Tyquan Thornton could be a steal for the Patriots — or yet another bust

Though speed is Thornton's calling card, he also has more advanced receiver skills that could project him into a premier role as an outside receiver for the Patriots.

Tyquan Thornton Patriots
Tyquan Thornton celebrates a touchdown catch against the Mississippi Rebels in this year's Allstate Sugar Bowl. Sean Gardner/Getty Images
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The Patriots wanted to get faster and more athletic this offseason after getting run roughshod over by the Buffalo Bills, among other teams, at the end of last season.

So how did they do that? They selected probably the most athletic guard prospect (Cole Strange) along with the fastest receiver (Tyquan Thornton) and fastest running back (Pierre Strong Jr.) to go with a number of dynamic players in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Did they overspend a bit to get those players? Probably, in Strange and Thornton’s cases.

Thornton, in particular, looks like a massive reach when you consider the Steelers, Colts and Chiefs all immediately took more highly rated receiver prospects (George Pickens, Alec Pierce and Skyy Moore, respectively) in quick succession after the Baylor speedster came off the board.


But if you’re projecting what each could become based on their traits, there’s an argument that Thornton has the highest upside of all of them. Not only is he likely better than you think right now, he might also end up much better than expected. (Of course, given the Patriots’ history with receiver prospects, that could go the other way, too.)

The outlook

Let’s not bury the lede here: the biggest point of drafting Thornton as highly as the Patriots did was speed. We’re talking about rare, Tyreek Hill kind of speed. (That’s not an exaggeration; Thornton ran a better 40 time in the lead-up to the draft, has a track background like Hill and has similar instant acceleration ability.)

Lots of NFL receivers and cornerbacks are fast, but Thornton’s speed, like Hill’s, just looks different. It demands more off-coverage, which creates more space for slants — he runs those well — and other underneath routes that generate yards after the catch. Obviously, he’s a threat to outrun any defensive back on fades and posts, which will terrify defenses. But if you miss a tackle or take a poor angle on something short, it’s just as scary.

That’s not all, though. Despite his slight figure, Thornton does a better job of operating against press coverage and pulling in tight-window throws than you’d expect. His insane quickness off the line of scrimmage could help mitigate strength disadvantages against physical corners, who have to know that giving up leverage could mean six points. His hands aren’t particularly large, but they are very good, frequently snatching the ball out of the air away from his body when there are defenders around.

Thornton is also a smart route-runner, showing good awareness of how to throttle down into windows against zone coverage rather than just running headlong toward defenders.


Add in the fact that he competes as a blocker despite checking in at under 180 pounds, and it’s easy to see why the Patriots liked him.

Of course, receivers that small often have issues with more physical coverage, and we do have to see how Thornton handles that at the NFL level. Not many defensive backs will be able to run with him, but it becomes easier to stick with a guy if you can disrupt his routes and dictate his movements. He’ll also need to keep getting stronger on contest catches as windows get tighter in the NFL.

Also, though he should see a lot of cushion due to his speed, his less-than-ideal 3-cone time raises questions about whether he has the change-of-direction skills to take advantage of the separation he’ll be given. Thornton will need to sharpen his breaks to avoid giving defenders a better chance to get into his hip pocket.

Best case scenario

The Patriots try to bring him along slowly, but his speed is simply too tantalizing to keep off the field. His mere presence opens up space underneath for New England’s more underneath receivers, and he breaks a few big plays either via deep balls from Jones or yards after the catch.


By the end of the season, Thornton has supplanted Nelson Agholor as the team’s go-to speed option and even starts to get more snaps on the outside, bumping Kendrick Bourne back into the slot.

Going into Year 2, Thornton looks like an undisputed starting receiver with the team now building around his explosive skills. Once DeVante Parker leaves town, a more muscled-up Thornton slides into the “X” receiver role and becomes the Playmaker-that-was-Promised.

Worst case:

Well…the Patriots don’t need a whole lot of refreshers on wide receiver busts in the draft, do they?

They’re likely about to say goodbye to their latest early round failure, N’Keal Harry, before the season begins. New England has struggled to find dynamic receivers in the draft, having missed on players like Harry and Aaron Dobson in the past.

It’s not hard to see Thornton becoming just the next cautionary tale for Belichick’s drafting at the position.


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