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N'Keal Harry and Cam Newton are Forming a Bond and It is a Beautiful Thing to Behold

John Froschauer. Shutterstock Images.

It was obvious going into the 2020 season that nobody on the Patriots roster had more to prove than Cam Newton and N'Keal Harry. In fact, few if any players in the entire league had as much riding on getting off to a good start and redeeming their careers. 

The stakes for Newton were of course obvious. You don't play for the lowest contract any former MVP has signed in the modern era unless you're writing your own redemption story and you're on Page 1. 

For Harry, the stakes are different but with no less riding on them. He comes via a first round pick to a Dynasty that has been purposefully built around not investing much in his position. His team put faith in him to not only be a reliable option in the passing game, but to satisfy a legend who had grown visibly frustrated with the receivers he'd been given to work with. Then he got hurt. And when he finally got in the lineup, that frustration only became more visible. In seven games, the rookie caught a total of 12 passes. The targets that started out at four in each of his first couple of games became one in the next two. He managed to have the quarterback look for him seven times in each of his last two, including a playoff game. But with just five receptions to show for the 14 targets. 

In the end, the legend was not at all placated by having this new to play with. On the contrary, he left the team before they could add another receiver to help. And a lot of people in New England did what divorcing parents always say they're not doing: Blamed the breakup on the kid. At least in part. That's a lot to put on a 23-year-old who came to Foxboro out of Arizona St. from Toronto, Ontario by way of that hotbed of football, St. Vincent and the Grenadines after eight career games.

Regardless of how unfair it is, the resentment toward Harry, while not universal, has been widespread and pervasive around New England. I don't have the polling numbers but I'd say this offseason the "Bust" vote is leading the "Give Him Time" demographic 60%-40%, with a margin of error of "Belichick Sucks at Drafting Receivers." It only got worse for Harry when he missed time in camp and there was no chance to see him in fake fauxball games against live opponents. Then in Week 1 when he reached for the goal line and fumbled the ball away instead of settling for a 1st & goal, his favorability numbers craters and his negatives hit an all time high.

But I feel like there's been a surge in the polling data over the last week or so. Thanks mainly to the endorsement of one man in particular. the aforementioned quarterback with everything to prove. After candidly addressing Harry's need to learn from his Week 1 braincramp last week, Newton was asked about his wideout after his eight catch, 72 yard game in the loss at Seattle. 

“He has grown in front of everyone’s eyes,” Newton said. “For him to gain confidence in himself, I think that’s a start. And I think that’s what he’s doing. I think today’s game was a great indication of that and what he could potentially be. Yet through it all, he still has to keep building to become the best version of himself.” 

For his part, Harry has refused to take the cheese when offered the chance to say he was in Tom Brady's penalty box last year. “When it comes to wanting me to succeed in that regard, I think Tom wanted me to succeed just as much [as Newton],” Harry said Tuesday. “It’s just hard trying to compare it. I just think as a rookie, it was just hard for me to grasp the offense missing half of the season and getting thrown in there like that. So like I said, it really is hard to compare. But it is helpful to have Cam guiding me along.” 

While at the same time responding positively toward Newton's positive response to his play. 

And it's showing up on the field and the stat sheet. Through two games he has already has more catches and yards running routes from Newton than he had in seven games with the GOAT. Of his 13 receptions, tied with Julian Edelman for 10th most in the league, six have been for first downs. Sunday night those included a critcal 4thd down and a huge catch to put the Patriots 1st & goal in the final seconds. And while we're obviously working off a Trader Joe's food hostess counter sample size, so far his numbers extrapolate out to a full season of:

  • Targets: 188
  • Receptions: 104
  • Yards: 888
  • 1st downs: 48

He's gone down by first contact more than a physical wideout should. But still his YAC is up over half a yard per catch year-to-year, from 3.5 to 4.1. 

Most tellingly, he's getting his chance to play. He's been on the field for 72% of the Patriots snaps, which leads all the receivers by a wide margin, and is up from his just 19% last year. 

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According to the Pro Football Focus advanced stats, he's got a passer rating when targeted of 93.0, good for 29th among eligible receivers. Which, while not great, is just behind Larry Fitzgerald and ahead of Mike Evans, Adam Thielen and Odell Beckham Jr. And the PFF worker drones have him 12th in the league in reception percentage at 76.5%, also tied with Edelman. 

Look, I don't want to put to fine a point on this. None of the above production or the pace he's on makes him into rookie Randy Moss or even Terry Glenn. But they would put him in the neighborhood of the guys he's most compared to, the WRs he was drafted near last year. And as the saying goes, it's a nice neighborhood. 

Their rookie numbers:

  • Marquise Brown: 56 receptions, 584 yards
  • Deebo Samuel: 57 receptions, 802 yards
  • AJ Brown: 52 receptions, 1,051 yards

All different styles of receiver, so it's not an apple-to-apples comparison. But given what the going perception of N'Keal Harry's status has been around here, you would absolutely take this pace for a whole season. And next to Harry himself, the guy who deserves the credit for helping jump start his career is Cam Newton. And Harry is returning the favor. This is a beautiful bromance in the making.

Giphy Images.