One of the longer nights, as first rounds of the NFL Draft go, ended with a bit of suspense, as the Patriots took nearly all of their 10 minutes on the clock to make their selection. Right around midnight, the reigning Super Bowl Champions made Arizona State wide receiver N'Keal Harry (6'2, 228) their top pick, the 32nd overall in this year's draft.
Given New England's history of trading out of the first round under head coach Bill Belichick, some analysts expected the Patriots to do so again this year, and it appeared for a brief moment that a deal was in the offing. As the night wore on, the latter half of the first round saw several teams agree to trades, and one media report indicated that the Patriots had agreed to a trade with the Atlanta Falcons. Shortly thereafter, however, New England submitted a card to the NFL Commissioner bearing the name of Harry.
Moments after Harry was officially announced, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio explained to reporters inside Gillette Stadium that the flurry of late trades didn't necessarily have any bearing on what New England chose to do with the 32nd pick.
"Our philosophy is just to pick good football players," added Caserio. "He's been a productive player, has some physical attributes – strong guy, hard to tackle, ability to make people miss, plays the ball in the air… He was the player that made the most sense for us at the time."
NFL teams are allowed to host as many as 30 draft-eligible players each year before the draft at their respective facilities, in order to get more information about particular players that interest them. Harry was among those who made a trip to Foxborough in recent weeks, a fact he touched upon during a late-night interview with NFL Network after the Patriots selected him.
"When I had taken my visit, I really enjoyed it, I really enjoyed the vision they had for me," said Harry. "I felt pretty confident when I left the stadium. Just getting to play with a quarterback like Tom Brady, it really is a blessing. I couldn't have a better start to my career, because I know he's going to make me better, I know he's going to hold me to a high standard, and I'm ready for that. I'm ready for the NFL."
Apparently, the Patriots may have taken longer than necessary to announce their selection because of cell phone issues on Harry's end. He was watching the draft unfold on television with family members in Arizona.
"When I had first seen the phone call, it was a Massachusetts number, so, I knew it was the Patriots… My phone wasn't even working at first. I couldn't get them on the line," Harry confessed with a sheepish grin. "One of my agents got them on the phone and Coach Belichick was talking to me, congratulating me. He told me they were going to fly me out and get ready.
"At that point, I started to get a little excited. I tried not to get too emotional at first. After it became real, it got real emotional for myself, my grandmother, and a lot of people in this room… I'm so blessed. I'm just ready to get to work."
Belichick, who isn't scheduled to speak with the media at all over the course of Draft Weekend, made a brief appearance at the team's draft party inside Gillette Stadium about 20 minutes before the night got underway. He told the assembled crowd of fans, "I'm sure we'll improve our team this weekend… so will every other team in the league."
The champs appeared to take a step in that direction by taking Harry. When the draft resumes on Friday evening, the Patriots will have five choices at their disposal (two in the second round and three more in the third), but Caserio didn't rule out New England trading away some of those picks to move up to a higher position.
"There are definitely some good players left here that we're going to like," he continued. "We could potentially go up and get them… It should be interesting."