N’Keal Harry, WR, ASU
40: 4.53 (adjusted for timing error using video data from the combine, 4.56)
Bench Press: 27
N’Keal Harry has gotten a lot of excitement in the dynasty community and even more so since the NFL Draft when he landed on a good offense as one of only two WRs with first-round draft capital. Despite college production, testing metrics, and now the Draft working in his favor, I’m here to tell you that Harry isn’t a top 10 dynasty talent at WR and shouldn’t be considered for the top pick in rookie drafts. With draft capital and landing spot, Harry is now worth a first-round pick but there are far better, safer picks that are more likely to produce immediately.
Although Harry has some tantalizing traits that make him an appealing player in both the NFL and dynasty, he has some of the largest weaknesses of any WR in this class. These weaknesses can be corrected over time through coaching (they aren’t weaknesses in ability but rather in skill) but they will severely limit him until they are fixed. Drafting Harry isn’t drafting a sure-fire bust-proof prospect and the “next Dez Bryant” but rather drafting a developmental player (Parris Campbell with a larger frame). If Harry sees success, he has the potential to be wildly successful, but even becoming a productive NFL WR will be difficult for him within the next 2-3 years.
Harry’s two biggest problems are that he struggles with physicality in coverage (particularly in his releases against press coverage) and that his routes are usually neither crisp nor deceptive. Because of these weaknesses, Harry was only able to win in two ways in college. Most of his production resulted from either bubble screens with solid RAC (run after catch) or jump balls downfield where Harry simply out-athleted defenders. These plays highlight Harry’s strengths and minimize his weaknesses but their effectiveness and appeal to playcallers at the next level (where defenders are more athletic and will be able to sit on these plays) is questionable.
The main reason why I have chosen Harry for this first article is because of the vast value discrepancy I see between his dynasty ADP and his talent. This gap is due in large part to production analysis who see his early breakout age (18.7, 95th percentile) and college dominator (43.9%, 88th percentile) and begin to militate for Harry as the top player in the class. As discussed in a future article, production isn’t a perfect gauge of talent and ability and in Harry’s case, the talent and ability are an almost entirely separate discussion from the talent. This is because Harry’s production is in large part due to ASU’s offense rather than his football ability.
As discussed above, Harry’s production comes almost entirely on a small set of plays, often ones where he has been schemed touches by the ASU playcaller. In the 2018 Oregon game for instance, Harry posted a solid 7/105/0 line. Of those seven catches, however, five for 43 yards were on bubble screens. One more bubble screen was called back for illegal motion and Harry was targeted on a rub route (a similar schemed open play) only to have the ball batted down. When he isn’t schemed touches in the open field and is forced to use his talents to create for himself, the results are mixed, and the production outcomes are boom or bust.
Interestingly, the ASU sports website lists “Utilizes his hands well, which allows him to beat press coverage and has a quick step off the ball and improved route running allows him to get open frequently” as part of its overview on N’Keal Harry. If this PR blurb were true, my most serious concerns about Harry’s game would dissolve away. Sadly for his fantasy prospects, this line is a work of fiction.
Harry’s inability to defeat press is one of the primary reason why many analysts view him as a likely big slot receiver in the NFL, at least to start. However, Harry might not be able to take on this role on his new team. The Patriots are well known (to the point of it being a cliché) for their slot receivers. Julian Edelman spent more than half his snaps in the slot in 2018 and is one of the best in the league at the position. Unless Harry overtakes Edelman, he’ll have to spend most of his time on the outside where he is more likely to face press coverage. Rather than hiding a weakness of Harry’s game (as Arizona State routinely did by lining him up in the slot), New England’s roster seems likely to exacerbate it (though NE better than any team works to maximize its players’ skillsets).
Having to play on the outside is a major problem for Harry. His release against press coverage (and performance against physical coverage in general) is probably the worst I’ve seen in this class among the top 20 WRs. He is slow and unexplosive off the line and doesn’t have the technique to compensate for it (DaMarkus Lodge is an excellent counter example of a guy who routinely beats press despite a much more limited athletic profile). Even when he is able to get off the line, he almost never does so cleanly which often allows defenders to ride him to the sideline on outside releases. From an athletic perspective this makes no sense as Harry tied DK Metcalf for the most bench press reps with 27 and tested well in other metrics across the board. His technical ability, strength in these situations on the field, and burst off the line are all major weaknesses that hurt this phase of his game.
Harry’s route running is another weakness of his game. Similar to his poor releases, his route running fails both due to poor athletic expression and poor technique. There are occasional bright spots in his routes, but these moments are fleeting, and his route successes are often more a result of poor defensive play than his own doing.
On the athleticism side, Harry usually displays poor change of direction (COD) skills (breaks aren’t sharp) and slow play speed. It is unclear whether the slow play speed is more an expression of Harry playing slower than he tested or simply having average 10- and 20-yard splits (Harry’s splits (1.62, 2.67) are comparable to those of Kelvin Harmon (1.62, 2.69) and Riley Ridley (1.57, 2.69)). Though Harry tested well enough that he could potentially correct these concerns in the future, their appearance against Pac-12 DBs does not bode well for his transition to the NFL.
On the technical side, Harry’s route running has two major weaknesses. First, Harry doesn’t attack the defender’s leverage at all, even when it would be easy for him to do so. On this play, watch as Harry runs directly upfield despite the opportunity to bend his route off the line of scrimmage to the outside to move himself into the defender’s blind spot and force the defender to consider flipping his hips. This play from the slot in the same game is another example where just a slight adjustment to Harry’s route would enable him to put the defender off balance (note also the very rounded route). These kinds of bland routes with no technical nuance are common in Harry’s tape.
Second, Harry doesn’t attempt to stack defenders when he does achieve a release. This allows defenders to take advantage of Harry’s poor explosion and speed off the line in order to recover and make a play on the ball. This was most prominent during the 2018 Oregon game (the team that played the most press coverage against him) but also occurred sporadically in other places throughout his film such as this play against UTSA.
Harry’s route running shows occasional glimpses of potential. His best route is a double move out-and-up route, which he uses to score big gains on a few occasions. The success of this route, as with all out-and-ups is that the defender sits on the out route looking for the interception, which is especially appealing due to Harry’s relatively poor out routes in general. This route is appealing from an evaluation point though because Harry explodes out of his second break up the field when running it and runs the first portion of the route consistently with his usual out routes to create the deception. Harry will also sometimes use head fakes to help create separation and put a defender off balance, though instances of this are very rare on film (only used once successfully across several games). In both the case of head fakes and double moves, the rarity of Harry’s use of deception in his routes seems to catch defenders off guard as they are sitting on the same slow, methodical, rounded routes that he usually runs. They do, however, offer a starting point to be able to see what Harry could develop into as a route runner with proper coaching.
The (Kind of) Positives: Tested Athleticism, Hands, and RAC
Harry does have key strengths to his game making him an appealing upside choice in rookie drafts. Though he is unable to unlock these skills in most game situations as discussed above, his tested athleticism, hands, and RAC skills are all positives. Though I have concerns about the ability to translate each of these skills to the field consistently, these concerns are minor points relative to the major route running and performance against physical coverage issues.
Harry’s tested athleticism is excellent. His 27 bench reps show a player with excellent strength for the position, his 4.53 (adjusted to 4.56) 40 time shows a player with adequate long speed, his 38.5” vertical leap suggests a serious catch radius, and his other testing measurements (including from his COD drills at his pro day) were all at least above average. Though Harry measured in at 6023 (rather than the 6’4” he is listed at on ASU’s roster), testing overall went quite well for him.
The problem with Harry is that his testing only occasionally shows up on game day and only in two areas. Harry’s strength appears intermittently across his film and most often when he has the ball in his hands. His vertical ability appears occasionally as well but usually only from a stationary or semi-stationary platform with Harry adjusting to underthrown passes. Harry’s tested speed, admittedly only above average, does not show up on film at all. This may be due to his poor 10-yard split and lack of burst, his inability to beat physical coverage (discussed below), or due to swinging arm movements when running without the ball (though these movements are present in his combine 40). For Harry to reach consistent fantasy WR2 status, he will need to be able to translate more of his athleticism and more consistently at the next level.
Harry’s hands are a strength of his game. Usually he has strong, active hands to collect and control the ball and his adjustments, tracking, and body control all shine at points. His spectacular catch falling backwards against USC is reminiscent of Odell Beckham’s one-handed catch against the Cowboys in 2014 and is one of several instances of spectacular hands on his film.
Like most aspects of his game, however, his hands can be inconsistent at points, offering both high highs and the occasional low lows. Harry experienced a few drops that were the result of either poor route running (placing him in the wrong place to catch the pass) or bad technique. On several plays, Harry would have his hands too wide apart to catch the ball allowing it to come into his body. Though he was able to make the catch in a couple of these instances, this is a minor concern I have for him going forward. Since there was at least one play where this poor technique led to a drop.
Run After Catch
Harry’s RAC ability is his best skill. His contact balance is excellent and once he builds up speed, he can be elusive. Harry also displays more of his tested athleticism with the ball in his hands than in any other facet of his game. The true strength of his RAC ability is his strength and ability to push the pile as Harry rarely eludes tacklers but is also rarely brought down on. When Harry is able to get the ball in space, which ASU routinely did by using him on screens and rub routes, he is almost always able to get positive yardage.
Though Harry exhibits some stellar traits, he does so inconsistently and has serious, potentially fatal weaknesses in his game that will likely limit his role early on and require multiple years to correct (if even possible). His inability to consistently translate his athletic testing to the field, run routes, and get releases against press coverage make his game less than the sum of its parts and will leave him as, at best, an average big slot receiver at the next level without 2-3 years of further development.
Harry only has two to three plays per game that he is good on but he is really, really good on those plays and that blinds people to the weaknesses in his game. Any problems outside his basic range (running after the catch and winning contested catches) he doesn’t really know how to solve. One of the problems that he struggled with most is being a successful outside receiver that has to create his own touches. In order to do that and be more than a big slot, Harry needs to improve his release and route running significantly. In the NFL it may get worse for him rather than better if he can’t address these weaknesses as defenders and coordinators start to key in and play more physical man and press against him, a problem that is exacerbated by New England’s surplus talent at his natural position (slot receiver). Because of these serious holes in his game, Harry’s true talent doesn’t match up with where he is being valued by the dynasty community, and you as the reader and drafter can exploit this discrepancy by not drafting him and selling your early rookie picks to those who want to.
Written by https://reddit.com/user/jadhusker
Bubba’s Post Script
I agree wholeheartedly with the content of this article. Check out N’Keal’s film breakdown on the podcast Wednesday, May 1st at 12pm EST.