Healthy scratch N’Keal Harry’s ineffectiveness is magnified in his absence

What does Kristian Wilkerson's emergence mean for the former first-round pick?

N'Keal Harry trade
N'Keal Harry after the Patriots' win over the Texans on Oct. 10. AP Photo/Matt Patterson


It was during one of the only stretches Sunday when Trevor Lawrence wasn’t throwing interceptions that Andrew Catalon helped to make a bad day even worse for N’Keal Harry.

After Jakobi Meyers made one of his eight catches during New England’s 50-10 demolition of the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars, CBS announcer Catalon mentioned the wide receiver’s recent appearance on teammate Kyle Van Noy’s otherwise-forgettable podcast. On this past week’s episode, Meyers revealed why he decided to sign with New England as an undrafted free agent in 2019. It was after taking stock of the teams offering him deals that he decided to accept the one with the franchise that drafted a wide receiver highest in that year’s draft. Meyers figured he’d be able to prove he could do the job just as well.


In other words, after seeing the Patriots draft N’Keal Harry, Meyers rightly assumed the window for playing time was wide open in New England.

One hundred fifty-six catches later, Meyers has become an integral part of the playoff-bound Patriots’ offense. Harry, the 32nd pick three years ago, has but 12 catches this season, including none on Sunday, when he was a healthy scratch so that someone named Kristian Wilkerson could get his first NFL start.

Wilkerson had four catches and two touchdowns against the Jaguars. That’s half as many scores as Harry has managed with the Patriots over the 32 games he’s played with them the past three seasons.

There’s always been an apologetic bone in this space for Harry, reasoning that maybe the receiver’s first-round talent would finally be on display with Mac Jones. Tom Brady was disinterested in throwing the rookie’s way while noodle-arm Cam Newton couldn’t last season. The rookie Jones had some training camp synergy with Harry, which was encouraging, until the Arizona State product started the season on injured reserve. Since then….well, he had that one catch in Indianapolis that was sorta cool?


One week after being on the field for a remarkable 61 (of 64) snaps during last weekend’s loss to the Buffalo Bills, Harry’s usefulness for the Patriots has unofficially come to a quiet end. Even Bill Belichick has to see the writing now, especially after giving Wilkerson his shot.

“Wilk is a hardworking kid,” the Patriots head coach said after the 10-6 Patriots officially clinched a playoff spot. “He normally plays the top or one of the top receivers of our opponents for our defense, so he gets targeted a lot in practice. But he’s always ready to go when we’ve had injuries or guys that needed to step in, didn’t practice, or that type of thing. He’s stepped in and is always well prepared, knew what to do, and has been productive in practice. It was nice to see him get the opportunity today and take advantage of it, cash in, and play well.”

Wilkerson, who signed with the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent in 2020, caught on with the Patriots practice squad earlier this year before being elevated to the active roster in November. After catching the first two touchdowns of his career on Sunday, he told reporters that he only found out on Saturday that he’d be getting the start against the Jaguars. His success in his team’s final regular season game at Gillette Stadium game could hint toward Jones discovering another useful weapon as he looks to become the first rookie quarterback to lead his team to a Super Bowl.


Either that or Wilkerson could one day be mentioned in a similar breath as Jonas Gray.

“It was amazing honestly,” Meyers said. “Just understanding where he came from, undrafted, guys probably doubting you, you’re just waiting on your moment, working hard every day. He’s in here at six every morning. Seeing him go out there and make plays that we all knew he could make – now everybody gets to see it.”

Everybody got to see it all right. And now it has everybody wondering what time the underachieving Harry manages to get to his Foxborough office every morning.

Or, make that manage-d.

Almost six months after asking the Patriots to trade him, any semblance of Harry’s usefulness in New England has come to an end. Even with the Patriots short Nelson Agholor, ruled out following a concussion two weeks prior, Harry wasn’t able to find his way into the lineup against one of the worst teams in NFL history. Instead, he watched a guy who went undrafted, just like Meyers, essentially steal his job away.

It isn’t normally like Belichick to sit on roster blunders, even if cutting Harry would be to finally admit defeat in the biggest draft bust of his career. But the situation isn’t getting better for either the coach or receiver. Deebo Samuel, Diontae Johnson, A.J. Brown, and DK Metcalf are just some of the receivers Belichick passed on for N’Keal Harry. If I’m Belichick, Harry is a reminder of those mistakes that no longer want walking the Gillette halls.


“I feel like there’s just a standard here to come in and work hard every day,” Wilkerson said. “Just working hard is the standard here pretty much if you want to make it or play. You’ve got to work hard, be on top of your game and know what you’re doing out there for the coaches.”

Wilkerson has figured out what Harry hasn’t been able to for three seasons. In fact, that’s now two undrafted free agents who have been able to do it better in New England.

From 61 snaps one week to zero the next. This is how it ends for the former first-rounder.

But just think of the next wide receiving career he’ll inspire on his next stop. Everybody wants to prove he’s better than N’Keal Harry because, where’s the downside?


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