N’Keal Harry wasn’t a 1st round pick by accident. That much must be made clear. Teams saw him as a top wide receiver prospect for a reason. They felt he had the necessary traits to become a go-to target in the NFL. That is why the New England Patriots drafted him. There are plenty of theories as to why it didn’t work out. Most blame a lack of maturity and questionable work ethic. Others blame the Patriots’ offense and their refusal to utilize his biggest strengths as a player. The Bears hope Justin Fields can be different.
The consensus with Harry was he played as a big receiver should. His size, length, power, and body control bullied defensive backs. It didn’t matter if he looked covered. If his quarterback put the ball in his vicinity, there was a high probability he’d come down with it. The Patriots rarely used him that way, instead trying to make him more of a route-running specialist. If the Bears want to make this flier work, they should consider an alternate strategy.
They have familiarity with receivers like Harry. If they’re smart, they’ll pull tape from the archives of another player similar to him named Brandon Marshall. He didn’t do too bad in Chicago.
N’Keal Harry should love Justin Fields.
Their skill sets match up. Both are huge for wide receivers, and neither is overly fast. Harry ran a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash. Marshall ran a 4.52. Quickness and burst aren’t their calling cards. Marshall did improve his route-running, but what helped launch his career was having a quarterback willing to feed him the football regardless of coverage. Jay Cutler helped make him a star by targeting him 170 times in 2007. Harry only got 57 targets in his second year in New England. Having three different QBs didn’t help.
This is where the matching with Justin Fields could be huge. As a rookie in 2021, the Bears quarterback ranked among the highest in the NFL regarding aggressiveness. His NFL Next Gen Stats’s aggressiveness percentage was 9th-highest in the league (17%). Those counted passes that were thrown to receivers with a defensive back within one yard of them. In other words, Fields wasn’t afraid to give his receivers a chance.
N’Keal Harry needs a quarterback willing to give him opportunities regardless of coverage. Marshall had Cutler. Fields is the same way. He isn’t afraid to take chances and trusts he can put the ball in the right spot for his guys to make a play. That is why this combo has a chance to work.