The first thing that has to be said about wide receiver Deonte Harty is that he is one of the smallest men to have ever played in the NFL. It’s jarring to see how little he looks when he’s standing next to most of his Buffalo Bills teammates.
You know all those pictures we see when massive Aaron Judge of the Yankees is standing next to diminutive Jose Altuve of the Astros? At St. John Fisher University, that’s essentially the 5-foot-6 Harty standing next to 6-foot-8 offensive tackle Spencer Brown in the huddle.
In fact the other day, after Harty made a nice play for a touchdown, Brown went over and lifted the 170-pound Harty into the air like he would a barbell.
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The next thing you have to say is that Harty might be undersized, but you can’t hit what you can’t catch and through the first week of training camp he has shown off game-breaking speed which offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey hopes to utilize far more than his coaching counterparts at New Orleans did when they had Harty for four seasons.
“Once I get the ball, it’s me against anybody in open space and I like me nine times out of 10,” Harty said Sunday. “I feel like the thing that I bring the most is elusiveness and speed. So, being able to stretch the field and open up the field a little bit more and then being able to run those quick, short routes and get the ball out in space and create explosive plays.”
That’s exactly why the Bills signed Harty as a free agent, but now they have to hope that he can avoid the injuries that plagued him during his four years in the Bayou.
He spent most of his 2019 rookie season as the primary punt and kickoff returner and played only 66 snaps of offense. He missed big chunks of 2020 and 2022, but in 2021 when he was able to get into 13 games, he contributed 36 catches for 570 and three touchdowns. That’s what piqued the Bills’ interest, that potential to be a difference-maker.
Buffalo’s offense has lacked the kind of quick-strike playmaking ability that Harty possesses. Cole Beasley and Isaiah McKenzie could get open quickly from the slot, but once they caught the ball they could not hit the home run. Harty, who can also line up outside, can take a five-yard hitch, make someone miss and then blow through the secondary to the end zone, piling up precious run after catch yards which the Bills simply haven’t had kin recent years.
Last year, the Bills’ wide receivers combined for only 1,577 RAC yards, a total that ranked 26th in the NFL, more than 1,200 yards behind the league-leading Chiefs who didn’t even have Tyreek Hill in 2022.
“That’s something we’ve looked at … the emphasis on RAC and RAC and RAC, and you want to be able to turn those short passes into bigger gains,” Dorsey said. “Some of that is making a guy miss, some of that is knifing two defenders and getting an extra two or three yards, because those things add up. So I think that’s the ability that Deonte has, to create separation at the top of the routes, and a good route runner that makes it easier to throw to guys like that, whether big, small or medium.”
Mainly because of his lack of size, Harty didn’t really have a chance to play Division I college football. The Baltimore native wound up at Division II Assumption and while he was a legit star on offense setting the school’s career record for all-purpose yards (6,173) and touchdowns (45), he also dominated as a return man, returning 14 kicks for touchdowns which stands as the all-time college record regardless of level. That resume led him to being selected earlier this year to the D2Football.com All-Decade Team for 2010-2019.
Still, once again because of his size, no team drafted him so he signed with the Saints as a free agent and made the team mainly because of his return ability.
Harty has long maintained that size doesn’t matter, at least not to him. In fact, it allows him to play with an edge because he’s always trying to prove people wrong.
“I feel like my whole career, even as a young player, like even playing rec ball, I’ve always been doubted, I’ve always been counted out because of my size,” he said. “So that’s just a mentality that I always had. Growing up and like getting recruited in college, it was the same thing. So then when I got recruited in the NFL, it was kind of the same, ‘Oh, he’s too small. He won’t be able to play.’ So, I’ve always had that chip on my shoulder and I just felt like the sky’s the limit, to be honest. And I felt like being used the right way, I could just get to where I want to be.”
He thinks Buffalo is that place and he’s already pumped about how the offense is operated.
“Watching them on TV, you know they throw the ball a lot, but now actually being a part of it is like, ‘Damn, we really do throw the ball a lot,’” he said with a smile. “It’s fun, you know, being around guys and just trying to learn this offense and getting as many reps as possible.”
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This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Deonte Harty Buffalo Bills receiver size doesn’t matter