At least the price was right for the Chicago Bears to acquire N’Keal Harry.
Justin Fields is going into his second season with the Bears with a new coach, offensive staff, and a very different wide receiving corps. Gone are Marquise Goodwin and Allen Robinson, in are Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown. Darnell Mooney is still around, and proved last season that he is a capable No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL. Despite the mess that the Bears’ offense was in 2021, he still improved from 61 catches for 603 yards on 10.3 yards per reception as a rookie to 81 catches for 1,055 yards on 13 yards per reception.
The Bears drafted speedster Velus Jones Jr. in the third round, after waiting to help solidify that position group with wide receivers being picked like grapes in the first round and them not having a selection until the second. It left the Bears with a glaring problem at that position, no size.
Robinson is 6-foot-3 and plays every bit like a young power forward from the 1990s. When the ball is in the air it belongs to him, whether he uses his leaping ability or strength to snatch it. A threat like that is always helpful for a young quarterback learning the NFL game. It’s nice to be able to send the ball up like an alley-oop when you have to dodge 250-plus pound people on a regular basis.
With no Robinson, the Bears decided on Tuesday to bring in the 6-foot-4 Harry. They sent the New England Patriots a 2024 seventh-round draft pick in exchange.
In a draft in which Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, Terry McLaurin, and even Hunter Renfrow were available, Bill Belichick decided to select Harry with the final pick of the first round. Harry measured at 6-foot-2 at the combine, registered a 38.5-inch vertical leap and bench pressed 225 pounds 27 times. Impressive, but if Belichick wanted a giant with questionable route running ability, D.K. Metcalf was still on the board as well.
Harry ended up catching 57 passes in three seasons with the Patriots, averaging 10.5 yards per reception. Granted, the Patriots’ offense is notoriously difficult to learn. It’s not like many rookie wide receivers burst out of the gate with monster seasons with that franchise, but at least Metcalf is one of the fastest players in the league had New England selected him. Something could’ve been worked out. Pro Football Focus noted that during the 2020 season that Harry was open when targeted in single coverage only 25.5 percent of the time, 99th out of 100 qualifiers. He is currently in the final year of his rookie contract, so his future career earnings will be tied to his performance this season. Effort certainly won’t be a problem — according to Patriots’ receivers coach Troy Brown it never was.
After all the Bears did to stomp on Fields’ confidence in 2021, that needs to be counteracted by doing whatever is necessary to be encouraging and make his life easier on the field. Mitchell Trubisky was certainly the wrong quarterback to move up to select in 2017, but he could’ve been better with more help in play selection as well as other areas. Another mistake like that with Fields could set the Bears back years as a team.
Maybe Harry and the Bears are actually a perfect match. They certainly need each other. The Bears need a jump ball target and Harry needs a change of scenery and a team that values him and his talents to help get his career going in the right direction. He is also going to be dealing with a new starting quarterback for the fourth time in four seasons. Fields is dealing with a system change and needs a player who can bail him out from time to time.
There is a world in which this scenario works. Fields can buy time and make all the throws down the field. Harry was second in the Pac-12 in receiving yards during his final season and did average almost 15 yards per reception. He also hauled in the third most contested catches in FBS that year. In the pros, when given the opportunity, he has shown that he can high point the ball very well. He’s also an outstanding run blocker which will endear him to Luke Getsy, and any NFL offensive coordinator.
The Bears have taken chances on many wide receivers that flamed out in other places: Kendall Wright, Markus Wheaton, Deonte Thompson — and that was just in 2017. This may be an uphill battle, but Harry does provide a skillset that they desperately need. It’s hard to believe that the Bears could figure out how to use a player better than the Patriots, but if ever it could happen this is the perfect opportunity. Also, if it doesn’t work for the Bears, at least it didn’t cost a first-round pick this time.