The Patriots seem to have closed the chapter on trading for or pursuing new free-agent receivers. In light of this, the focus of the fans and media has shifted to the four receivers the team has; JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, and Tyquan Thornton. Smith-Schuster, the new signee, is generating a lot of excitement, and Bourne is expected to return to his 2021 status as the team's second-best receiver. Meanwhile, Bill Belichick has extended Parker’s contract to keep him with the Patriots until 2025. Thornton is the only receiver whose status is up in the air.
Thornton’s Signing and Rookie Year
During his senior year at Baylor, Thornton ran 948 yards, caught 62 passes, and scored 10 touchdowns. Pundits and experts on online sportsbooks had him as a favorable pick in the 2022 draft, and the Patriots signed him at number 50 in the second round.
And while the speedy 6-foot-2 receiver had a lot going for him, it was abundantly clear that Belichick signed him for his speed – a trait the Patriots need. Thornton ran a 4.28 40-yard dash at the combine, setting the second-best time record in the history of the event.
His rookie year was a little muted, however. He ran 247 yards, caught 22 receptions, and scored 2 touchdowns. Nonetheless, all Patriots rookies seem to have a bland year, so there was little concern.
Now, several sessions into the 2023 training camp, fans and the media seem concerned about Thornton's performance, or lack thereof. The receiver has not seen a lot of usage, has only connected with Bailey Zappe twice, and has yet to catch a pass from Mac Jones. The concern is that Thornton, now in his second year, should be developing at a faster rate.
However, wide receivers coach Troy Brown disagrees. Brown maintains that getting Thornton back on the field is all that matters because "…he needs to keep improving and getting better at his craft." In Brown's view, Thornton is still young, and his speed makes him a "rare breed in [the] league," a trait the coach, a former Patriot receiver himself, has promised to nurture and develop.
Trusting the Coach
There seems little reason for the coach to lie. Although it is doubtful that he would share any concerns he has about Thornton with the media. Still, other coaches seem to agree with him. Ross Douglas, a fellow receivers coach, has expressed that there is no need to worry about Thornton.
In Douglas’ words, "[Thornton] has a lot of ability," talent, speed, and quickness. Douglas also believes that the key is for the star receiver to keep working hard and for his coaches to help him refine and combine all of his skills.
Wrapping Up: Learning and Adapting
When it comes down to it, Thornton is a young player, and it is safe to say that he is still adapting to the league. The fact that he was under Matt Patricia last year may also make things tougher for him, as it has for everyone, including veteran players. However, as Coach Douglas puts it, "[Thornton] is progressing. He [is] working hard. We [will] get there." Not to mention that he is now in his second year and will have the opportunity to learn from Bill O'Brien. So if his coaches are not concerned about Thornton’s development, there is likely no reason for fans and media to be.