Belichick made a bet this offseason. While the rest of the NFL was focused on building high-powered offenses, Belichick poured New England’s limited resources into his defense, hoping the addition of Offensive Coordinator Bill O’Brien would be enough to get this offense back on track. Bill has done this entire career, zigging while the rest of the NFL zags.
Yet the early results have been remarkably underwhelming. Belichick’s offensive line is among many in the NFL dealing with weekly injuries. None of the pass catchers have separated themselves and they have been unable to lean on the running game, ranking 30th in EPA (Expected Points Added) per rush.
The hope is second-year wide receiver Tyquan Thornton can come off injured reserve and provide a spark to this offense, but questions remain on how much of an impact the young speedster can make.
Can Tyquan Thornton Save the Patriots Offense?
The Patriots Need Him
If the Patriots were going to be a playoff team this season, it was clear what path that was going to look like. Dominate on defense, just be average on offense. The defense has looked the part, but the offense can’t keep up.
New England is 30th in points scored, just above the Chicago Bears. They’re 29th in EPA, being weak at both passing and rushing efficiency. Rhamondre Stevenson is averaging just 2.7 yards per carry. Juju Smith-Schuster, who was brought in to replace the reliable Jakobi Meyers, is struggling with just 80 yards receiving through four games while failing to dominate snaps in a weak receiver room.
Outside of that, Mac Jones is trying to be aggressive pushing the ball down the field. He’s tied for fourth in the NFL with 19 attempts past 20 yards, but he has only completed four of these throws.
If Thornton was able to use his speed to either create big plays on his own or to create more space for his teammates to work underneath, his presence would immediately be felt.
Thornton Hasn’t Shown It Yet
The issue is Thornton was a bad bet when New England reached on him with the 50th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
As a draft prospect, the main thing Thornton offered was elite speed, having run a jarring 4.28 40-yard dash at the combine. That speed, however, came with a number of red flags. Analytically speaking, he fell short in a number of areas. He took until he was a senior to declare for the draft, despite the middling competition in the Pac-12. He also didn’t command a target share above 20% until he was a senior. Lastly, he has a slight build, weighing in at only 183 Lbs despite being six feet two inches tall.
As a rookie, Thornton didn’t stand out either. In 13 games he produced 22 catches, 247 yards, and two touchdowns. He only participated in 67% of routes and commanded a lousy 11% target share. Historically, rookie receivers who produced this little rarely develop into major weapons for an offense.
Can He Even Stay Healthy?
While smaller receivers are becoming a norm in a faster and less physical version of the NFL, there are still legitimate concerns that small players will have durability issues in a collision-based sport.
Thornton entered the NFL without a long injury history, but he’s had trouble staying on the field since.
As a rookie, he missed the first couple of games in the season as he recovered from a broken collar bone. In Week 15, he ended up on an injury report with a knee sprain but played through it.
This year, he missed time in camp with a soft tissue injury, before hurting his shoulder in the preseason game against the Packers. The latest injury had him on the Injured Reserve list to start the year.
If Not Thornton, Then Who?
Based on Thornton’s skill set, the offense he’s walking into, and what he’s done as a rookie, expectations should be low for the second-year receiver. His speed should help create space for his teammates, but Thornton alone is unlikely to be a big producer. So then who can the Patriots turn to as their offense looks for any hope?
Demario Douglas. The sixth-round rookie who continues to flash in his limited snaps, is the light at the end of the tunnel.
The five-footeight, 179-pound product out of Liberty, turned a strong camp into a promising fall. Through four games, he’s earned 15 targets, nine catches, and 119 yards, while playing less than 40% of the snaps. Douglas’s speed and quickness are evident every time the ball is in his hands.
The Patriots offense desperately needs help. Someone who can take a short pass and create a big play, to ease the burden off the rest of his unit. As his role on the team grows, it will be Douglas, not Thornton, for can help elevate the Patriots offense.