FOXBOROUGH — Patriots rookie N’Keal Harry comes to New England with lofty expectations.
He’s the first receiver drafted in the first round by Bill Belichick in 20 years with the Patriots. He’s the big, physical receiver on the outside that is going to replace Rob Gronkowski as Tom Brady’s favorite red-zone threat. And his name is a special one for the owner — Robert Kraft’s father and his first grandson are both named Harry Kraft.
“So I know good things are going to come from Harry,” the owner said Thursday at Gillette Stadium during a photo shoot.
Thursday’s media event with Robert and Jonathan Kraft marked the beginning of Harry’s life in Foxborough. And there’s nothing wrong with hyping the first-round pick and giving him a little pomp and circumstance.
But fulfilling the expectations won’t be easy for Harry, who was picked 32nd overall. The Patriots’ history of developing young receivers is not encouraging. Just ask Chad Jackson, or Aaron Dobson, or Taylor Price, or Brandon Tate.
Harry probably won’t get much work in with his quarterback before training camp, either.
Brady sent Harry a tweet of congratulations shortly after Harry was drafted on April 25, but otherwise Brady hasn’t connected with Harry yet. Brady has been working out on his own, both at home in Brookline and on the road in California. The sophomore and junior receivers at UCLA have caught more passes from Brady than Harry has so far.
“I’ve just been waiting until I get up here until I meet him in person,” Harry said.
Harry might only get three days to work with Brady this spring — June 4-6, when the Patriots hold a mandatory minicamp. As of now, it appears Brady won’t show up in Foxborough besides then.
And when Harry eventually does connect with Brady, he knows he’ll be in for some tough coaching. Getting on the same page with Tom Brady is notoriously difficult.
“That’s something I’m looking forward to,” Harry said. “I’m the type of player that wants to get better. I want to get coached hard, so I’m looking forward to that.”
The Patriots’ offense is all about reading defenses, making mid-route adjustments, and thinking the same as Brady, who has been running this offense almost as long as Harry, 21, has been alive.
“These past couple weeks, my biggest things have been making sure I stay in shape, and just making sure I’m studying a lot, watching a lot of film,” Harry said. “I want to be the type of player that comes in and can be accountable from Day One.”
Harry spoke for about 10 minutes on Thursday, and it’s easy to see why the Patriots like him. On the field, he was productive for three years at Arizona State, and at 6 feet 2 inches and 228 pounds is the big, physical receiver the Patriots desire on the outside.
“There’s definitely physicality,” Harry said of his game. “I play extremely hard, and I’m a big receiver.”
And Harry does seem to be a good cultural fit for the Patriots.
I have yet to find a red flag on Harry, or someone who has something negative to say about him.
“We’re so impressed with his background and there are a lot of nice things coming from Arizona State,” Robert Kraft said.
Harry is the first NFL player from the island of St. Vincent, and credits his grandmother, an immigrant who moved to Phoenix, as his inspiration. Harry left his family at a young age and moved in with his grandmother in the United States.
“That’s where I get my work ethic from,” Harry said. “Just seeing how hard she works, seeing her come from a different country and having to start over. I really do know that there’s no way I would be in this position without that woman.”
Harry answered several questions on Thursday with “yes, sir” or “no, sir.” He said it’s his “duty” to use his newfound fortune — Harry will sign a four-year contract that will pay him just north of $10 million — to help others, especially back home in St. Vincent.
“It would be a disservice if I didn’t give back and if I didn’t show appreciation,” Harry said.
And Harry’s answers about football come straight from the Belichick school of media training.
Harry said he is excited to catch passes from Brady, but made sure to mention Danny Etling and rookie Jarrett Stidham, too. Harry spoke several times about how hard he wants to work and how much he wants to improve.
“I haven’t done anything in the NFL yet, so it’s my job to put in the work and perform and live up to expectations,” Harry said. “Just come in and listen, be coachable, and just keep the mind-set I’ve had throughout the years. I’m an extremely hard worker and I feel like if I just keep doing what I’m doing and take it to a different level, I feel like I’ll be OK.”