At this point, injured reserve might be best thing that could have happened to Patriots WR N’Keal Harry


When New England placed first-round rookie wide receiver N’Keal Harry on injured reserve on Monday it created Labor Day pains for Patriots fans everywhere.

The immediate reaction was that the move – which guarantees Harry won’t play in the first eight games of the season and is not allowed to practice with the team for six weeks – will derail his rookie season and stunt his early-career development.

Certainly it’s true that the ideal scenario for any first-round prospect is to hit the ground running in training camp to jumpstart a productive rookie season.

But for Harry, that ship had sailed. The big-bodied receiver had looked somewhat out of place since almost day one on the practice field. He seemed to deal with a number of bumps and nicks – hip, shoulder, leg – on nearly a daily basis. He was dropping too many passes early on, both in drills and group work.

Other than a couple really nice receptions in the preseason opener in Detroit and a few-and-far-between highlights from the practice field, Harry just didn’t look quite right. Never carried that necessary air of confident comfort.

And of course the second of those two receptions against the Lions, an admittedly quite pretty back-should play down the left sideline, was the final action before Harry limped off the field to miss at least portions of upwards of three-plus weeks of practice time.

The damage, physically and developmentally, was done. You can’t miss almost a month of action as a rookie receiver in the NFL, certainly in New England, and still be good to go in Tom Brady’s tight-knit group of targets. Ain’t happening.

And whereas it once looked like the Patriots couldn’t possibly proceed without Harry early in the year, the arrival of Josh Gordon (opened the summer on indefinite NFL suspension) and Demaryius Thomas (PUP) adds outside size and overall depth to a unit that retains Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett.

Now that Harry is on injured reserve, there is no rush to return. No scramble to catch-on and catch-up. He can attend meetings and study his playbook. He can get extra work with the offensive coaches.

Over the next two months Harry can get fully healthy and fully comfortable. Stop his head from spinning. Settle into life as a professional, life in the pressure-filled world Bill Belichick creates in Foxborough.

Meanwhile Brady can go about his business leading the New England offense through the early part of the season leaning on familiar faces and trusted veterans. TB12 won’t, out of necessity, have to hold the hand of a young target who’s not ready for the bright lights just yet.

Then, when November rolls around, Harry might just be able to return with confidence – both in his health and in his assignments. Hopefully, for both him and the team, he’ll come back ready to be where Brady wants him when the GOAT wants him to be there. He’ll be ready to be a complementary contributor or – given the reality of the situation – prepared to fill any voids that might creep up in regards to the status of Gordon or Thomas.

In a perfect world would Harry being getting ready to open a 1,000-yard rookie season with impact action in this coming Sunday night’s opener against the Steelers? Sure.

But life, especially in the NFL, is far from perfect.

At this point, given how his first summer and pro training camp played out, time on injured reserve to find a proverbial healthy mind, body and spirit might just be the best thing that could happen to Harry.

Catch your breath, slow the spin on your head and prepare to catch everything that Brady throws at you later in the season, rook.

It might not be the perfect start to a career, but landing on injured reserve might just counterintuitively propel Harry’s career and actually lead to more significant future contributions to the Patriots offense, maybe even as early as later this season.