Patriots

There's reason to be wild about Harry - the Patriots first-round pick receiver from Arizona State

There's reason to be wild about Harry - the Patriots first-round pick receiver from Arizona State

FOXBORO – Remember the game back in 2011 when Tom Brady and Bill O’Brien got into it on the bench in Washington?

Brady’s irritation – which he later admitted was misplaced – stemmed from his belief that wide receiver Tiquan Underwood didn’t aggressively attack a 50-50 ball in the end zone resulting in an interception. 

“Ti, you got to go get it!” Brady pleaded on the bench.

O’Brien let Brady know that he believed the quarterback was mistaken. The rest was expletive-laden history.

The reason this is germane nearly nine years later?

I don’t think Brady will ever have to complain about a lack of fight from N’Keal Harry, the wide receiver the Patriots took with the last pick in the first round on Thursday night.

Harry is a 6-2, 228-pound, ball-attacking, high-pointing, back-shouldering, acrobat who’s got durability, after-the-catch toughness, hammerlock hands and the savvy to body up defenders and win contested catches.

In other words, if the Patriots were going to break their annual tradition of staying away from first-round receivers, Harry is the perfect one to do it for.

Herm Edwards, who coached Harry at Arizona State, had this to say about Harry earlier this year when he spoke to ESPN.

"Is he willing to compete?" Edwards asked. "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."

There were faster wideouts on the board. A lot of them, given that Harry was timed at 4.53. There were taller ones and quicker ones. But there probably aren’t any with the size-strength-hands-work ethic combo that Harry appears to bring.

Any time the Patriots bring in a receiver, the primary concern isn’t about hands or feet. It’s whether or not the space between their ears is filled with gray matter that will help them get to the right spot at the right time.

Brady’s iced more experienced players than Harry for crimes against route-running. But as it stands now, Brady isn’t in the position to ice anybody. He’s got Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and James White as dudes to throw to.

If Demaryius Thomas is a quick healer, maybe he gets him too. If Josh Gordon gets reinstated and succeeds in staying clean, Brady’s got him too.

Until then, Harry is Brady’s big wideout best buddy. Here are six minutes of video showing why Brady might be convinced – at nearly 42 – to fall in love with a player half his age. 

Harry is tougher than Thomas. He may at this point be just as fast as Gordon and within a year he will almost certainly be faster. And he’s got a ton of attributes similar to Gordon. Harry isn’t a reach. He was projected to be a late first/early second-round value.

And while speedier, shiftier slotty receivers such as Parris Campbell, Deebo Samuel or A.J. Brown got most of our local attention when we stacked players to fill the very obvious wideout need, Harry was sitting there as a little overlooked.

While Campbell ran 273 snaps from the slot last year for Ohio State, Harry ran 130. And was massively productive.

There’s really nothing to wail about when it comes to this pick. It’s a position of need. It’s – let’s admit it – a more entertaining position to watch a player develop at than, say, defensive tackle. He’s not soft. He’s not injury-riddled. It’s a mediocre draft to begin with. Harry, because of his physicality, is going to be much more of a bare-knuckle receiver than Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Aaron Dobson and so on.

"This guy, in my opinion, ain't even close to as good as he's going to be," said Todd Graham, Harry’s coach at ASU in his first two years at the school. "He was in college for 36 months. You're talking about a guy who was really young, as far as his mental maturity, emotional maturity, he was very young coming out of high school.”

The steep learning curve Harry’s been dealing with is about to get even steeper. He’s stepping into a spot that’s opened into a trap door to nowhere for countless receivers who preceded him. Veterans, rookies, former first-rounders and scrubinis. 

They’re all down there in the dustbin of Patriots wide receiver history.

On first impression, you can at least see Harry isn’t going there without a fight.

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Quick Slants the Podcast: Rodney Harrison on Belichick, Brady and more; Edelman signs extension

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Quick Slants the Podcast: Rodney Harrison on Belichick, Brady and more; Edelman signs extension

1:42 - Tom Curran is joined by 2019 Patriots Hall of Fame Inductee Rodney Harrison to talk about his time with the Patriots

3:12 - Rodney recalls his first meeting with Bill Belichick, immediately understanding the football culture in New England and how the Patriots head coach let him be himself on the field.

5:29 - After being released by the Chargers and picked up by the Patriots, Harrison focused on earning the respect of his teammates, even if it meant being extra aggressive.

8:02 - Rodney gets into detail about the situation with Lawyer Milloy, how he felt replacing the longtime Patriots safety and what lessons he took from it.

10:42 - Tom asks Rodney how he feels about Tom Brady skipping OTAs and if he thinks mental health is become more and more important for football players.

14:39 - With Julian Edelman signing a two-year contract extension with the Patriots, Tom looks back at the evolution of No. 11's career in New England.

LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE:

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How could Julian Edelman's contract extension impact Tom Brady?

How could Julian Edelman's contract extension impact Tom Brady?

Julian Edelman has landed his payday. His quarterback, however, is still waiting.

The New England Patriots wide receiver agreed to a two-year, $18 million contract extension Tuesday, NBC Sports Boston's Tom E. Curran confirmed Tuesday.

The deal means Edelman, who turns 33 on Wednesday, is locked up through his age-35 season and in theory could retire a Patriot after the 2021 campaign.

But what about Tom Brady? The Patriots quarterback also has no designs on leaving New England and hopes to play until 45, an age he'd reach in 2022. 

Like Edelman in 2017, Brady signed a restructured contract in 2018 worth $30 million that kept him under team control until 2019. Unlike Edelman, the six-time Super Bowl champion (who shares Edelman's agent, Don Yee) doesn't have an extension in the works as of Tuesday.

Brady has never entered a season while in the "walk year" of his contract, so it would be unprecedented if he and the Patriots don't agree to new contract terms this summer. Now that New England has locked up Brady's No. 1 target, there's seemingly more pressure on the Patriots to iron out the QB's contract situation before they mount their title defense.

Don't hold your breath on another restructured deal, though: When asked back in January about Brady's contract situation, team president Jonathan Kraft responded, "Let's see what happens when training camp starts (in July)."

Brady just restructured his contract last year, so if the Patriots want to ensure he stays until age 45, they could have Brady play out the final year of his contract this season and sign a two-year deal next offseason through 2022.

But if they want to get ahead of things, Edelman's contract represents a blueprint to do so.

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