The Patriots made a shocking move on Sunday, claiming Khyri Thornton off waivers. Thornton was previously a 3rd round pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2014, but a hamstring injury ruined his rookie campaign. In 2015, the Packers felt that Thornton was not going to be a big part of their future plans or they thought they could outsmart everyone and sneak him onto their practice squad. The former Southern Mississippi defensive tackle is now on the Patriots roster, where he'll likely be competing for a 46-man roster spot since the Patriots already have four solid options on the interior in Sealver Siliga, Alan Branch, Dominique Easley, and Malcom Brown. So I wouldn't expect too much of an immediate impact from Thornton.
The Patriots' connection to Thornton is he was teammates with linebacker Jamie Collins at Southern Mississippi and Bill Belichick will trust the scouting advice his players give him. In addition to whatever comments Collins gave BB, the Patriots also had a firsthand look at him in the first preseason game against the Packers. Shoutout to CruelangelT for first identifying a potential connection a year ago.
From his spider graph, Thornton is in the 80th percentile in the first 10 yard split at 1.72 of the 40 and 88th percentile in the broad jump at 9'4". That tells me he has a very quick first step and has explosive power. That fits more into the profile of a penetrating tackle and not a gap eater. Thornton ended up going in the 3rd round of the 2014 NFL, selected 85th overall by the Green Bay Packers. A guy who has a strong first step and explosive power off the snap are very good traits to have for an interior defensive lineman. I can't tell you for sure how they coach their DL at Southern Mississippi, but considering the program was 0-12 in 2012 tells me the coaching staff was pretty bad and didn't teach the fundamentals on their defensive line.
The college tape shows that Thornton has a very good first step and at times will flash the explosive power, but his technique needs a lot of refinement. Hand usage and leverage are definitely a problem in the film, but those are things that can be coached up. The Patriots have a highly regarded DL coach in Brendan Daly, who has coached some of the better DL talent the last 10 years. It's pretty clear from these videos and the tape from the first preseason game that Thornton is by no means ready to contribute for the Patriots any time soon.
In the preseason game against the Patriots, Thornton had a couple nice plays. The first was when he was able to blow by Shaq Mason at the snap, although he didn't get there because Jimmy Garoppolo had already released the pass in Josh Boyce's direction.
Khyri Thornton beats Shaq Mason https://t.co/P0S4KUXmVW— Michael McDermott (@michaelmcd8393) September 7, 2015
Another good play was when he was able to pursue an outside run by James White from the back-side and tackle him from behind to minimize the gain to 1 yard.
Khyri Thornton making a hustle play vs. Patriots https://t.co/gp7pDzSyaO— Michael McDermott (@michaelmcd8393) September 7, 2015
For the rest of the game, Thornton was easily blocked 1-on-1 by the Patriots offensive lineman. That pretty much reinforces the idea that Thornton probably isn't a likely contributor for the team in 2015. The first step and explosive power that his measurables suggest don't consistently show up in both his college and NFL tape. With the Patriots carrying 12 defensive linemen right now and possibly 10+ all season, he's all but certain to be a healthy scratch every week this season. With better hand usage and a consistent lower pad level, he might be able to perform similar feats to what Dominique Easley and Trey Flowers did this preseason. To summarize this move, this was your prototypical Bill Belichick move. Pick up a raw talent previously discarded by another team who couldn't get anything out of him and then try to coach him up into a quality football player. It remains to be seen if Thornton turns out to be a quality player or a JAG.