FOXBORO -- Could it be? Have the Patriots found a receiver in the draft that can actually play?
Tyquan Thornton certainly looks capable after his first preseason action on Thursday night. Yes, we should probably pump the breaks a little bit. It was a rookie in his first preseason action, and there is a long, long, long way to go before we know for sure if the second-round pick will be a real contributor for the Patriots.
But there are no breaks on Thornton. This kid is fast. Lightning fast. He showed off his blazing speed early in New England's preseason opener against the Giants on Thursday, bursting off the line and flying down the sideline on the first play of the Patriots' second offensive drive of the game.
The play did not result in a catch, as Hoyer underthrew the ball a bit. That was probably part of the adjustment to having an absolute speed demon like Thornton being the intended target. The rookie made the mistake of waiting for the ball instead of going back to get it, and it was broken up by the defense. The play didn't count though, with the Giants getting hit with an illegal contact penalty.
Thornton made another play that did count later in the drive. And it was a pretty big play. With the Patriots facing a second-and-goal on the New York two-yard line, Thornton ran his route into the end zone. He fought through contact and Giants corner Aaron Robinson grabbing his jersey to spring open and snag a touchdown pass from a rolling Hoyer. The score put New England ahead 7-3 at the end of the first quarter.
As you can see, it's not just the wheels with this kid.
Red zone play has been a huge emphasis throughout training camp, and that touchdown was a sign of Thornton's hard work paying off.
"It was just basic fundamentals," the rookie said of his snag. "It was something that we worked on throughout the week, putting emphasis on the red zone and it just goes to show that hard work definitely pays off."
Thornton had another catch in the second quarter from rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe. He caught both passes that went his way Thursday night for nine yards.
It wasn't a huge amount of production, but it was great to see the rookie make a few plays, draw a few penalties, show off his speed, and -- most importantly -- find the end zone.
"It was a great experience just to be out there with my teammates," he said of his debut. "We grinded it out during training camp, putting in that blood, sweat, and tears just to see us go out there and compete. We're going to come back tomorrow and put another day together."
The Patriots have struggled to draft play-making wide receivers over the last two decades. We've seen high picks like Chad Jackson, Taylor Price, Aaron Dobson, and N'Keal Harry come in with loads of promise, only to fizzle out quickly. Julian Edelman -- who you may have heard was a college quarterback and taken in the seventh round in 2009 -- is the only receiver drafted by Bill Belichick to haul in more than 60 career receptions.
So we won't put Thornton in Canton just yet. And he's no lock to see extended playing time in the regular season either, with New England's crowded receiving corps.
But with that ridiculous speed he gives the Patriots someone who has the ability to take the top off a defense. That could make it hard for Belichick to keep Thornton on the sidelines come September.
And, perhaps fittingly, he is now the guy wearing the No. 11 for New England.
"Julien, he was a great receiver. I'm kind of proud to wear that number after him," Thornton said.
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