FOXBORO, Mass. — It’ll be months or years before we know whether the New England Patriots’ surprise decision to trade up and draft Tyquan Thornton was a wise one.
But one week into training camp, the rail-thin speedster looks like a player on the rise.
After repping mostly with the scout-team offense during spring practice, Thornton has seen consistent and substantial reps with the Mac Jones-led first team since camp began last Wednesday.
“I think Ty’s a hard worker,” Jones said after Tuesday’s practice. “He’s starting to really grasp some of the things we’re doing and getting open. He clearly has the speed to get open.”
Thornton hasn’t posted gaudy reception totals in team drills (eight total across six practices, with a number of those coming from backups Brian Hoyer and Bailey Zappe), but the second-round rookie pulled down highlight-reel receptions in 1-on-1s in each of the team’s first two padded practices.
The first beat tight, physical coverage by rangy cornerback Joejuan Williams on Monday, with Thornton fighting through a jam to make a diving catch near the pylon. On the second, he adjusted nicely to an over-the-helmet heave from Jones while being blanketed by Jalen Mills.
Mills, a veteran cornerback who started 16 games last season, shook his head in apparent disbelief, then clapped for Thornton as the 21-year-old jogged back upfield. Given how competitive wideouts and defensive backs are in these summer practices, that reaction was notable.
Thornton’s prominent workload also has been difficult to ignore. Among Patriots rookies, only first-round guard Cole Strange has seen more consistent first-team run that the Baylor product, who’s competing with Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor and others for playing time in a receiving corps stocked with steady veterans.
On Monday, Jones’ very first pass in competitive team drills went to Thornton. That pass was intercepted — Jones failed to see cornerback Terrance Mitchell lurking underneath Thornton’s crosssing route — but the rookie even being on the field at that stage of practice was an encouraging sign.
The Patriots also have gotten Thornton involved in other ways. He’s seen a lot of work on special teams since organized team activities, learning proper punt gunner technique from Matthew Slater. He also took a jet-sweep handoff Tuesday — something he did just three times in his four-year collegiate career — and has bounced between slot and outside alignments.
“I see a guy that’s just working hard every day,” Agholor said. “He’s having fun, and I think I like where he is mentally. He has a growth mindset, and he practices really hard, takes great notes. I think every day, he’s just going to keep on getting better, and that’s important for him and his journey.”
Best known for his blazing speed (4.28-second 40-yard dash) and stick-figure frame (6-foot-2, 181 pounds) and strayed from the Patriots’ typical wideout preferences, Thornton said he’s working this summer to become a more well-rounded receiver. His work against press coverage in 1-on-1s has been promising — he went 3-1 across the first two padded practices and appeared to be held by fellow rookie Marcus Jones on his one loss — and his experienced teammates already have noticed improvement.
“A lot of people don’t realize how quick he is in and out of his breaks,” Meyers said last week. “I feel like Tyquan’s going to have a good career in the league, and I’ll be excited watching him play every day. … Just from OTAs to now, honestly, he’s been a better player already.”
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