Tyquan Thornton's early success offers a clue about why the Patriots are changing their offense


The Patriots have only played one preseason game, but it’s fair to say that Tyquan Thornton is already showing more promise than most of his predecessors.

Maybe the Patriots have finally hit on a receiver. Their much-maligned offensive changes might be one of the reasons why.

1-on-1 with Cole Strange

Podcast Episode
1st & Foxborough
1-on-1 with Cole Strange after Patriots' preseason game
Listen Now
Now Playing
Now Playing

For almost two decades, it’s been impossible for young receivers to break into the offense. The graveyard dates all the way back to 2003: Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, Taylor Price, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, and most recently, N’Keal Harry. Over the last 20 years, the Patriots have only drafted one receiver who recorded at least 60 career receptions with them: Julian Edelman.

When the Patriots selected Thornton in the second round, it was clear they’re taking a different approach.

Thornton, who’s now sporting Julian Edelman’s No. 11, doesn’t fit Bill Belichick’s usual prototype. He posted the best 40-yard dash time among receivers at the NFL Combine (4.28), making him the fastest receiver Belichick has ever drafted here. Meanwhile, Thornton’s scores in the three-cone drill and short shuttle rank last.

Observers at training camp have also noticed Thornton’s skinny little legs. At 181 pounds, he’s the lightest receiver the Patriots have ever drafted in the Belichick era.

His hands are the second-smallest.

In summation, the Patriots drafted a skinny burner, which makes Thornton the opposite of Harry. So far, the results have been different, too.

Reports out of Foxborough say Thornton has excelled in camp, and he impressed early in Thursday’s loss to the Giants. He burned starting Giants cornerback Aaron Robinson on a go-route down the sideline in the first quarter, but Brian Hoyer under-threw him.

Later in the quarter, Thornton shook off Robinson, who was holding him, and broke free to catch his first touchdown pass in a Patriots uniform.

The Patriots’ changing offense, and the unit’s subsequent struggles, have been the dominant story of training camp. Thursday’s effort did nothing to alleviate those concerns, considering Mac Jones and the starters didn’t play. It’s been theorized that Belichick was holding them back, because they’re not ready to play a game yet.


But Belichick isn’t implementing his offense for Week 1 of the preseason. After the game, he sounded like former 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie: trust the process.

“We're going through a process. Just like everything else on this team,” he said.

The process still seems messy. Matt Patricia and Joe Judge split play-calling duties Thursday, and it’s apparent that Jones is frustrated. He excelled under Josh McDaniels last season, and now, he’s been tasked with implementing a new offense alongside two co-coordinators with limited offensive experience.

But the Patriots are moving into a new era, one without Brady, McDaniels, and at one point, Belichick. There are numerous signs he’s positioning Patricia as his heir apparent, assigning him a variety of tasks from offensive play-calling to signing contracts.

With James White retiring, there are now just six Patriots left from their win over the Falcons in Super Bowl LI. Almost everything from the dynasty era, including their incomprehensibly dense playbook, is arcane.

These changes may result in an embarrassing season. But Belichick won’t be deterred. Thornton’s performance so far shows at least one new guy is catching on.