As frustrating as some of the stories coming out of Patriots training camp are, their young players continue to be bright spots through the uncertainty.
In his latest list of players rising and falling throughout NFL training camps, Doug Kyed of Pro Football Focus names two Patriots rookies — second-round wide receiver Tyquan Thornton and third-round cornerback Marcus Jones — in the “rising” category.
“Jones has emerged as a starting option at slot cornerback in the Patriots’ defense in recent days while Jonathan Jones has shifted to the outside playing across from Jalen Mills,” said Kyed of the rookie corner, who also looks like the Patriots’ first option to return punts. Marcus Jones’ elite movement skills and speed could make him an asset for covering fast receivers on AFC East teams.
Thornton, meanwhile, has exceeded expectations, proving himself a better-rounded and tougher pass-catcher than many supposed when he came out of the draft. Though his speed has popped on occasion, so have his solid hands and developing route-running game.
Kyed also mentioned safety Joshuah Bledsoe, a sixth-round pick from last season whose coverage ability has stood out in camp, as another young player on the rise.
Unfortunately, one veteran favorite — returning cornerback Malcolm Butler — hasn’t gotten such glowing reviews.
“The Patriots re-signed Butler and added Terrance Mitchell this offseason. Both veteran cornerbacks have taken fewer first-team reps in recent practices after Marcus Jones' emergence,” Kyed noted.
Though Mitchell has lined up frequently with the starting cornerbacks, he’s seen his time decrease in recent days as Jonathan Jones has taken on more outside work opposite seemingly entrenched starter Jalen Mills.
Butler, on the other hand, has rarely played with the top-line cornerbacks and has struggled to flash the same form he did in past years with the Patriots. Though the team could use his experience in a cornerback room without any true stars, the emergence of Marcus Jones and the shift it could cause in the cornerback room, might make Butler more expendable.
But it would hardly be a bad thing if Butler and Mitchell took a back seat because a young Patriots cornerback is ahead of schedule.