Why Tyquan Thornton may not make his mark on Patriots offense in 2022

The New England Patriots don’t need Tyquan Thornton to contribute in 2022 and that – more than any other reason – is why he’s likely to spend most of the year as the team’s fifth receiver on the depth chart.

The Patriots traded up to pick Thornton in Round 2 – a move that surprised many – but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll make his mark on the offense during his rookie season. The truth is that rookie receivers rarely contribute meaningfully in their first year in New England under Bill Belichick. And this year, more than ever, Thornton will have a hard time ascending the depth chart.

New England is entering a season where they have Jakobi Meyers, a reliable slot option who has proven he can produce. They also have players entering their second year in the offense after signing in free agency: Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor. And then there’s the recent acquisition of receiver DeVante Parker, who joined the Patriots in a trade this offseason. The Patriots are also likely going to use a solid amount of 2-RB and 2-TE sets. Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry will be big parts of the offense. James White is returning from an injury and Rhamondre Stevenson excelled as a pass-catcher. New England has no shortage of weapons.

Thornton’s most direct competition will be Parker and Agholor, the top outside receivers on the roster. Parker is a big-bodied field stretcher, who has the frame to serve as a weapon in the red area. Agholor is a speedster and a deep threat. That makes it harder for Thornton, who Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh touted as a burner with red-zone-scoring potential. Thronton’s skills overlap with both Parker and Agholor.

The Patriots will likely end up giving Thornton a year to develop. And at minicamp, he looked like he might just be the type of player who needs just that season of seasoning. He’s slight of frame and didn’t necessarily play with the blazing speed that he ran at the NFL combine.

That shouldn’t necessarily worry Patriots fans. New England generally likes to ease their second-round picks into action. And the Patriots don’t force their rookie receivers to play right away.

When New England drafted Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce in 2009, it had Wes Welker and Randy Moss on the team. Dobson and Boyce had the opportunity to ascend into major roles in 2010 – but, ultimately, went the way of so many receiver busts that the Patriots have drafted. When the Patriots drafted Malcolm Mitchell in the fourth round in 2016, they eased him onto the field in a group that included Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and James White.

There have been some exceptions. When the Patriots drafted receiver N’Keal Harry in Round 1, they badly needed help at receiver. Harry remains one of the team’s biggest first-round disappointments.

Thornton has time to watch and learn. If he fights past the veterans that are above him, the Patriots will likely be pleased. But New England clearly doesn’t expect him to serve as the WR1 in Year 1. Thornton is a developmental prospect who should explode in 2022 when the Patriots look light at receiver. Perhaps that’s when Thornton can stage a dramatic ascent.


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