Tom Brady may have rejected Bill Belichick’s $10 million gift, but Cam Newton has taken a vastly different approach with N’Keal Harry. Though he has yet to develop into a star for the New England Patriots, the young wideout has shown flashes of potential. However, the 2019 first-round pick committed a costly fumble in the team’s season-opening win over the Miami Dolphins. Still, that did not stop Newton from silencing critics of his unproven young teammate with an uplifting message.
But can Harry develop into the star receiver the Patriots desperately need?
Cam Newton and N’Keal Harry both seek a fresh start
Let’s just say Cam Newton and N’Keal Harry did not live up to expectations in 2019. The former suffered a Lisfranc injury that ended his season after just two games. Newton’s latest injury essentially sealed his fate in Carolina. The 2015 NFL MVP found himself on the free-agent market for months after the Panthers released him in March.
Bill Belichick eventually signed Newton to a one-year, incentive-laden contract. The former No. 1 pick won New England’s starting quarterback job and even got named a team captain. Finally healthy, Newton will set himself up for a massive payday by playing well for the Patriots.
N’Keal Harry already scored a solid payday in the form of his $10 million rookie contract. However, the former Arizona State star has yet to live up to his first-round billing. Injuries kept Harry off the field in his first and only year working with Tom Brady. As a result, he failed to build chemistry with the six-time Super Bowl champion.
Harry recorded just 12 catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns in seven regular-season appearances. In the Patriots’ playoff loss, Harry struggled mightily to the tune of two catches for 21 yards on seven targets.
Over the summer, he and Newton worked out together, which could pay off this season and beyond. Yet, N’Keal Harry’s first game of the 2020 season included a major mistake.
Newton silences critics with uplifting message
In their first game together, Cam Newton and N’Keal Harry showcased their potential. Newton completed 15-of-19 passes for 155 yards. The dual-threat quarterback shined as a runner, totaling 75 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Harry looked far more comfortable than he did as a rookie. The big-bodied wideout caught five of six targets for 39 yards. However, the 23-year-old committed a colossal error in the third quarter by losing a fumble near the goal line. Instead of taking a commanding lead, the Patriots lost possession via a touchback and promptly surrendered an 80-yard touchdown drive.
While New England still emerged with a victory, Harry’s fumble represented another disappointing moment for the young receiver. However, in speaking with reporters, Newton silenced critics of his $10 million teammate with an unplifting message.
“It was just one mistake. Him still being a young player trying to come into his own, things like that will happen,” Newton said. “You just want them to be minimized as much as possible. He’s making leaps and strides as everyone would expect him to be. He’s growing up into his best self, and for him, after chatting with him, he knows he has to bring or make practice game-like.”
New England desperately needs Harry to develop into a star
Ultimately, if the Patriots plan on making another Super Bowl run, they need N’Keal Harry to grow up quickly. After all, New England features little in the form of proven playmakers for Cam Newton.
Julian Edelman can still get open against top defensive backs. However, at 34 years old, his best days are behind him. That only increases Harry’s importance to the team in both the short and long term.
The second-year wideout brings excellent size, physicality, and high-pointing ability. That represents a radical difference from Edelman, who succeeds with precise route-running and elite quickness.
Harry needs to become a factor down the field and in the red zone. At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds with 4.53 speed, he has the physical tools to become a star. But that will only happen if he can create consistent separation, which he struggled to do in college and as a rookie.
If Harry fails to take a step forward this season, the Patriots will struggle to move the ball and put points on the scoreboard. However, if he and Newton can build chemistry as the season progresses, New England could feature a dangerous offense by the time the postseason rolls around.
Let’s see if the two playmakers can make magic together and put their disappointing 2019 seasons behind them. If not, it will be another challenging year for Bill Belichick’s offense.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.