N’Keal Harry’s trade demand of the New England Patriots at the start of the week was probably met with plenty of eyebrow raises.
The 23-year-old former first-round draft selection has been a major bust over his first two seasons in the NFL. Drafted with the intention of developing into the Patriots’ franchise wide receiver over the next decade, the former No. 32 overall selection has instead floundered.
Over his first two seasons, Harry has had the luxury of playing with the top franchise in football over the past two decades — but he’s failed to make any sort of impact. Harry’s statistical totals over his first two seasons look like this: 45 receptions, 414 yards and four touchdowns.
His statistical output compared to the fellow receivers from his draft class doesn’t exactly give credence to his trade demand.
Harry played with Tom Brady during his rookie season and a former MVP in Cam Newton last season. While we can pinpoint flaws in both quarterbacks’ games at this stage of their careers, the problem hasn’t been the quarterback — it’s been Harry himself.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound receiver just can’t create separation. Which is rather troubling considering he’s a former first-round draft selection in the beginning stages of his career.
As mentioned by Evan Lazar of CLNS Media, Harry ranked dead last in the league (143 out of 143 qualified receivers) in average separation on all of his pass routes (2.21 yards) in the last four games of the 2019 regular season, per Next Gen Stats.
He also only caught 45.2 percent of his targets, averaging 4.92 yards per intended play, ranking 194th out of 210 qualified pass catchers over that span.
And with the opportunity to shine as the Patriots’ franchise player with Brady and Edelman out of the equation for 2020, Harry fizzled as he posted just 33 receptions for 309 yards and two touchdowns — in other words, much worse numbers than leading receivers Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd, two former undrafted free agents.
Harry’s lack of ability to create separation has led to a new selling trait for the young receiver— he’s now a “contested catch” guy.
In other words, Harry’s size is now the selling point in possible trade interest around the NFL — because there’s been nothing else to sell from the early stages of his NFL career.
According to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, Harry’s trade value is that of a sixth-round draft selection.
Other than the fact Harry has shown very little through the first two seasons of his career, this much is obvious — he’s not a good fit in New England.
The Patriots’ offense is predicated upon precision and rhythm. In fact, New England’s offensive attack is well-known for it’s efficient short-passing game. It’s what made guys like Wes Welker and Julian Edelman into stars.
Harry doesn’t exactly fit that mold. He’s not 5-foot-9 and under 200 pounds. Most importantly, he struggles to create separation off of the snap.
And unlike last season, the Patriots actually have a solid receiving corps featuring newcomers in Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. That’s not even mentioning last season’s holdovers in Meyers and Byrd — or New England’s notable signings at the tight end position in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.
In other words, Harry not only faces an uphill battle in earning playing time — he’s facing an uphill battle in just locking up a roster spot.
“For the past several months, I have been working in cooperation with the Patriots behind the scenes to put a plan in place to allow N’Keal to thrive in New England,” Tooson said in a statement.
“Through two seasons, he has 86 targets, which obviously hasn’t met the expectations the Patriots and N’Keal had when they drafted a dominant downfield threat who was virtually unstoppable at the point of attack in college. Following numerous conversations with the Patriots, I believe it’s time for a fresh start and best for both parties if N’Keal moves on before the start of training camp. That’s why I have informed the Patriots today I am formally requesting a trade on behalf of my client.”
In Harry’s defense, it’s true that Belichick doesn’t have the best track record in developing receivers.
With the exception of Edelman and Deion Branch — Branch was drafted in 2002 — Belichick hasn’t drafted many receivers that have developed into even reliable targets for the franchise.
In fact, outside of Edelman and Branch, Belichicks’ most successful wide receiver drafted was Aaron Dobson, the former second-round draft pick.
Dobson produced a total of just 53 receptions for 698 and four touchdowns before he was released after just three seasons with the franchise.
The point is this — Harry and the Patriots are just not a good match.
As low as Harry’s trade value may be at this point, there won’t any shortage of suitors — especially rebuilding teams such as the Philadelphia Eagles, Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans — for the 23-year-old’s services.
Belichick may remain stubborn and rebuke Harry’s trade demand.
Or he may just pull the trigger and trade Harry either for a low draft pick or for a rebuilding project from another team. That would be a low-risk, high-reward move for both sides.
Either way, it’s hard to envision a pretty ending in New England — both sides need a fresh start.
Which means the Patriots actually obliging and giving in to Harry’s trade demands is the best possible solution for both the franchise and the player.