The rookie wide receiver only played 22 snaps and caught a pair of passes for nine yards and a touchdown, but he showcased his trademark speed as well as some good route-running and physicality as a blocker. He appeared to pass the eye test in his first ever game setting against NFL-caliber competition.
However, his position coach made sure to remind the world ahead of Monday’s training camp practice that little has been achieved yet.
“He’s been here three weeks. He’s been in camp three weeks,” Troy Brown told reporters when asked about Thornton’s growth so far. “He’s got a long way to go.”
Thornton joined the Patriots as the 50th overall pick in this year’s draft, after the team had traded up in the second round to bring him aboard. His impressive straight-line speed — he ran a position-best 4.28-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine — and his ability to challenge defenses deep have contributed to him coming off the board rather early.
His speed is indeed legitimate and rare, but speed alone does not make an NFL receiver. Troy Brown, who himself was selected in the eighth round of the 1993 draft, pointed as much out on Monday.
“He’s fast, he had a great time at the Combine. We’ll see if he can transfer it over to the football field,” he said before adding: “He’s a good kid.”
When asked about the promise Thornton showed during the preseason opener, especially in regards to him fighting through a defensive hold on his touchdown grab versus New York, Brown also was quick to put the breaks on the hype train.
“He’s alright,” the assistant coach said. “He’s got a long way to go. He’s a rookie. He’s got a long, long, long way to go. It was a preseason game, he’s not going to Canton just yet.”
Thornton and the rest of the Patriots’ rookie class will get their next chance at proving themselves this week. New England will welcome the Carolina Panthers to Gillette Stadium for a pair of join practices and the two teams’ second preseason game.