Bears' best-case N'Keal Harry scenario is finding Allen Robinson replacement

·4 min read

Harry becoming Robinson replacement is Bears' best-case scenario originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

N'Keal Harry will get a fresh start with the Bears.

The 2019 first-round pick never found his footing during three seasons with the New England Patriots. Harry didn't click with Tom Brady during the legendary quarterback's final season in Foxboro, was dealt a bad hand in Year 2 with Cam Newton under center, and couldn't find a way to make a consistent impact to help rookie Mac Jones last season.

A change of scenery is often all that's required for a seed to blossom fully.

Expectations should be tempered for Harry in Chicago. He struggled to get separation during his time with the Patriots. He'd string some impressive practices together and then go missing for stretches. There were questions about his motor.

The Bears might get nothing from Harry. That's fine. They gave up a 2024 seventh-round pick to take a chance on a receiver who was drafted ahead of Deebo Samuel, DK Metcalf, A.J. Brown, and Terry McLaurin.

But if trading in The Patriot Way for the HITS Temple at Halas Hall proves fruitful for Harry, the Bears might just get something quarterback Justin Fields desperately needs. Something he had last season but couldn't develop proper chemistry with -- a big-body receiver who can make contested catches over the middle of the field and at the boundary.

The best-case scenario for Harry and the Bears is that the Arizona State product rediscovers the back-shoulder boss receiver with great ball skills and becomes a lesser version of Allen Robinson.

Coming out of ASU, Harry was routinely comped to Robinson as a big, fluid receiver with a combination of run-after-the-catch and jump-ball ability.

That's the type of receiver Fields needed last season during Robinson's final year with the Bears. That's not the one he got, thanks to a confluence of issues.

A season after setting career-highs in receptions and yards with Mitch Trubisky under center, Robinson caught just 38 passes for 410 yards and one touchdown in 12 games last season while battling a hamstring injury and COVID-19.

Fields and Robinson never jelled properly. Coach Matt Nagy gave Andy Dalton the first-team reps in camp, so when the Bears called Fields' number during the season, the rookie quarterback and veteran receiver had to start from scratch.

"That's something that we're continuing to build on, continuing to get reps in practice," Robinson said last October about developing chemistry with Fields. "There weren't any snaps that we kind of took in training camp. A lot of these things, we're trying to build on."

That bond never fully developed.

In nine games together, Robinson caught 26 passes on 40 targets from Fields for 318 yards and one touchdown. After being targeted 150 and 153 times in 2020 and 2019, Nagy and his staff never found a way to get Robinson involved in the 2021 offense like the No. 1 receiver he was billed to be.

Fields developed a great rapport with Darnell Mooney, who will be the Bears' No. 1 receiver this fall. But with Robinson leaving to join the Los Angeles Rams in free agency, Chicago lacks a big-body receiver who can box out defensive backs and make contested catches. Someone to be the thunder to Mooney's lightning.

In theory, that can be Harry.

He showed flashes of that ability, albeit brief, during his three years with the Patriots. The Bears are hoping he can find it and harness it in Chicago.

Harry is a great run blocker, a skill that will be vital in Luke Getsy's wide-zone/bootleg-centric offense. That willingness to block likely will see Harry make the roster out of camp. If he can develop chemistry with Fields in short order, the Bears might find a discount replacement for Robinson.

Harry needs the Bears. Needs a fresh start. But the Bears also need what Harry can be when fully actualized. Not a star or a Pro Bowler. But a reliable, contested-catch maven who can be a good compliment to Mooney, Byron Pringle, and Velus Jones Jr.

Whether or not Harry can become what many envisioned when he terrorized the Pac-12 three years ago is entirely up to him.

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