The first day of the league year saw the Buffalo Bills add wide receiver Deonte Harty (formerly Harris). The 25-year-old pass catcher received a two-year, $9.5 million contract with $5.25 million guaranteed. The initial sticker shock surprised many fans who didn’t know much about the former Saint until his signing. So who is the newest Bill, and what might he bring to the team in 2023?
Deonte Harty’s career started far from the blue-chip schools of the NCAA. The Baltimore native attended Divison II Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. Harty became a Divison II legend holding the NCAA record in combined return touchdowns with 14. He holds or tied the Divison II record in :
- single season kick-off return touchdowns with eight
- single-game kick-off return touchdowns with two
- single season punt return touchdowns with five
He was also a second-team All-American in 2015, 2017, and 2018 and left Assumption College as the all-time leader in touchdowns and all-purpose yards.
Harty attended Harvard’s pro day in 2019, clocking a 4.35 and grabbing the attention of the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent. In the 2019 preseason, Harty returned eight kicks and 10 punts, including one for a 78-yard touchdown, and made the Saint’s final roster. He busted onto the scene finishing second in yards per return on kick and punt returns among players who returned at least 50% of their team’s kicks and earning a First Team All-Pro nod.
In 2020, Harty finished fourth in yards per return on punt and kick returns and saw his first production as a wide receiver. Harty played in nine games, racking up 186 yards and a touchdown.
2021 represented his breakout year offensively. Over 13 games, Harty put up 570 yards and three touchdowns on 36 catches. Harty showed remarkable efficiency that season, finishing eighth in yards per route run with 2.69. Among wide receivers with 30 targets, he finished 13th in yards per target and 11th in yards per reception. He also remained top 10 in punt and kick returns among qualifying returners.
In 2022, Harty missed all but four games with a significant toe injury.
Harty over the last 3 seasons (among all WRs with 75 total targets)
Stats vs. Man Coverage
EPA/Target – 1.18 (#1)
Yard's per route run – 2.47(8th)
Yards after catch per reception – 8.29 (1st)
Yards after catch percentage (% yards come after catch) – 56% (2nd)
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) March 15, 2023
Look at the Contract
Over the life of his contract, Harty can make up to $13 million with incentives. He has incentives connected to total yards, punt return averages, total touchdowns, playing time, and Pro Bowl or All-Pro bowl awards. His cap number will be $3.75 million for the 2023 season, with an easy out next offseason with a dead cap number of $1.375 million. This makes the contract essentially a one-year, $5 million contract if the Bills so choose.
The Bills are taking a small risk on Harty, hoping they can buy low on a young, ascending player. He’s a player coming into a wide receiver room in desperate need of some revitalization. In his Thursday press conference, Brandon Beane mentioned that he expects Harty to play the “four-role.” This could mean playing both inside and outside. The 2022 Bills struggled to find any consistency underneath and slot success. In 2021, 47% of Deonte Harty’s receptions came within nine yards of the line of scrimmage, averaging 12 yards a catch in that area of the field. His 8.89 yards per route run and 12 yards a catch were the best in the entire NFL on short passes. Harty will also have a chance to become the team’s return man. The Bills have attempted to fill this role since Andre Robert left, and Harty has never finished outside the top 10 in return average.
If you are looking for places it could go wrong, Harty has a lengthy medical history. In Harty’s four seasons, he has only played in more than 13 games twice. In his other two seasons, he played nine and four games. His four-game season came in 2022 due to his toe. Additionally, for all his success as a returner, Harty has fumbled nine times in four years.
The bottom line is the signing of Harty is a gamble. A gamble that his small sample size success can project to a more significant role. If Harty’s efficiency number remains even near what they were in 2021, over a more considerable workload, the Bills will have struck gold on a monster receiver talent.
If he keeps his fumble in check, the Bills could also have their best returner since Andre Robert, all for the low cost of $4.5 million a year (before incentives). If Harty can’t see the field due to health, and 2021 was an outlier instead of a sign of things to come, the Bills will have flushed $5 million down the drain.