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Why the Patriots’ N’Keal Harry is *my* favorite wide receiver of the 2019 NFL Draft

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Retired defensive end Stephen White enjoyed watching Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry so much, it made him cuss.

The New England Patriots picked N’Keal Harry 32nd overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, the final pick of the first round. Here’s what Stephen White had to say about Harry ahead of the draft:

Watching film is my favorite part of this job because I get to see so many good, young players, especially when I’m doing these draft breakdowns. Every once in a while I even get to see guys who are not only productive on the field, but also fun as hell to watch. Those are the kids who end up making me cuss while I watch their film.

[Hello, we have first round 2019 NFL Draft grades just for you]

Well, watching N’Keal Harry’s tape had bad words just spilling out of my mouth. This kid looks like a Pro Bowl punt returner with the ball in his hands.

There were a couple of plays that made this obvious, where he cut all the way back across the field to gain big yardage on what should have been a short catch.

He was incredible on both of those plays, breaking tackles and making guys miss all over the field. However, a lot of times cutting across the field like that is ill-advised, so I would never count on a receiver to do that on a regular basis (although the fact he was successful doing it more than once is not something that can’t be easily ignored, either). While those plays were outstanding, I didn’t necessarily mean just those kinds of plays.

When I say he looks like a punt returner, I was referring to how Harry usually finds ways to maximize his yards after the catch if he sees any daylight at all. He just had a knack of being able to make tacklers miss in a phone booth, even when it looked like they had him dead to rights.

All it took was a small crack or a hesitation on the defender’s part, and Harry would slither right through that opening and gain another handful of yards, if not more.

Yeah, making a guy miss looks amazing on a 61-yard reception where you totally reversed field and scored a touchdown, but to be able to make them miss consistently on random 5-yard stop routes is at least as impressive, in my estimation.

Arizona State was smart to feed him a bunch of short passes, too. With a guy like Harry, you want to find ways to get the ball in his hands as much as possible and let him go to work on the defense.

Those short passes don’t always have to turn into big gains, either, because being able to turn a 10-yard catch into a 16-yard gain over and over will certainly make a difference during the course of a game.

Harry’s route running is refined — there’s just one small flaw.

In the four games of his that I watched, Harry had eight catches that went for 20 or more yards, and only half of them were on actual deep balls. The other half were plays where he made the catch at fewer than 20 yards depth, but was ultimately able to gain more than 20 yards because of his elusiveness.

One of the reasons why Arizona State was able to get the ball to him so often was because Harry is a polished route runner. He got in and out of his breaks quickly, he knew how to change speed so as not to give away his routes, and he ran very smoothly and under control so that every route looked pretty similar initially.

Not only did Harry run his routes crisply on the regular, he was also able to run a wide assortment of routes in Arizona State’s offense, unlike the first two wide receivers I evaluated this spring, A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf, both out of Ole Miss. That makes it much more likely that transitioning to running routes in the NFL won’t be much of a problem at all for Harry.

Although Harry is of a similar stature to Metcalf at 6’2 3/8 and 228 pounds*, Harry’s routes were a helluva lot sharper than Metcalf’s were in the games that I watched for both guys. He may not be as fast as Metcalf (Harry’s 4.53 40 time compared to Metcalf’s crazy fast 4.33), but his superior route running is probably going to give Harry an edge at least early on in their careers when it comes to production on the short and intermediate routes in the NFL.

*I have to say, it was really weird looking up Harry’s measurements after having already watched his film and seeing that he they had him at a little over 6’2 at the combine. During the games the announcers kept saying he was 6’4, and that is evidently what he was listed as at Arizona State. I will never understand why teams inflate guy’s height like that because the truth will always come out in the end. I don’t think it will hurt him at all, though, because he still played like a big wide receiver.

Pretty much the only quibble I have with Harry’s route running is the fact that at times his releases off the line of scrimmage took way too long. Chopping your feet for five seconds is cute in 7-on-7 when there is no pass rush, but in a real game the ball needs to come out faster than that. That means receivers need to get their butts up the field and into their route faster than that, too.

Don’t get me wrong, I did see that exaggerated stutter step work for Harry from time to time. He scored a nice red zone touchdown on a slant with that release.

However, there were other times when he simply took too long to get up the field.

I will say that I also saw him with better, quicker releases, so this is more about Harry just getting a little more consistent with getting up the field in a hurry. There is a time and a place for those exaggerated releases, but not very often in most games.

Harry has no problem getting open any way he can.

Back to his positives, however, because they far outweighed any negatives. Another attractive feature of Harry’s game is that Arizona State allowed him to line up both out wide as well as in the slot quite a bit. In the four games I watched, he showed he could thrive at either spot in the league.

I guess maybe this is the year of big slot receivers. Brown, who isn’t far off from Metcalf and Harry in terms of his size, lined up a lot there in college, and now Harry did the same. You know, I think Brown is a fantastic prospect, but the truth is Harry looked to be a better route runner than Brown did.

And while I raved about Brown’s run-after-the-catch ability, Harry might have him beat in that department, too.

One specific thing I liked about Harry’s route running is how at times he shifted gears to help create separation. He was especially good at that on his double-move routes.

He’d just be chilling, seemingly coasting on an out route from the slot, and he’d even follow through on the deception by appearing to look back for the ball. Then, in a flash, he would stick his foot in the ground and turn upfield with a burst that instantly opened up the divide between him and whoever was covering him.

On the other hand, I also like that Harry knew how to get physical to get separation, too, when need be.

Another thing Metcalf and Harry have in common is both of them were able to bench press 225 pounds 27 times at the combine, which is not something you see every day from a wideout. Harry definitely knew how to use that strength to maximize his advantage against defensive backs. What separates him is he was also crafty enough to to be subtle about it so he wouldn’t get caught.

He was never real blatant with it, but he would push off just enough to get open. Everybody is fast in the NFL, so receivers need to have some tricks up their sleeves when they can’t just run by the corner. Harry appears well equipped to get open however he needs to once he gets to the league.

The team that drafts him would be smart to throw him alllll the back-shoulder fades.

Oh, geez, I got so excited writing about how good Harry looks on short and intermediate routes that I almost forgot to talk about his ability to go up and over defenders to make a catch. Remember the other half of those eight catches of over 20 or more yards that Harry made in the four games that I watched?

Those were mostly deep balls.

Yeah, buddy, Harry can flip the field for you on a jump ball, no problem. His 38.5-inch vertical did not quite match Metcalf’s 40.5, but it will still git ‘er done on those plays.

To be honest, I was actually shocked that Arizona State didn’t throw him more of those back-shoulder fades. When the quarterback gave him a legit chance, all the defensive back could do was pray.

I can just about guarantee you that whichever team selects him will be throwing a lot more of those back-shoulder fades to Harry in the NFL. He, and they, are going to be much better off for it.

His drops shouldn’t be much of a concern.

I also thought Harry did a nice job on snagging contested short passes for the most part. He was able to make several catches while almost simultaneously absorbing a blow from a defender.

That is of course something he is needs to be able to do well if a team is going to line him up in the slot a lot, especially. He always looked relaxed and natural catching the football, even most of the time when someone was draped all over him with the ball in the air.

I did, however, count three drops in four games for Harry. But I still see him as having really good hands.

For one, he routinely catches the football the “right” way with his thumbs together, and that gives him a great opportunity to make every catch.

Even two of the three drops were with his hands in the correct position, Harry just tried to run with the ball before he caught it in both of those instances. I will take those kinds of concentration drops from a guy whose hands are usually in the right position to make the catch.

For two, like I said there were plenty other examples in those four games that Harry can catch the ball just fine. As long as he learns to stop looking for someone to juke before he secures the football, he should be good to go.

The only concerns I might have about Harry’s ability to catch would be on balls that are low to the ground. He did seem to have some issues hanging on to a couple of low passes like that when they were contested.

That may just be a “tall receiver” thing, because sometimes it’s harder for those guys to get down for those balls. I don’t really see it as a big deal, though.

Harry’s blocking is just another reason to love his overall game.

I feel like I’m getting long-winded at this point talking up Harry’s overall game, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Harry is also a damn good blocker.

This guy could actually be a difference-maker with his blocking. He was out there giving DBs the blues on the regular.

Harry wasn’t quite the blocker that former Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell was coming out, but it definitely wasn’t from lack of trying. He was chasing defensive backs all over the field trying to hem them up.

You just don’t see many receivers getting after DBs like that, and I can promise you the expletives were flying when I watched, and rewatched, those plays. That is the kind of effort and attitude I want from my No. 1 receiver even, and maybe especially, when the ball isn’t coming to him.

I’m telling you, I could watch this kid play all day long! He isn’t just excellent at football, he runs around on the field like he truly loves playing the game, man. You can win with guys like him.

I’d draft Harry before any other receiver this year.

I know everybody has their own preferences when it comes to different players, but Harry is my favorite of the three receivers I’ve broken down so far.

He checks every box for a big-time NFL receiver for me, and the only even faintly negative thing I could say about him is he needs to work on having a quicker release at times.

In just about every other way he is an elite wide receiver prospect, and his releases are an easy fix.

While he isn’t the burner that Metcalf is, I have no doubt Harry is more than fast enough to thrive in the NFL. He has the potential to be one of those guys who catches 100+ balls a year with his skillset, but he should also be a huge deep ball and red zone threat, as well.

I hope he is drafted by a team that has a good quarterback because I think Harry can be a problem in the league from day one. Whether it’s a short route or a long one, he can make something happen, and he is one of the best all-around receivers that I have broken down since I started doing these evaluations. He would be worthy of at least a middle of the first-round pick for me, and possibly even higher. I just don’t think you can miss with this kid.

But we shall see.

For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched former Arizona State wide receiver N’Keal Harry play against UTSA, Utah, Oregon, and Arizona. Those represented the first, ninth, 11th, and 12th games on Arizona State’s schedule last season, respectively.