Deebo Samuel. A.J. Brown. Mecole Hardman. D.K. Metcalf. Diontae Johnson. Terry McLaurin. Hunter Renfrow. Darius Slayton.
What do all these guys have in common?
Well, besides being among the better, and in some cases best wide receivers in the NFL right now, they were also all on the board when the New England Patriots decided to draft N’Keal Harry with the 32nd overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
This pick has gotten its fair share of criticism over the past year and a half. But in my opinion, it deserves way more, especially as players like Metcalf, Brown and McLaurin show out every single week while Harry is essentially out there doing cardio, running back and forth but never really accomplishing anything.
Take this week for example. In the Patriots’ ugly 20-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals, Harry was targeted three times and made no catches. His only appearance on the stat sheet was a rushing attempt for -2 yards. The worst part is this has become the norm for him. In the nine games he has been active this season, Harry made three or fewer catches in six of them, including three games with zero receptions.
That’s unacceptable for any first-round pick in any draft. But when you take into account the talented receivers that were drafted afterward, it stings a little more. It’s not quite the Chicago Bears drafting Mitch Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson level bad, but it’s close.
Metcalf, Brown and McLaurin are the biggest prizes New England missed out on, because all three are Pro Bowl-level wide receivers who will be among the best of this era. But every single one of the guys I mentioned has been a lot more productive than Harry. Samuel has missed time with an injury this year, but when he’s been healthy, he’s been really good. Hardman has become one of Mahomes’ favorite targets on the Super Bowl favorite Kansas City Chiefs. Johnson has been a really solid option alongside Chase Claypool and JuJu Smith-Schuster on the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers.
And then even the later selections like Renfrow and Slayton, who were both taken in the fifth round, have carved out nice roles on their respective teams. Harry hasn’t been able to do that for the Patriots. In fact, an undrafted wide receiver from that same class, Jakobi Meyers, has taken the spot as the top receiver on the team. That has to be humiliating for Harry.
Obviously, scouting and drafting is an inexact science, and hindsight is always 20-20. However, at the time Harry was taken, only one wide receiver was off the board — Marquise Brown was taken by the Baltimore Ravens at No. 25. So the Patriots had their pick of basically any wide receiver in a class that, as we see now, had a plethora of talent. Yet they picked the guy who can’t stay on the field, and when he is on the field, is irrelevant. Whoever was in charge of scouting the wide receivers for that draft should be fired if they aren’t already because that was a really awful pick.
The worst part about the Harry pick in my opinion is that the team doubled down on it by not taking a single wide receiver in the 2020 draft, which was hailed by many as the deepest wide receiver class in recent memory. They didn’t even take a chance on one in the later rounds. No, instead they used a fifth-round pick on a practice squad kicker.
The Patriots saw a class where guys in their reach in earlier rounds included Claypool or Tee Higgins and in later rounds could have been Gabriel Davis or Darnell Mooney, and they said, “Nope. N’Keal Harry is our guy.” Well look at their receiving corps now. Another reinforcement in the chance Harry didn’t pan out might have been good.
The Harry situation has to be one of the biggest draft blunders in Patriots history, especially since many of the mock drafts had them taking Metcalf or Samuel. Harry wasn’t really on anyone’s board as a first rounder, but the Patriots tried to be slick and take an under-the-radar guy.
It’s safe to say it didn’t pan out, and now when Metcalf, Brown and McLaurin have big games (which seems like every week), the Patriots and their fanbase have to wonder what might have been.