By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Can you believe it? Can you believe they actually did it? Can you believe Bill Belichick did it?
He made a draft pick that might be … fuh-fuh-fuh … FUN?!
That’s a statement that’s made in jest, but only partially so. We all understand that the biggest reason for the Patriots’ unprecedented sustained success over the past 20 years is the team’s unwavering commitment to its roster-building philosophies. If there is a smart decision to make, the team will make it. If there is a reliable guard to draft, a reliable guard will be drafted. If there is value to be found in a draft-day trade, then by golly, the Patriots are going to find that value.
And if every fan and analyst can see a glaring need on the roster, you can bet the Patriots are going to do address a completely different area. That’s just how it’s gone for the better part of 20 years.
But not this year, not in 2019, where the Patriots surprised a lot of people simply by making a pick, and then compounded that surprise by … choosing a wide receiver. N’Keal Harry out of Arizona State.
Even those who might have seen this coming couldn’t have actually seen it coming.
It is, as you know, the first time Belichick has ever used a first-round pick on a receiver. Previously, his only receiver picks in the top 60 were Chad Jackson (36th), Bethel Johnson (45th) and Aaron Dobson (59th). Perhaps it’s easy to understand why he’s been gun-shy about pulling the trigger early on selecting a receiver. (And, looking at that list, maybe this year’s pick is less exciting than initially believed. Hmm. Let’s ignore that for now.)
But, in catching up on film from Harry’s collegiate career (moment of frankness: not many people in Massachusetts tune in to Arizona State games), it’s equally easy to see why this particular player was deemed worthy of shattering protocol.
He was listed in college at 6-foot-4, though he measured in at 6-foot-2 and 3/8 at the combine. He was also tied with the much-ballyhooed D.K. Metcalf as the heaviest receiver at the combine. And watching Harry work at his pro day, it’s easy to see why:
That’s a player who has the size and strength to immediately play at the NFL level. That is a a player who is very easy to find credible when he says he’s willing to fight for every ball, whether he’s up the sidelines or over the middle.
Watch one of these plays …
… or this busted play …
… and you’ll see a player who looks more than capable of making something positive happen when the football finds its way into his hands.
Bottom line: Any which way you decide to look at Harry, you’re going to find an exciting player who looks capable of stepping in and contributing to the Patriots’ offense immediately. That’s proven to be challenging for rookie receivers in the past, but Harry at the very least is matching his physical abilities with the proper approach off the field.
“I would describe my game as very passionate. I play with a lot of passion. Whenever that ball is in the air, I’ll sacrifice anything to go get it and I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win. Anything Coach wants me to do, whether it’s on special teams, offense, anything, I’ll do it just to do my part and to be one piece of the puzzle in helping us win,” Harry said early Friday morning in a conference call with New England reporters. “It’s all on what the coaches want from me. I’m going to come in with the mind-set of being very coachable. I’ve always been a very coachable player, just picking up on things very quickly. Whatever they need me to do or want me to do, I’ll get on it right away.”
Capable of lining up both on the outside and in the slot, Harry was asked if he has a preference.
“No, no preference,” he said. “I just want to do my part to help win, whatever that is, whatever that looks like. I just want to come in and be one of those players that Coach can rely on no matter what he tells me. That’s what I know is expected of me, and that’s what I’m ready for. … So, whatever Coach wants me to do — if he wants me to do one or the other or both — I wouldn’t hesitate to jump at it.”
Now, of course — of course! — Harry is still just a draft pick. And a draft pick brings with him zero guarantees for future success. Every single first-round draft pick in NFL history has been chosen because a team was in love with him and was certain that it had found the perfect player to help their franchise. Those teams have been wrong more often than they’ve been right. And Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio seemed intent on limiting hype and expectations when talking about Harry to the New England media early Friday morning.
Still, folks in New England aren’t accustomed to this. Most of them were expecting to see Belichick trade No. 32 around midnight in order to slide back a few spots and pick up an extra pick in the later rounds, or next year … or in 2037.
So they were all likely very pleasantly surprised to see the team not only make a selection but choose a player who plays a position that can actually make an electric impact on games from a week-to-week, series-to-series, and snap-to-snap basis.
Last year, Belichick bucked a trend by taking a running back — Sony Michel — in the first round for only the second time in his tenure. This year, he broke new ground by taking a receiver higher than he ever has before. For the franchise, it’s the highest pick on a receiver since Terry Glenn way back in 1996.
That pick, when it was made, symbolized a rift between the head coach and the owner/personnel director. This time, though, it looks as though Belichick’s thought process was actually in line with most people’s thinking. And this pick has a lot of people excited … including the 41-year-old QB who’s coming off his record sixth Super Bowl.