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How Do The Patriots Adjust To Temporary Absence Of Rookie Speedster?

One of the main areas of excitement after two weeks of Patriots preseason action has been the emergence of Tyquan Thornton and the unreal off-the-line speed that he has demonstrated at camp. But, suddenly, the Patriots will have to figure out what to do without him.

During the Patriots second preseason game against Carolina, Tyquan Thornton left with what appeared to be an upper-body injury. However, it’s confirmed to be a collarbone injury that will keep him out for around eight weeks. This could amount to five to six games, making the Patriots’ wide receiver room thinner.

What Does Thornton Bring To the Patriots’ Receiver Room?

The somewhat obvious answer here is simple: speed. In Tyquan, the Patriots drafted the fastest player in the entire draft, with a 40-yard dash time of 4.28 seconds. His tape showed his ability to quickly get off the line and create easy separation for himself. He even could change direction, and that combination of raw vertical speed, agility, and impressive shiftiness gave him incredible success at Baylor. He could get into the endzone frequently, having half the touchdowns of his quarterback Gerry Bohanon in 2021 at Baylor. He was a big reason an unimpressive Baylor offense could get big wins over teams like Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma.

As a Patriot, Thornton has had a great start to offseason activities. His speed is paired with very disciplined and strong route running and reliable arms, and he has adjusted well to NFL practice and even game speed. He was on track to be a significant factor in the Patriots’ offense, especially with the improvement we should see from Mac Jones this year.

A consistent deep passing game was missing in New England last year, and the combination of Thornton and Agholor could pave the way for a different story in 2022, especially with Mac’s improved arm after work with Tom House. Thornton could be a major source of big plays for New England and an excellent decoy for the non-deep threats. Hopefully, he will be a major contributor when he returns, but until then, the Patriots have some adjusting to do.

What Do The Patriots Do While They Await Thornton?

While replacing Thornton’s skillset will be difficult, and replacing his speed will be impossible, the Patriots have a deep and improved receiving core that should still be potent. Bourne and Meyers will be helpful all over the field, especially in between the numbers. Last year, their excellent route running, ability to change direction, and ever-so-reliable hands helped Mac Jones tremendously; this year should be no exception.

Add to that the athletic and truly potent weapon Devante Parker, who can play the middle of the field well as the sideline. His “game speed,” i.e., the speed with which he runs routes and changes direction, is more than almost anyone in the NFL. If he can stay healthy, he will be a big weapon for Jones. Finally, Lil’Jordan Humphrey has shown that he can be the big, reliable receiver N’Keal Harry should have been for the Patriots and looks to have a breakout season. It’s hard to say what we’ll get from him against the top corners in the league, but he has shown much promise in training camp and preseason.

Since Tyquan will not be out for the entire season, there will be no extra opening for the roster. Potentially a tactic could be to sacrifice depth elsewhere to roster a guy like Kristian Wilkerson or Tre Nixon, who have been great in camp and preseason and are athletic players who can potentially catch deep balls. However, with the receivers, the Patriots still have, such a move may not be necessary.

As far as replacing the deep threat, Agholor will be the center of it. His deep connection with Jones in the Carolina game is an excellent start to his season after a good training camp. His speed, athleticism, and experience, combined with Mac’s improvement, should allow him to play much better than last season and for the offense to make the most of his talent. The intimidation of two deep threats lined up at once, however, could be much greater than just one, and when Thornton is back, the offense can become quite fearsome.

The Bottom Line

Tyquan’s injury certainly hurts New England, but with a deep receiver core and a now second-year QB who seems to have evolved quite a bit over the offseason, the Patriots should still find a way to be dangerous. Moreover, the injury is not for the whole season, and come week seven or so of the regular season, Tyquan will get his chance to shine, and the offense will level up as a result.

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