NFL draft

Five Takeaways from the N’Keal Harry unveiling

Five Takeaways from the N’Keal Harry unveiling

Patriots first-round pick N’Keal Harry, who’s already been compared to Josh Gordon, Dez Bryant, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, was introduced to the media Thursday afternoon. He appeared duly impressed. Harry, who arrived in Boston Thursday morning on a red-eye flight from Arizona, did the annual first-round photo op flanked by Robert and Jonathan Kraft prior to the Patriots’ rookie minicamp, which runs Friday through Sunday.

Once the Krafts departed – without fielding questions (they never do at this event) – Harry was left alone on a 10 x 20 riser and answered questions shouted by reporters until we were fully satisfied.

Here are five takeaways from Harry’s session:

Harry says he has heard the comparisons to Fitzgerald. And Gordon. And Bryant. And Boldin.

“It’s definitely a blessing being compared to those types of players but I still have to prove myself,” said Harry. “I haven’t done anything in the NFL yet. It’s my job to put in the work and perform and live up to the expectations.”

Speaking about Gordon in particular, Harry said, “I’ve tried to look at a lot of different receivers. I feel I can take a lot from a lot of different NFL receivers. He‘s a great player and someone I’ll strive to be like.”

Tom Brady can be famously impatient with young receivers. Even veterans wind up with bite marks for not being at an appointed spot at an appointed time. Harry, who could potentially be front-and-center in the Patriots offense if the receiver depth doesn’t pan out, is ready for the mental side of it.

“That’s something I look forward to,” Harry said when asked about Brady’s intensity. “I’m the type of player who wants to get better. I want to get coached hard so I’m looking forward to that. …

“This is a great organization,” he also said. “I couldn’t have been put in a better situation. I’m learning from the best of the best and I’m just excited to get to work and soak in as much information as possible.”

Asked about his physicality as a receiver and ability to knock defensive backs around, Harry said, “I try not to lean on that too much. I try to still be finesse at times. You can’t rely on your body at all times so I try to work on my technique. I play extremely hard. I’m a big receiver. Playing with my cleats in the grass [is important]."

Harry is a native of Saint Vincent, an island directly south of St. Lucia and due west of Barbados. It’s an 18-mile by 11-mile volcanic island with a population of about 100,000. Harry moved to Arizona with his grandmother when he was young in an effort to get better opportunities. His mother stayed on Saint Vincent. Asked if there was anything he’d like to do for his homeland, Harry said, “Give back in any way that I can. Definitely help my family. Help some people on the island. With this platform, I’ve been given I feel it’s my duty to do something with it. God has blessed me to be in this position so it would be a disservice if I didn’t give back and show appreciation. There’s a lot of talent on the island and it doesn’t get seen. Whatever I can do to help I’m more than willing to do that but it’s not something I’ve explored yet.” Personally, I see this as a tremendous opportunity for all of us to go visit Harry’s homeland next February. For reporting.

When Harry took the call from Bill Belichick saying the Patriots were about to draft him, Harry couldn’t hear. Bad service. I asked Harry about it at the end of his session. “I wasn’t losing my mind but I was definitely nervous,” he admitted. “I was like, ‘OK, they can’t get ahold of me. I hope they don’t go on to the next person.’ That was a bit of the fear I was having.” They did not.

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Patriots undrafted WR Meyers brings quarterback brain to receiver spot

Patriots undrafted WR Meyers brings quarterback brain to receiver spot

When the Patriots waived Bruce Ellington with an injury designation on Wednesday, it put the picture at the receiver spot in New England back into focus. 

Julian Edelman and first-round pick N'Keal Harry are clear locks to make the roster. Phillip Dorsett performed consistently when given an opportunity in 2018 and feels like the best bet to be the No. 3 for the Patriots when September rolls around. 

After that? Question marks abound. 

Free-agent signee Maurice Harris brings with him size and a reputation as a diligent worker established in Washington. Demaryius Thomas is a big-name veteran who has to get back healthy from a torn ACL at 31 years old before he can be counted upon. Braxton Berrios was a sixth-round choice last year who red-shirted as a rookie. Damoun Patterson got some experience on New England's practice squad in 2018 and will be looking to crack the active roster. 

Then there are three undrafted rookies who could shake things up at the position for Bill Belichick. For 15 years, at least one undrafted player has made the active roster in New England. Might Jakobi Meyers, Ryan Davis or Xavier Ubosi keep the streak alive? 

Ubosi has impressive size (6-3, 215 pounds) and athleticism (4.50 40-yard dash, 10-foot-5 broad jump at his pro day), and was a big-play machine for Alabama-Birmingham (35 catches, 837 yards, eight touchdowns) last season. If the Patriots want an outside-the-numbers option, Ubosi has intriguing traits.

Davis (5-9, 185 pounds) looks like a classic slot for the Patriots. Catching passes from fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham at Auburn, Davis showed an ability to accelerate quickly, break tackles, and weave in and out of traffic in the short area of the field. If the Patriots want someone to challenge Berrios inside, Davis could be the guy. Like Berrios, Davis also has punt-return experience (22 returns in 2018) which could increase his value at One Patriot Place. 

Then there's Meyers, who in some ways is the most interesting of the UDFA bunch. He played in the slot at NC State even though he looks more like an "X" at 6-2, 203 pounds. He joined the Wolfpack in 2015 as a quarterback, changed positions in 2016 and has been on an upward trajectory ever since. He caught 63 passes in 2017, and last year he upped that number to 92 for 1,047 yards and four scores. ACC coaches named him first-team all-conference for his efforts, and he was a "no-brainer" add to the Senior Bowl, according to executive director Jim Nagy.

When Nagy spoke to us for "The Next Pats Podcast", he said he couldn't believe that Meyers wasn't drafted. 

"I was shocked, frankly," said Nagy, who worked for the Patriots for seven years as a scout. 

"Jakobi is a really good player. Kelvin Harmon was their other [receiver who] got picked in the sixth round. In my mind, Jakobi was a better player. The way I'll frame it for you is, for the Senior Bowl . . . we brought 114 to the game so those last spots you're really making some tough decisions on the last three or four receiver spots. 'Who do we bring?'

"Jakobi was a no-brainer. He really was. I never hesitated thinking we should bring Jakobi to this game. It really surprised me [he wasn't drafted]. That's a heckuva free-agent get."

Nagy said that one of the first things to flash on Meyers' tape at NC State was the fact that he thought his way through plays as a quarterback might. His background as a passer helps him understand coverages and how to adjust routes accordingly.

"A lot of times," Nagy said, "when you do college receivers, and I know I've heard coach Belichick comment about it publicly over the last few months here, and we used to get preached this when I worked there: Projecting college receivers is one of the hardest positions because the college passing game is so different.

"All those routes are locked. Those kids don't have to read coverage. But that's the first thing you see in Jakobi Meyers. They played him in the slot. He's not a typical Patriots slot. They like the undersized quicker-than-fast guys who can get in and out of cuts. But he did play in the slot for NC State. And he's got a really nice feel for coverage and adjusting stuff when he has to. He's got a savvy about him. That's the first thing that jumps out at you." 

Meyers certainly has the size to play outside and could be viewed as a versatile piece in the Patriots offense. And though it may not be quite at the level N'Keal Harry showed during his time at Arizona State, Meyers has proven he's no slouch when it comes to making plays in contested situations or over the middle. 

"Toughness is not a question for a guy being a former quarterback," Nagy said. "He does not care if he gets hit. He can come to the ground and secure the catch. Really strong hands. Again, I just can't believe how that guy could go undrafted what he put on tape this year for NC State...He's a guy that I definitely think could make that 53-man roster coming out of camp."

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Tony Dungy offers theory behind Patriots' unorthodox N'Keal Harry pick

Tony Dungy offers theory behind Patriots' unorthodox N'Keal Harry pick

The only predictable thing about the New England Patriots at the NFL Draft is their unpredictability.

The 2019 draft brought another surprise twist, as New England snagged N'Keal Harry at No. 32 overall to make the Arizona State product their first wide receiver taken in the first round since Terry Glenn in 1996.

So, what prompted Bill Belichick to do something he's never done before? NBC NFL analyst and former head coach Tony Dungy joined this week's edition of the Michael Holley Podcast to offer his theory.

"I think that speaks a little bit to the game, the way it's going," Dungy told Holley of the Patriots' decision to draft Harry. "Receivers can make such a difference now. The rules are tailored to the passing game.

"I think you see Bill Belichick saying, 'Tom Brady's coming down -- we don't know when the end is gonna be, but I'm not gonna have Tom forever. So, let me make sure I get some weapons for him, and let's get somebody who can stretch the field and make some things happen in the passing game.' "

The Patriots also drafted a skill player in the first round last year (running back Sony Michel), so it does appear Belichick is placing a higher premium on early-round offensive talent in the draft as Brady enters his age-42 season.

"I think you're seeing a little bit of a shift in, 'Let's make sure we've got Tom enough to work with," Dungy added.

Check out Dungy's full conversation with Holley below; the Harry discussion comes at the 13:58 mark.



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