The Patriots were hoping N'Keal Harry would blossom into a big-time downfield threat last season. And then injuries came and wrecked shop on those plans.
Entering his sophomore season, the 2019 first-round pick will be expected to do the same for a team that, despite undergoing some big changes this offseason, has its eyes fixed on a twelfth consecutive postseason berth. As a young receiver with the potential to be a major difference-maker, Harry isn't allowing the weight of expectation to get to him heading into Year 2.
"I would use excitement more than pressure," Harry said Friday, via Mass Live. "I'm really looking forward to getting out there and doing my part to help the team. I just want to do everything I can and I want to play to the standards I know I can play at. To me, it's more excitement than anything."
An ankle injury in last year's training camp hampered Harry out of the gate and limited him to seven games in 2019. The 6-foot-4 wideout flashed glimpses of his top-notch talent in those contests but didn't have enough time to settle into the offense and find his rhythm. He tallied 12 receptions for 105 receiving yards and two touchdowns to go with five carries for 49 rushing yards.
Fast forward to this year's training camp and Harry is still working to establish consistency. NFL Network's Mike Giardi reported Friday that, while the Patriots' offense has had an up-and-down camp, Harry has had success over the past couple of days when playing more physical and using his frame to "exert his will" on some of the defensive backs. Giardi did add, however, that Harry struggled to create separation, much like he did at times during his rookie campaign.
The vigors of youth are fortunately still on the 22-year-old's side and, as long as he continues to hone his skills and demonstrate an ability to be a go-to target for Cam Newton, coach Bill Belichick's belief in Harry's long-term upside bodes well for the receiver's NFL future.
"He's much more comfortable, has a much better understanding this year than what he did last year," Belichick told reporters. "He's been productive for us on the field. He still has a lot of football in front of him and a lot of growth and he works hard every day.
"He's a physical, tough kid that likes to compete. You can see his competitiveness out there on the field and that allows him to get better. And with his work ethic and toughness and competitiveness, I think those are all good qualities for players to improve and that's really where all players are in their second year. They're not where they're going to be, they're on the way up, and if they work hard and continue to work on the skills and techniques of their craft, they'll be able to get closer to achieve their potential."