From the days of Ollie Matson in the 50s to “Bullet” Bob Hayes and more recent faces in Trindon Holliday, Marquise Goodwin, and Tyreek Hill, “track speed” has been a long constant in the NFL. While many of the athletes that hang their track spikes up for football cleats are often put into a bucket of linear athletes, the newest New England Patriot—Baylor’s Tyquan Thornton—has his sights on much more than just being able to beat defenders in a foot race.
Selected by Bill Belichick in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft, there’s just no other way to put it: Thornton coming off the board early on day two was a surprise. Looked upon as a perimeter burner with enticing traits to develop down the road, Thornton put on a show at the NFL Scouting Combine after recording the second-most receiving touchdowns (10) in the Big 12 last fall. A 4.28 40-yard dash opened eyes in Indianapolis and Belichick has high hopes for his young pass-catcher inside what will be an uber-competitive AFC East.
A standout in spring workouts, it remains to be seen just how involved Thornton will be within the Mac Jones-led aerial attack during the regular season, but his elite speed is a trait matched by few across the league—and none within the Patriots’ wide receivers room. Although Nelson Agholor currently sits ahead of him on the totem pole for targets as we approach training camp, it’ll be hard not to throw Thornton into the fire come Week 1 with the ability to lift the roof of a defense and take it to the house each and every time he touches the football.
While that role was initially looked upon for Agholor to fill, he failed to meet expectations after signing a two-year, $22M deal with the Patriots last offseason, recording a substandard 473 receiving yards in 13 starts in 2021. While Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers will retain most of the targets again this fall and the addition of DeVante Parker will throw a wrench into Thornton’s immediate snap count outside of Agholor’s presence, it’s hard not to believe the former Baylor standout could put to bed the ongoing bad luck of drafted receivers in New England.
From N’Keal Harry to Aaron Dobson, Taylor Price, and Brandon Tate—sorry Patriots fans—the history of Belichick drafting wideouts within the first two days of the selection process hasn’t been pretty over the last decade-plus. However, none possessed the skill set owned by Thornton. Within a league in a constant ‘need for speed’ mindset, the ways in which Belichick could, and should, get Thornton involved will provide an entirely unique dynamic to the New England offense that they haven’t had in years.
An intermediate target hog that thrives on quick hitters and crossers, the presence of Tyquan Thornton, an athlete in his own tier, could round out a much improved Patriots’ receiving corps this fall—even if many expect Jones to have a sophomore slump after enjoying resounding success in his rookie campaign.
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