N’Keal Harry is still a young wide receiver for the Bears
N’Keal Harry has been put in the category of “bust“. The former New England Patriots first-round draft pick didn’t have impressive numbers or many memorable moments in his first three seasons. The Chicago Bears received Harry in a trade this week. The Bears only had to give up a seventh-round pick, which is not bad considering the level of wide receiver typically seen at that level.
Harry is only 24 years old as he joins the Bears roster before training camp. That’s one year shy of Bears rookie wide receiver Velus Jones Jr., who didn’t peak in college until around the age of 24. Harry’s receiving totals aren’t much to speak of, he has only 598 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns.
In the next few paragraphs, we’ll learn three things about the Bears’ new wide receiver. I’ll break down in more detail why Harry was considered a bust, what he can improve on, and what his strengths are for the Bears offense.
1. Why N’Keal Harry is considered a bust
N’Keal Harry didn’t have the production a wide receiver needs to have to justify a first-round selection. For brevity’s sake, I’m going to compare Harry to four peers from the 2019 NFL Draft. Marquise Brown, who was taken in the first round, and the next two wide receivers taken after Harry, Deebo Samuel, and A.J. Brown, the latter two were taken in the second round.
Marquise Brown, Samuel, and A.J. Brown all have nearly quadruple the receiving yards Harry does. They also have each found the endzone twice as many, if not more (A.J. has six times more) than Harry. Coming out of college Harry was supposed to be the guy that could help offenses put more points on the scoreboard. He scored 25 total touchdowns on offense (receiving and rushing) during his three years at Arizona State.
His Player Predicated Points Added or (PPA/EPA) on passing in 2018, ranked second (behind Marquise .999), of the quad, according to College Football Data. Harry had a .737 score, Samuel a .583 score, and A.J. a .699 score.
This all changed when they got to the NFL. Last season, Harry’s EPA/play per game average on pass targets was .567, which I got by adding his total EPA/play on rbsdm.com and dividing by the 12 games he played in. .567 isn’t terrible, but his sample size with passing targets is sort of a skewed metric for players like Harry who weren’t utilized as much as the other three players.
Harry’s cumulative EPA in 2021 was only 14.4, according to the database on playerprofiler.com. He ranked 91st in that metric for wide receivers. A.J. ranked 24th, Marquise ranked 55th, and Samuel ranked 6th. These stats indicate Harry didn’t affect the Patriots’ outcome on offense enough in a positive enough way to be a first-round draft pick.
2. What N’Keal Harry needs to improve on this year with the Bears
One metric N’Keal Harry struggled with as a member of the Patriots was getting separation. According to Player Profiler, Harry’s target separation was just 1.23 yards from his assigned defender (A.J.’s was 1.48, Samuel was 1.64, Marquise was 1.75). The good news for the Bears is that might have more to do with Josh Mcdaniels’ offense than with Harry individually as most Patriots wide receivers struggled with that.
3. Good things N’Keal Harry brings to the Bears
N’Keal Harry will bring an “x” receivers frame to the Bears. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound wide receiver was known for using his body to snag balls at Arizona State. While he might never be the dominant number 1 wide receiver most scouts thought he’d be in 2019, he has more upside to the Bears than their former option Equanimeous St. Brown.
One thing Harry has improved upon in his three seasons is his average depth of target. His aDOT was 14.9 last season. (Keep in mind, that this was a small sample size as Harry wasn’t targeted much in 2021.) That’s a sizable aDOT Bears fans should want, as Fields has the arm to get the ball down the field.
The second advantage Harry will bring to the Bears is his run-blocking abilities. PFF ranked Harry 3rd as a wide receiver with 84.8 run-blocking grade. Wide receivers that can flip pancakes are cool. Here’s a highlight of Harry taking on Miles Garrett.
The Bears made a great trade by bringing this physical wide receiver into their wide receivers room. The Bears don’t have a lot to lose by giving up a seventh-round pick. N’Keal Harry still has a lot he needs to work on, especially when it comes to getting open in the passing game.
While the benefit of hindsight shows us Harry shouldn’t be valued as a first-round player, there’s no reason why he can’t be a solid contributor for the Bears as a starter.
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