By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — When the Patriots drafted N’Keal Harry in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, they no doubt expected a bit more production than they have gotten thus far.
Harry has just 29 receptions for 277 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games this season, after making 12 catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie. Considering the production from some of the receivers who were drafted after him — D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, Deebo Samuel, and Mecole Hardman, to name some — the lack of impact Harry has made tends to draw quite a bit of scrutiny.
But Harry’s trainer, Rischad Whitfield, thinks it’s unfair for Harry to shoulder all the blame for the low numbers this year. Whitfield told Patriots Wire’s Henry McKenna that quarterback Cam Newton bears a lot of the responsibility too.
“We’ve got a new quarterback. We’ve got to put some of that [expletive] on Cam,” Whitfield told McKenna. “Cam hasn’t been the most accurate this year. Like if [Harry] had Tom Brady, Tom Brady would’ve fed him. But we’re back there with Cam, and Cam’s getting acclimated to the offense, too.”
Despite the fact that Harry averaged just 15 receiving yards and fewer than two receptions during his year with Brady compared to 25.2 yards and 2.6 receptions per game this season, Whitfield blamed the quarterback change for Harry’s lack of production. (One of Harry’s’ two touchdowns this season was thrown by Jarrett Stidham.)
“It’s a big deal coming from Tom Brady to Cam Newton,” Whitfield told McKenna. “That’s one of Cam Newton’s biggest issues is mechanics.”
Whitfield, though, took issue with that story, claiming on Twitter that he was “misquoted.”
“WTF! Hell f’n naw!!” Whitfield tweeted to McKenna. “How TF are you going to mis-quote like this?! Naw. See that many why I don’t be talking to y’all reporters. Y’all twist [things] up. I’ll never blame another man for someone’s lack of production . GTFOH with that entire article.”
Whitfield obviously took issue with the tone of the story, but the headline of “N’Keal Harry’s trainer says Cam Newton is partly to blame for the WR’s lack of production” seems to be quite fair when discussing a direct quote that said, “We’ve got to put some of that [expletive] on Cam.”
Whitfield may not like a big story being made out of his comments, but the quotes are the quotes.
Now I got to get on the phone with Cam and clear all this s*** up. https://t.co/sM9oEXStI1
— Footwork_King 🤴🏾 (@footwork_king1) December 16, 2020
After the blowback, McKenna said that he accurately quoted Whitfield.
I stand by my reporting in this story. Those quotes were accurate and given on the record. https://t.co/eqli1NJILP
— Henry McKenna (@McKennAnalysis) December 16, 2020
Throughout the year, Newton has been a major backer of Harry. The two worked together for Harry to turn in the best game of his career in Week 2 vs. Seattle, when he caught eight balls for 72 yards. That came one week after Harry committed a costly fumble, losing possession at the goal line and essentially costing the Patriots a touchdown in their Week 1 win over Miami. Newton went to bat to defend the second-year receiver after that gaffe.
“I spoke with N’Keal and let’s just put a lot of things into perspective here. All right — did he have a good game? Yes he did. I think that one play overshadowed the production that he did have. He bailed me out on a play, on a kind of inaccurate pass that he came down with and got the first down. He did pretty good in the run game. He had a couple of contested catches, and all of that was kind of for naught because a lot of people just focused on the fumble,” Newton said in September. “Obviously when you put things into perspective and call an apple an apple and a spade a spade, it was just one mistake.”
Head coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday that Harry has “started to come on here in the last few weeks” but noted that overall, the passing game is not functioning at an acceptable level.
“Our passing game still is not as efficient as we need it to be,” Belichick said. “Really everything that’s involved: the protection, route distribution, which involves everybody — tight ends, backs, and receivers, timing, and the ability to execute and create separation in man-to-man coverage. So, we continue to work on all those things.”
Since that breakout game vs. Seattle, Harry’s averaged just 1.8 receptions and 18.4 receiving yards per game.
Harry deserves most of the scrutiny and judgment for his own lack of production. Newton does deserve some blame, as his 66.1 percent completion rate doesn’t fully tell the tale of his accuracy delivering passes this season. Yet it’s probably not the place for the receiver’s trainer to heap most of the blame on Newton, especially when Cam has made it a point to not point any fingers this season (despite having plenty of reason to do so). Whitfield may disagree with a story being made of his comments, but he nevertheless said what he said. And it likely might not benefit his client’s professional and personal relationship with the quarterback.