Why Bill O’Brien could help Tyquan Thornton break out in 2023


Hope always springs eternal at this time of year, especially when it comes to young players facing developmental leaps.

The Patriots already have a key storyline everyone’s watching in that regard with quarterback Mac Jones heading into his third season and offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien tasked with returning him to form.

But one underrated player who could benefit greatly from O’Brien’s tutelage is second-year receiver Tyquan Thornton, whom the Patriots traded up to select last year but never truly figured out how to us.

Fortunately, O’Brien knows a thing or two about how to get the most out of downfield burners with a ton of potential. In fact, he turned a player not unlike Thornton into a touchdown machine during his time in Houston: Will Fuller.

Taylor Kyles of CLNS Media dove into Fuller’s tape from his early Texans days on the latest "1st & Foxborough" and thinks it holds the blueprint for unlocking Thornton in Year 2.

“Will Fuller [was] not the biggest guy, so he was someone where he was used more in the intermediate part of the field where he could use the threat of his speed and then make big plays instead of being over the middle all the time, which is where I’d expect a JuJu (Smith-Schuster) to be because he’s got the size to take a lot of those hits,” Kyles explained.

“Even in the preseason, we saw [Thornton] used in the ‘Jakobi’ role where it was a lot of ‘Z’ (receiver), a lot of off-the-ball. He’s primarily outside, sometimes in the slot… . But with Thornton, he can turn the plays where Jakobi had to make a contest catch into plays where he gets separation because of either his speed or his quickness.”

Now, you might look at Fuller’s stats and not be overly impressed by the volume totals. That’s only because Fuller was incapable of staying on the field.

When he did play opposite DeAndre Hopkins, he was a threat to score on any snap, whether he was catching a screen, running a deep route or returning a punt, due to his ridiculous speed. Though he only had 28 catches in his second season, the Notre Dame product put up seven touchdowns and 432 receiving yards.

Thornton doesn’t quite have the run-after-catch wiggle Fuller had, but the skill sets are similar enough with Thornton having even crazier top-end speed than Fuller did. The young receiver also showed he could make plays at every level of the defense, not just the deep part of the field, and demonstrated a good feel for getting open in the red zone as a rookie.

Though still a work in progress, he showed the makings of a real NFL receiver. Given how much he improved during last training camp in a short amount of time, imagine what that could look like in a full training camp under O’Brien.

With another pretty average receiving corps around him, Thornton might be in a great position to take a big step in 2023 and be the kind of playmaker the Patriots haven’t had at wide receiver in years.

Featured Image Photo Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports