Sorry Patriots fans, but N’Keal Harry can get separation from his defender. You’re going to need a new excuse.
Throughout his brief, 13-game career, Patriots fans have been waiting for a breakout game from former first-round pick N’Keal Harry. Seeing as his best match is an eight-reception, 72-yard performance against a putrid Seattle Seahawk secondary, Patriots fans have been quick to turn on the former Arizona State Sun Devil.
However, the excuses continue to pile up for many other vital members of the Patriots offense. Cam Newton “needs better weapons” despite repeatedly missing open receivers for two weeks. Julian Edelman can’t get free because opposing defenses can zero in on him due to a lack of weapons.
But the biggest indictment on Harry is that he cannot create separation.
Yet the reality is, he has been––at least at a rate similar or better than many other receivers in football.
According to Next Gen Stats, Harry has created an average of three yards of separation at the time of the catch or an incompletion. He’s tied for 35th among receivers and tight ends in that category while having a 5.6-yard cushion. His cushion is measured by the distance between him and his defender at the time of the snap on all targets. While not exactly setting the world on fire, it’s worth noting the company that the second-year receiver is in.
|Player – Separation Yards (Cushion)|
|Keenan Allen – 3.0 (6.0)|
|Davante Adams – 3.0 (4.4)|
|Darren Waller – 3.0 (5.8)|
|CeeDee Lamb – 3.0 (5.9)|
|Chris Godwin – 3.0 (6.1)|
|D.K. Metcalf – 2.8 (4.9)|
|Stefon Diggs – 2.8 (5.5)|
|A.J. Brown – 2.7 (6.3)|
|Julio Jones – 2.7 (6.1)|
What is the common theme between these nine receivers? They all have quarterbacks who are very accurate and are in schemes suited to make them successful. Harry has neither in 2020, yet doesn’t have the kind of support you’d expect when you look at the data.
The former Sun Devil is far from a burner, as he isn’t likely to turn an eight-yard slant into a 60-plus-yard touchdown. However, if you argue that he isn’t generating any separation, you need to change your argument. Nobody looks at D.K. Metcalf and says: “You know, he’s good, but he just can’t create separation.” Nobody looks at Julio Jones and wonders why he’s failing to generate separation despite being given a massive cushion. A.J. Brown has insane speed, especially after the reception, but he’s given a 6.3-yard cushion and only gets 2.7 yards of separation. Why don’t we hear about their inability to do so, but Patriots fans take any opportunity to make a note of Harry’s “inability” to do so?
While lacking breakaway speed, the fact remains that Harry is grossly misused and doesn’t have a proficient-enough thrower of the football to generate any consistent offensive output. The receiver feeds off of his quarterback and how his team uses him. If you watch Harry’s college highlights, a lot of his big plays were deep shots or 50/50 balls. He’s 6-foot-4, let him go up and out-jump a 5-foot-11 cornerback on a streak. Stop trying to get him to run these intermediate routes––that’s not who he is as a receiver.
You can correct for his lack of breakaway speed, but to say he’s not getting separation couldn’t be further from the truth. Find a new excuse, or maybe redirect your disappointment.