Patriots roster reset: N’Keal Harry needs to catch up

Andy Hart
June 09, 2020 - 2:26 pm
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Over the next few weeks, as we crawl closer to the hopeful opening of Patriots training camp later this summer, WEEI.com will take a position-by-position look at the New England roster following an eventful offseason of comings and goings.

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Wide receiver

Roster: Julian Edelman (12th year), N’Keal Harry (2nd), Mohamed Sanu Sr. (9th), Jakobi Meyers (2nd), Marqise Lee (7th), Damiere Byrd (5th), Gunner Olszewski (2nd), Devin Ross (1st), Quincy Adeboyejo (2nd), Will Hastings (rookie), Sean Riley (rookie), Jeff Thomas (rookie), Isaiah Zuber (rookie), Matthew Slater (13th)

Key Additions: Marqise Lee (FA/Jaguars), Damiere Byrd (FA/Cardinals)

Key Losses: Phillip Dorsett II (FA/Seahawks)

Projected Starters: Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry

Biggest Question: Assuming that Julian Edelman can continue to chug along in the slot, can 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry become a consistent, productive pass-catcher on the outside?

Key Stat: 18 – Yardage wise, the longest of N’Keal Harry’s mere 12 receptions in his rookie season. It was the shortest long-reception of any Patriot to catch multiple passes last season, leading to a dismal 8.8-yard average for the disappointing rookie outside receiver.

Overview: Aside from Edelman’s gutsy, impressive production despite battling injuries most of the season, New England’s wide receiver position was a massive disappointment in 2019. Edelman notched just his second 100-catch season and had a career-best 1,117 yards in his final year working with Tom Brady. Now 34 and dealing with a transition at the quarterback position (likely to unproven young passer Jarrett Stidham), Edelman could face the most difficult, questionable year of his career. According to NFL Network he “already got the red ass” looking to prove doubters wrong. He can’t do it alone. The next best option to inject life into the passing game is the second-year former first-round pick Harry. By all accounts he’s been working hard this offseason, trying to get quicker in his routes. That was an obvious issue from day one of training camp last summer. Missing half the season to IR, Harry had just 12 catches for 105 yards and two scores, playing 19 percent of the Patriots offensive snaps in seven games played with five starts. It was tough year for the second receiver taken in last year’s impressive draft class, the first ever taken in the first round by Bill Belichick in New England. The potential and expectations for Harry are high, now he must prove himself worthy. Fellow sophomore Meyers, an undrafted rookie last year, will look to build off a relatively productive rookie season (26 catches for 359 yards). He may benefit most from the change at quarterback, free from the perfectionist pressure of Brady to rekindle the impressive rapport he built with Stidham last preseason. Arriving from Atlanta in exchange for a second-round pick prior to the trade deadline, Sanu was also a major disappointment, at least in part due to injury. After catching 10 passes in his second game in New England, Sanu battled an ankle issue the rest of the way and never had more than three catches in a contest over the final six games of the year, including postseason action. If he can get healthy after offseason surgery and back to the complementary production that’s been the foundation of his NFL career it would give the offense a veteran boost. Of course, with a $6 million salary, it wouldn’t be stunning if Sanu were a “surprise” cut along the way if he doesn’t find a productive home in the new-look New England offense that is undergoing a youth movement. In terms of newcomers, Byrd is a speedy, undersized option coming off a breakout 32-catch season for the Cardinals. He’s reportedly been active in unofficial offseason workouts with his teammates and could be an intriguing option to keep an eye on come training camp. The same could said for Lee, the former Jacksonville second-round pick with two 50-catch seasons on his resume before knee and shoulder injuries derailed his Jags career. If healthy he has the ability and experience to be a complementary option. He’s the kind of previously-injured veteran offseason addition a team brings to camp with an upside of top-4 receiver and downside of a mid-camp cut. Beyond Slater as a roster lock at receiver in name only, given that the Pro Bowl special teams ace hasn’t caught an NFL pass since 2011, the rest of the training camp battles include practice squanders and undrafted rookies. Olszewski barely made the team a year ago as a punt returner and caught just two passes at receiver before landing on IR. If another player steps up on returns, he could face an even tougher battle for a roster spot in year two. Hastings may be an intriguing slot option given his Auburn history with Stidham. All-told, the Patriots have one of the most questionable wide receiver depth charts in the NFL. While there is reason for hope if Edelman, Harry and Sanu all live up to their potential, there is also the chance that the spot is even less productive in 2020, which is a scary thought.

Power Rating (1-5): **

Edelman isn’t getting any younger and it’s actually unfair and unrealistic to expect him to continue to be 100-catch option in the slot. The rest of the depth chart is made up of nothing but question marks.

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