We're All Too Low on N'Keal Harry's Fantasy Football Potential in 2020

Harry's rookie season disappointed fantasy owners, but a deep dive into his performance indicates that a 2020 breakout could be coming.

With 2020's elite wide receiver class, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about incoming rookie pass-catchers.

We've got Henry Ruggs, we've got Jerry Jeudy, we've got CeeDee Lamb. The list actually goes on. It was that deep of a class.

And while it's easy to fixate on this incoming class, one wideout from last year's rookie class could have a chance to make a splash in 2020 in his first extended NFL season.

That's Patriots' receiver N'Keal Harry, whom New England selected 32nd overall last season. Harry landed on the injured reserve list due to an ankle injury and was ultimately limited to seven games as a rookie. We didn't get to see everything he can do.

Might Harry actually be the most exciting young wideout in the NFL in 2020? And can he really put up big fantasy football numbers with Jarrett Stidham as his quarterback?

What Harry Did in 2019

Harry, again, played only seven games in 2019 and was credited with five starts. He combined for 24 targets, 12 catches, 105 yards, and 2 touchdowns in the regular season and then went for a 2-catch, 7-target, 21-yard line in a playoff loss.

Not a whole lot to go on.

Further, he played just two snaps in a Week 14 game against the Kansas City Chiefs due to a hip injury (but did have a should've-been touchdown). So, it's safe to say that Harry dealt with plenty of injuries as a rookie.

The positives? His final two games were rather impressive -- from a workload standpoint.

In Week 17, Harry had a team-high 7 targets (for just 29 yards), including 2 downfield targets (at least 16 yards downfield) and 2 red zone targets. That'll work. In the playoffs, he again led the team in targets (seven) and had a deep and a red zone target. That's...pretty strong usage on a team starved for receiver talent entering 2020.

And, look, I'd like to tell you that I'm not going to fixate on a two-game sample and extrapolate, but I am, so just stick with me.

If we look at that two-week split, Harry averaged 7.0 targets and 1.5 red zone and downfield targets.

From Weeks 1 through 16 (the fantasy-relevant weeks), only 16 receivers posted at least 7.0 targets and at least 1.0 red zone and downfield targets: Michael Thomas, Davante Adams, Julio Jones, Julian Edelman, Allen Robinson, Keenan Allen, Mike Evans, Jarvis Landry, Sterling Shepard, Cooper Kupp, D.J. Chark, Alshon Jeffery, Courtland Sutton, Preston Williams, Kenny Golladay, and Marvin Jones.

I mean, c'mon. That's a pretty swell list, right?

And yeah, look, I know. It was two games. But what's standing in his way from getting a similar workload this year? Edelman. Mohamed Sanu? Marqise Lee?

Right now, I have Harry projected for 103 targets (6.4 over 16 games). That's a bit higher than what numberFire's projections show (81.0). ESPN's Mike Clay has him at 96 (6.0 over 16 games, though I think he has a 15-game projection for Harry, so also 6.4 then). So 90 targets or so is pretty safe, I'd think, especially after his 22.2% target share in Weeks 17 and 18 (along with 42.9% of the red zone looks).

That would give him borderline top-36 volume on a not-super-promising offense.

And to be abundantly clear, I'm not just locking in Harry for his volume from that two-game sample, but he also accrued 6 carries for 56 yards in his final four games (2 carries for 22 yards in Week 15, 2 for 18 in Week 16, 1 for 9 in Week 17, and 1 for 7 in Week 18 -- so it wasn't all boosted by one play).

Getting a receiver easy touches with carries isn't exactly a bad thing.

But is that enough for Harry to be anything more than an if-I-have-to flex play week to week?

Harry in 2020

Harry possesses a 90th-percentile speed score and an 89th-percentile collegiate dominator rating, and that type of athleticism and production is hard to find. It's also a good recipe for outplaying poor quarterback performance.

Stidham may very well qualify as "poor quarterback performance" in 2020 because we just don't know enough about him. He put up a 90th-percentile yards per attempt number in college despite ranking 47th among 53 qualified passers in average target depth, via PFF data.

However, Stidham ranked sixth among those quarterbacks in quarterback rating on passes at least 20 yards downfield based on that same PFF data. We saw last year with Tom Brady that he didn't throw deep often (37th among 42 qualified quarterbacks in downfield attempt rate) but was efficient enough on them (17th).

Is Stidham equal to Brady even on deep throws? No, probably not, but we could have reason to think that Stidham is a capable downfield passer, allowing Harry to generate extra value on those targets.

Again, who else is taking downfield looks away from Harry? Slot guys such as Edelman and Sanu?

Whatever -- He's Free

Are you absolutely convinced that Harry is 2020's obvious breakout receiver? No, probably not. I'm not either.

Before digging into his late-season "surge," I had him ranked as my WR57 and bumped him up to WR53 (though that doesn't fully account for range of outcomes; rankings are tough).

The consensus between numberFire's rank (WR60), JJ Zachariason's rank (WR48), and Jim Sannes' rank (WR61) isn't overly appealing, either. FantasyPros' consensus ranks have him as the WR61. He's the WR60 in Bestball10 ADP in June. That's where the fantasy community is with him in general.

That means he's being drafted around 150th overall, so we're getting him in the double-digit rounds. And with Harry, that means we're getting, potentially, a player with a target share above 20% with downfield work and potentially some above-average red zone work albeit on an uncertain offense. That much, I should have convinced you about by now -- that Harry can carve out a strong (not elite) workload with some downfield targets (which was pretty clear from his late-season usage and athleticism).

Last year 18 receivers had at least a 20% target share and were top-36 in downfield targets, a general sense of where Harry could be this year. Of those 18 receivers, 15 averaged at least 12.0 half-PPR points per game (which would've ranked as the WR24 last year). Those three who who didn't get to 12.0 points per game probably comp well to Harry due to his offensive situation: Courtland Sutton (11.7), Terry McLaurin (11.6), and Odell Beckham (10.3). Sutton and McLaurin were the WR26 and WR27 in half-PPR points per game, respectively, and Beckham was WR33.

So, sure, the ceiling may not be a top-12 receiver, but the workload, the athleticism, and the lack of other receiving options give Harry all the tools to eviscerate his preseason ranking in the WR60 range, and he could be a volume-based WR2 on a weekly basis. If not, he was a double-digit dart throw. No harm done.