FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots’ offense looked so bad during training camp, and in last Sunday’s loss to the Miami Dolphins, that it’s easy to forget one of New England’s top bright spots from the summer.
Receiver Tyquan Thornton was among the more scrutinized picks from the 2022 NFL Draft. The Patriots went against the reported grain — Thornton was given a late-round grade by many draft experts — and took the ultra-fast Baylor product in the second round.
Justifiably citing Bill Belichick’s
spotty awful history of drafting wideouts, many Patriots fans were worried that New England reached for another receiver while leaving more heralded prospects on the board. Nobody wants a repeat of the N’Keal Harry situation, after all.
And while Thornton hasn’t proven anything in the NFL, he showed more than enough during training camp and the preseason to suggest he could have a bright future. His first summer in Foxboro was far more impressive than Harry’s was, and Thornton displayed the kind of speed and explosive ability that New England’s offense desperately needs more of. His skill set certainly would’ve helped in last Sunday’s loss to the Miami Dolphins.
(Kendrick Bourne also could’ve helped in that regard, but that’s a different story.)
However, like Harry, Thornton suffered an injury during camp and landed on short-term injured reserve after roster cutdown day. A fractured clavicle will sideline the 22-year-old for at least the first four games of the season.
So, Patriots fans must wait for his debut. In the meantime, Thornton is doing everything he can behind the scenes at One Patriot Place to maintain the momentum he built throughout the summer.
“One thing about Tyquan: he really, really loves football,” Patriots assistant receivers coach Ross Douglas said Tuesday during a Zoom call. “That’s the number one thing. When you’re just around him, you feel the energy. He loves football and he wants to be really good.
“He’s doing a great job with our strength staff and our recovery staff. Ever since he’s been here, he’s been bought in. He did a good job picking up the playbook, being able to play a lot of different spots and learning from the vets that we have in our room. I expect nothing less for when he comes back. He’s injured, but it’s not like he can’t get better in this time while he’s off. He has to control what he can control. … He’ll be alright.”
Missing practice and game time can be difficult for rookies to make up, particularly early in their careers. And that’s especially true in New England, where coaches are demanding and the offensive and defensive playbooks can be overwhelming. There’s a long history of young players essentially redshirting their rookie seasons with the Patriots after falling behind during training camp. Freshman running back Pierre Strong might be going through that right now.
Harry missed valuable practice time as a rookie in 2019 and never recovered. On the other hand, safety Joshuah Bledsoe, a sixth-rounder in 2021, didn’t play in his rookie campaign due to multiple wrist surgeries but put in serious work while sidelined and now is on the 53-man roster.
No two situations are the same, especially when you’re talking about injuries. Still, it’s clear that going the extra mile can help young players pick up where they left off upon returning from injuries.
What’s one crucial thing that Thornton can work on while away?
“If I had to pick what’s the most important, I would say staying in shape,” receiver Jakobi Meyers told NESN.com on Thursday. “Or doing whatever you can to be as close as you can to game shape. I mean, because that can break you. … You can only play one play at a time, (then) you gotta come out. … If you had the stamina to play fast, then your skill won’t fall off.”
And yet, a strong work ethic might not be enough for Thornton. Few players produce in the Patriots’ offense these days, and there might not even be any room for him if New England still is running only 11 and 12 personnel by the time he gets back. Don’t be surprised if Thornton doesn’t make a big impact until next season — if he ever makes one.
Plus, receivers coach Troy Brown went out of his way to downplay the Thornton hype after the rookie found the end zone in his preseason debut. Maybe he knows something we don’t.
Still, count Meyers among those who believe Thornton was on track to have a big role, and still could once he returns.
“Definitely. Definitely,” Meyers said. “He showed that he can be a great player. I’m actually really excited for him to get back. I just feel like he could help us out a lot, you know? We’ve got a lot of good players and I feel like he just fits right in.
“I can’t wait till he’s back.”