WATCH: Tyquan Thornton catches first touchdown early in preseason debut
Aug 11, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Tyquan Thornton (11) catches a touchdown against the New York Giants during the first half of a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Rookie wide receiver Tyquan Thornton has been one of the most impressive players throughout training camp. The big question was whether or not that would translate into game action.
Early in his preseason debut, Thornton has picked right up where he left off in practice. On one of his first routes, he shook a defender with his release off the line and gained separation up the sideline. The pass ended up being underthrown and fell incomplete, but it was an impressive display of Thornton’s speed and footwork.
Later on that drive, he put himself in the box score. On a 2nd & goal from the 2 yard line, Thornton recognized a scrambling Brian Hoyer would need help. He broke off his route on the end line, turned back around, separated from cornerback Aaron Robinson just enough to give Hoyer a window, and made the catch despite being held (a flag was thrown on the play).
Thornton’s speed is well-known – he ran the fastest 40-time at this year’s NFL Combine at 4.28 seconds. But it’s been the nuances of his game, especially his short-area quickness, that has really stood out in camp and has led to a lot of the hype. This touchdown was a perfect example of that.
In addition to Thornton, third-year receiver Kristian Wilkerson had a strong start to the game. He had two catches for 42 yards on the Patriots’ first two drives, including a 33-yard completion down the sideline.
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Report: The early 'odd-man out' in the Patriots' wide receiver room
Heading into training camp, one of the bigger questions facing the Patriots was how the depth chart would shake out at wide receiver. The team looked to have four veterans competing for starting reps in DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, and Nelson Agholor. In reality, there’s only enough significant playing time for two or three of those players, and the competition has gotten even tighter as rookie second-round pick Tyquan Thornton has impressed throughout camp. Clearly, at least one receiver was going to end up being left out of the main rotation, and potentially the roster.
Through three weeks of training camp, all five receivers listed above have made a strong case to land a significant role. Heading into the first preseason game though, there may already be a candidate for the player who gets left out.
Thursday morning, PFF’s Doug Kyed tweeted that “one source believes Nelson Agholor will wind up being the odd-man out in the Patriots WR room,” adding “behind the scenes, Agholor has impressed this offseason.”
Kyed doesn’t definitively say whether that means Agholor would end up in a reserve role, or off the roster entirely. However, he did add that “a source on a WR-needy team said they wouldn’t take on his $9M salary in a trade.” Agholor is in the final year of a two-year, $22 million front-loaded contract he signed last offseason.
Agholor being the odd-man out based on the rotation would make sense given Thornton’s emergence. Both profile as speed-dominant outside receivers.
Is Thornton far enough ahead that it could push Agholor off the roster entirely? Likely not yet, but there are still three preseason games and a handful of joint practices to go. The Patriots had a similar situation last year at the running back position, when Rhamdonre Stevenson had a strong enough camp that the team was able to trade Sony Michel – also in the final year of his deal – prior to the final preseason game.
That could also allow the Patriots to open a spot for one of the younger bubble receivers to make the team. It’s unlikely the team would keep seven or more wideouts, but moving Agholor could create a path to the roster for guys like Tre Nixon or Lil’Jordan Humphrey who have both flashed at times this summer.
Moving Agholor would also require the Patriots to find a trade partner for him, and be willing to take on his salary. Current wide receiver-needy teams include the Bears, Ravens, Cowboys, and Packers.
Of course, a lot can change between now and when the team ultimately needs to make a decision on Agholor – the final roster cut day isn’t until August 30. Up until then, this remains a key position battle to watch.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.