If the theme of the New England Patriots’ Day 1 of the 2022 NFL Draft was a classic Belichick trade-down that ended in an arguably even more classic Belichick “...of course he did” pick, the theme of Day 2 was clearly Eleanor Roosevelt’s favorite thing about America:
Hot, nasty, bad-ass speed.
After the Patriots traded down on Thursday and racked up some extra draft capital by way of a 3rd and a 4th-rounder from the Kansas City Chiefs, some Settlers-of-Catan-esque moves were a near-certainty on Day 2. Especially after this little “not saying, just saying” from ESPN’s Mike Reiss that makes perfect sense when you think back over the last few years:
In each of the last three drafts, the Patriots have traded up in the second round.— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) April 29, 2022
Their assigned selection tonight is No. 54, but they are well stocked (multiple 3's, 4's and 6's) to make it four drafts in a row.
At this point, it would almost be a surprise if they don't.
And trade up they did, striking a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs again (maybe we’re operating on a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” principle here?) to move a few spots up to pick #50 and select Baylor wideout Tyquan Thornton, a pretty well-regarded prospect that nonetheless probably shook more than a few Patriots fans that are used to seeing the team laugh off track-star speed and athleticism in favor of quick 3-cone and short shuttle times.
Then as the draft ticked into the wee hours of the night on east coast time (or just into the “time for a 3rd beer” time on the west coast....those bastards), the Patriots stuck to their guns at pick #85 and scooped up Houston cornerback and Paul Hornung Award-winner Marcus Jones. And while it may seem a little “jumbo shrimp” to call a 5’8” cornerback a ballhawk and a big-play machine, check this out from Bernd’s quick-take writeup last night:
During his 2021 senior season alone he picked off five throws, forced a fumble and returned two punts and kickoffs each for touchdowns. In total, he ended his college with 11 touchdowns: he had nine scores in the return game — tying an NCAA record — as well as one pick-six and even a receiving touchdown. His positional flexibility earned him the Paul Hornung Award as the most versatile player in college football last year.
You know the drill by now — let’s see what you, the readers, faithful tailgaters, and lifers and newbies alike thought about these picks first, then we’ll move on to the national beat, and finally, the local scribes, some of whom love these and some of whom are just tweeting through it.
View From the Pats Pulpit Community
First up, here’s how you all voted when the pick came in for Baylor WR Tyquan Thornton (if this kid is even halfway good, Jerry Thornton is going to be on another level this season):
Notably more positive than Thursday night’s “BOO THIS MAN!” voting, I can tell you that!
Next up, let’s see how everyone thought the Patriots addressed arguably their biggest need in the secondary (although, you’d be in the right to point out that Marcus Jones almost certainly won’t see a lot of action at outside CB, barring an absolute disaster):
After a draft heavy on Patriots prototypes and big-name programs like Alabama, Oklahoma State, and Michigan last year, Bill Belichick and the draft team kicked the rudder squarely in the opposite direction this time, taking prospects from schools they rarely, if ever, draft from that either lit it up at the combine, have sick highlight reels, or.....checked some box or another, I guess.
Now, let’s see what the draftniks had to say:
View From the National Media
NFL.com - Chad Reuter
(Editor’s note: interestingly enough, Reuter tweaked his Day 1 grade from a D all the way up to a C once he saw Friday night’s action)
Day 1 grade: C
Analysis: I’ve revised my Thursday night grade for the Patriots from a D to a C after seeing how they used the draft capital obtained in their Round 1 trade with the Chiefs. (They turned the 94th overall pick into a fourth-rounder and a 2023 third-rounder). On Friday, New England made another deal with Kansas City, moving up four spots for a track-star-turned-solid-pass-catcher in Thornton, while the Chiefs picked Skyy Moore shortly thereafter. This trade reminded me of when the Patriots made a deal with the Packers in 2006 to move up for receiver Chad Jackson, allowing the Packers to pick another Western Michigan receiver (Greg Jennings) later in the round. I projected Jones to the Patriots in my seven-round mock draft because he’s exactly the type of small, physical corner Bill Belichick loves, and he’s an excellent returner.
ESPN - Mike Reiss
WR Tyquan Thornton
My take: Speed. The Patriots need more of it, and the 6-foot-2, 181-pound Thornton is one of the fastest players in the draft. Although media analysts projected Thornton as more of a mid-round pick, the Patriots not only saw it differently, they traded their second-rounder (54) and fifth-rounder (158) to move up four spots to select him. That shows how much conviction they have in Thornton, who took a late “top 30” visit to Patriots headquarters leading up to the draft. His speed will complement the top four of DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor at receiver, and he also projects to be a top candidate to return kicks. This pick brings back memories of when the Patriots traded up for speedy wide receiver/returner Bethel Johnson in the second round of the 2003 draft.
CB Marcus Jones
My take: The 5-foot-8, 174-pound Jones is a versatile defensive back with corner and safety experience, and also a top punt and kickoff returner. Nagy had highlighted Jones as a Patriots fit by saying: “He’s a fun player to watch, a lot of energy, a lot of burst. One of the highest compliments you can give a DB is that he’s just a ‘baller’ — you can stick him anywhere. He’s sticky in coverage [and] can mirror anyone. ... He’s very much like [Patriots Hall of Famer] Troy Brown, just more slanted [towards] defense.” Jones should be on the game-day roster as a returner and will be a candidate to contribute right away on defense in sub packages.
Pro Football Focus
Pick Grade: Poor
After the Saints reached for their pick at 49th overall, the Patriots topped them by taking Tyquan Thornton — the 192nd ranked player on the PFF big board. Everyone knows that he brings deep speed to the table after clocking a 4.28-second 40-yard at the NFL scouting combine. While those wheels are a huge plus, his play strength at the next level is cause for concern. Thornton isn’t much of an after-the-catch threat, as evidenced by averaging 3.9 yards after the catch and breaking just 11 tackles on 143 career receptions.
Pick Grade: Very Good
Jones has extremely concerning size at 5-foot-8, 177-pounds. That pushed him down this far in the draft, but at Pick 85 for New England, this is of immense value. Jones is a fluid athlete that is at a minimum going to be a quality return specialist. He was the highest-graded kick returner in the country last season. He’s not going to be playing outside corner like he has for Houston the last three years, but he can contribute in the slot with his physical mindset and quicks.
USA Today - Touchdown Wire
Bill Belichick keeps everyone guessing. The Patriots’ legendary coach wound up with a pick here via a deal that originally was with Miami. Take that, Fish. Tyquan Thornton adds 4.28 speed to the Patriots. Team him with DeVante Parker and you see why no one should question Belichick. Thornton averaged almost 16 yards per catch on 143 grabs in Waco. Oh, 10 of his 19 college TDs came in 2021. Grade: A
The Patriots get a DB and one of the most exciting return men in college football in Houston’s Marcus Jones. Grade: B+
USA Today - The Draft Wire
Another bold, off-the-board pick for the Pats, who take perhaps the fastest player in the entire draft. Thornton is more track star than wide receiver right now, but that speed gives him tons of potential. Still, feels like a player that should have come off the board a round or so later, and the Pats had bigger needs on defense. GRADE: C
More speed and explosiveness for the Pats, but this time, on defense. Jones lacks ideal size for the corner position, but he’s got the athleticism and technique to excel in the nickel role. He’s also an elite return man. GRADE: B+
The Athletic - Sheil Kapadia
Thornton (6-foot-2, 181 with 33 1/4-inch arms) has a rare blend of size and speed. He ran a 4.28 40 at the combine and caught 62 balls for 948 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
The Patriots desperately needed juice/speed on offense, and Thornton gives them that. The question is whether he can consistently beat press coverage and become a more well-rounded player. New England is known for having a shrunken draft board. Brugler had Thornton as his 176th prospect and thought he’d be a fifth-round pick. Maybe Thornton will work out, but this pick feels like a reach.
Jones (5-foot-8, 174) started 27 games in college. In 13 games last year, he had 18 passes defended and five interceptions.
Jones is undersized, but he’s a competitive corner who has ball skills and can cover. And Jones was a prolific returner at Houston. His skill set should fit well in Bill Belichick’s defense and on New England’s special teams. I like this pick.
Yahoo Sports - Eric Edholm
The Patriots moved up four spots to take the draft’s fastest receiver. This almost feels like the Bethel Johnson pick years ago. Have they had someone this fast (4.28-second 40-yard dash) in recent memory? Thornton is thin, lacks playing speed and consistency. But if he can give Mac Jones a true vertical threat, it will pan out. Grade: C-
After two head scratchers, the Patriots took a very Patriots-ish pick in Jones, who profiles as a nickel corner and serious return threat. He had a stunning nine return touchdowns (six kickoffs, three punts) in his college career and even had a walk-off score against SMU last season. Jones’ tiny frame, however, does not make him a Stephon Gilmore replacement outside. Grade: B
Thornton is a pure speed receiver, who may turn into something, but this is another reach for the Patriots.
Jones is the first non-reach from the Patriots in this draft and he should help fill the void left by J.C. Jackson.
Bonus cameo from Mr. Baylor himself, Robert Griffin III!
LOVE the Tyquan Thornton pick for Mac Jones. Pushing the ball down the field will be a priority for New England and Thornton is a premier deep threat with great hands. Some guys run fast by grunting it out and then there are guys like Thornton who can simply fly.#NFLdraft— Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) April 30, 2022
Moving on to the local scribes:
NBC Sports Boston
Our Phil Perry isn’t so high on the pick, however — mostly because of who was still on the board at No. 54.
Perry graded the Patriots’ Thornton pick a “D,” noting that a trio of more highly-touted receivers — Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce, Georgia’s George Pickens and Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore — were still available. All three of those wideouts went in the next four picks.
Our Phil Perry wasn’t a big fan of the Patriots’ two draft picks, handing out “D” grades to Chattanooga offensive guard Cole Strange (No. 29 overall) and Baylor wide receiver Tyquan Thornton (No. 50). But Perry is much higher on Jones, who could be called upon to contain speedy AFC East wideouts like Miami Dolphins burners Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.
Patriots.com - Mike Dussault
For those looking for a long receiver dripping with speed who can separate, Thornton looks like he fits the bill. There are some questions about his frame and size that could affect his durability, but Mac Jones has to be happy to have a sub-4.3 receiver who can make plays downfield or pull away and take short catches to the house. Thornton brings some needed youth to the position group and now looks to find a way into the lineup by learning the offensive system and earning the trust of his coaches and quarterback.
Marcus Jones was college’s most versatile player as a plus kickoff and punt returner as well as a sticky coverage player who consistently made plays on the ball. His size could keep him from being an outside cornerback or lining up on bigger receivers, but his ball production and ability as a returner should give him an immediate chance to make some plays for the Patriots in a variety of ways.
CLNS Patriots - Evan Lazar
The best pro comparison for Thornton might be another Pats offseason target in Panthers wide receiver Robby Anderson. Both tested similarly and have almost identical builds as taller wideouts with thin frames.
Thornton will need to develop as a route-runner, thus adding more branches to his route tree to be a prolific producer as a pro rather than a field-stretcher who catches the occasional bomb when he gets behind the defense.
But for a team that needed an infusion of speed and big play-making ability, Thornton brings an element to the Patriots’ offense that they haven’t had since the 2017 season with Brandin Cooks.
Although he’s undersized at 5-foot-8 and 174 pounds, Jones dominated as a multi-year contributor for the Cougars with nine career interceptions and 31 pass breakups. Along with earning All-AAC honors at corner, Jones was the AAC Special Teams Player of the Year last season and has nine career punt returns on his resume as a versatile playmaker.
In coverage, Jones has experience playing outside, nickel, and safety with sticky man coverage skills with the ability to mirror receivers on both horizontal cuts and vertical routes.
Boston Herald - Andrew Callahan
Analysis: Thornton is fast as hell. He brings a needed dynamism to the Patriots offense. There is no one else like him on the roster.
But it’s difficult to see a fit here.
Thornton wins with elite speed and body control downfield, though his play strength, at 181 pounds, is beyond questionable. He’s not particularly quick, either, clocking a 7.25 in the 3-cone, which is remarkably slow for a Patriots receiver. Certainly, the front office could and should have revised its prototype at receiver, having failed to draft and develop any top receiver pick since Deion Branch.
But are the Patriots going to task Thornton with playing inside and out, something they do most of their receivers but he doesn’t seem suited to do? Can Thornton overcome press coverage, with minimal strength and some of the smallest hands measured at the combine in years? Because if he can’t, his speed is of no use. And could the Pats have selected him later, considering he was widely projected to fall somewhere between the third and fifth rounds?
It’s tough to say, though other receivers on the board — Skyy Moore, George Pickens and Calvin Austin II — are certainly more well-rounded and had fewer pre-draft questions about their fit in New England.
Even after going after a wide receiver with legitimate 4.2 speed, Jones should be the most exciting rookie on this roster. Maybe even outright player.
He’s instantly the favorite to become the Patriots’ next punt and kick returner, as a consensus All-American return man who scored four times on special teams last year. He also snatched five interceptions and broke up 13 other passes, a ballhawk even at 5-foot-8.
But because of his stature, Jones is unlikely to ever carve out a role beyond playing nickelback, a position Jonathan Jones currently has covered. And even in the slot, the younger Jones may get out-muscled. The initial upshot will be his return ability and the few snaps he even played on offense as a slot weapon — he caught 10 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown last year — something the Pats won’t be afraid to tap into.
But zooming out, at this point in the draft, the Patriots addressed a major area of need with a talented player. Jones should find a way to contribute in 2022, even if it’s not defensively. And maybe he even replaces Jones, who’s set to hit free agency next off season.
Barstool Sports - Jerry Thornton
You say you wanted the Patriots to get faster and more athletic? You say you wanted Mac Jones to have more “weapons”? You say you want the field stretched and the top taken off the defense? You say you’re all sorts of done with watching big bodied wideouts like N’Keal Harry fighting for 50/50 balls because they can’t run themselves open? You say the league has evolved to where the premium is on the things you can’t teach, like speed?
I present to you ... the Thornton. (The other one.)
Cornerback is an obvious area of need. As is kick/punt returner, because it always is. Whether or not Marcus Jones is the former right now, he can most definitely be the latter from Week 1 of his rookie year.
Granted, Jones is way undersized compared to the types of corners Belichick has gravitated to over the decade-plus. But the skills are there. The production speaks for itself. Versatility is never not a desirable trait on this team. And he’ll earn a roster spot for his return skills alone as he’s incorporated into the secondary behind Malcolm Butler, Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones. The more you can do, and all that.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend, and let’s go Celtics.