he feels he's in a better position to take advantage of his Year 2 opportunities.
That would be good news for the Patriots, who could use a dependable No. 2 option in the receiver room alongside Julian Edelman. During Tuesday's practice, Edelman was limited so Harry had chances to put his stamp on the workout. And those should only continue.
I posited last week that Harry might be the most important non-quarterback on the offensive side of the football for the Patriots in 2020. "Important." Not "best." If he takes a leap in his second season, the Patriots passing game — which was not as efficient last year as usual with Tom Brady behind center — could as well. If his progress stagnates, barring a big contribution from a more unheralded player, so too might Josh McDaniels' passing attack.
Patriots Talk Podcast - Training Camp Preview: Burning Questions and Bold Predictions | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube
Helping Harry could be the fact that there's a quarterback in the mix this season who has proven he's not afraid to throw to big-bodied receivers, even when they're covered.
Cam Newton made a living chucking it to Greg Olsen, Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess. Harry could be the next in line. And while there haven't been an overwhelming number of competitive throws through two days of camp, Harry and Newton tried to get a head start on their working relationship this offseason when they met at UCLA for throwing sessions.
"It helped a lot," Harry said. "Just getting to go out there and throw with your quarterbacks, especially during the offseason, trying to build chemistry always helps a lot. It also helped our off-the-field relationship. I knew Stidham and Hoyer more than I knew Cam. So I got to meet Cam a little bit this offseason and get to know him as a person as well . . . He’s a hard worker, a great player, he brings a lot of energy to the field."
Whoever is throwing passes for the Patriots this season, they'll need Harry to be a factor. And for him to be a factor, he'll have to hope that his reduced frame leads to bigger results.