With the preseason underway, the New England Patriots have fully set their sights onto their upcoming 2022 campaign.
The Patriots currently have 80 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in late August and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping New England build on its 10-7 record.
Today, the series continues with rookie wide receiver Tyquan Thornton.
Name: Tyquan Thornton
Position: Wide receiver
Jersey number: 11
Opening day age: 22
Size: 6-foot-2, 185 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2025 (2026 UFA)
What is his experience? Before joining the Patriots as a second-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, Thornton spent his entire four-year college career at Baylor. A four-star recruit out of high school, Thornton arrived in Waco in 2018 and made an impact right from the get-to. Through the years that followed, he showed some steady growth and delivered his most productive season as a senior in 2021. All in all, Thornton ended his career at Baylor with 47 in-game appearances and 143 receptions for 2,242 yards and 19 touchdowns.
His productivity and solid performances at both the East-West Shrine Bowl and the Scouting Combine prompted the Patriots to trade up on Day 2 of the draft; New England moved into the 50th slot to select Thornton. Since then, he has appeared in the team’s offseason workout program and mandatory minicamp, and was a somewhat surprisingly productive participant in training camp and the first two preseason games as well. A shoulder injury will force him to miss potentially half of his rookie season, however.
What did his 2021 season look like? The 2020 season was a challenging one for Thornton, with Covid-19 impacting life throughout the college football landscape and he himself missing some time due to injury. Coming off what was the least statistically productive season of his three-year career at Baylor up until that point, he had considerable room for growth as a senior. And grow Thornton very much did: he went on to appear in all 14 games for the Bears in 2021 and finished the season as the team’s leading pass catcher.
In total, Thornton was the target on 98 pass attempts. Primarily playing on the outside of the formation as Baylor’s top X-receiver, he hauled in 62 of those throws for a combined 948 yards and 10 touchdowns — setting new career-highs in all three categories. While he also dropped three passes and was no real threat to escape tackle attempts or put up impressive yards-after-the-catch numbers, his final collegiate campaign sure was a strong statement that put Thornton onto the pre-draft radar.
While his receiving prowess stood out, his impact on the Baylor offense extended beyond his work as a pass catcher: in the first quarter of a late-October matchup with Texas, Thornton also threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to fellow wideout R.J. Sneed — becoming the first QB to throw a TD for the school in the last six years. His productivity in 2021 allowed Thornton to be invited to the East-West Shrine Bowl and the Scouting Combine; he also was named to the second All-Big 12 team.
What is his projected role? Thornton served as a classic X-receiver at Baylor, and the expectation is that he will eventually be settling into a similar role in New England as well. The Patriots do like to move their wideouts around, though, and the first two preseason matchups were no exception: the 22-year-old saw considerable action at Z filling a Jakobi Meyers-like role. No matter where he lines up, however, Thornton has the straight-line speed to take the top off of defenses from any spot in the lineup.
Does he have positional versatility? While Thornton’s relatively unimpressive short-area quickness might limit his ceiling when playing on the inside of the formation, his rare speed as a whole makes him an option to become involved in various ways. He could serve as a ball-carrier on select plays, and even threw the aforementioned touchdown pass last season; he also has some special teams upside. All in all, the second-round pick is far from a one-trick pony — an expectation he has himself when he said he wanted to be come a “complete receiver” earlier this offseason.
What is his special teams value? Thornton has some experience in the kicking game, having returned eight kickoffs during his career at Baylor for an average of 17.3 yards per runback. The majority of those attempts came during his freshman year, but New England might give him opportunities in this capacity as well further down the line. As far as his rookie season is concerned, however, he has primarily been employed as a gunner on punt coverage teams in practice and preseason.
What is his salary cap situation? After joining the Patriots as a second-round draft pick, Thornton signed a standard four-year rookie contract at a total value of $7.05 million. The 2022 portion of that pact carries a cap number of $1.28 million: Thornton will be playing on a $705,000 base salary as well as a $577,520 signing bonus proration — both of which fully guaranteed (just like the second year of his deal in 2023 as well).
How safe is his roster spot? While Thornton is a realistic candidate to eventually be moved to injured reserve after the final roster cutdown deadline — allowing him to stay eligible for reactivation further down the stretch — his spot on the team per se is not in question. Due to his immense upside and draft status, he will make his way onto the 53-man roster eventually; unless he suffers a setback in his recovery from a fractured clavicle or another injury altogether, he will bolster New England’s wide receiver depth down the stretch.
One-sentence projection: Thornton will spend most of the first half of the season on injured reserve, and possibly only see the field in a package-specific role after New England’s Week 10 bye.