Patriots Can Turn to 2nd-Year WR After DeAndre Hopkins Joins Titans

DeAndre Hopkins

Getty The New England Patriots can turn to a "soaring" wide receiver after DeAndre Hopkins chose the Tennessee Titans.

DeAndre Hopkins won’t be a member of the New England Patriots in 2023, but the five-time Pro Bowler’s decision to join the Tennessee Titans is good news for one member of the Pats’ wide receiver corps.

Tyquan Thornton is tipped to be a breakout candidate in his second season by Bleacher Report’s David Kenyon. He believes the return of Bill O’Brien as offensive coordinator can send Thornton “soaring past DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne in target share.”

The Patriots would welcome a second-year surge from Thornton after Hopkins agreed to sign with the Titans on Sunday, July 16. His decision was first reported by Doug Kyed of AtoZ Sports, while NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport broke down details of the two-year contract “worth up to $32M.”

Hopkins’ eventual destination was long considered to be the Patriots, but missing out means O’Brien and head coach Bill Belichick need one of their existing wideouts to emerge as a legitimate go-to target.

Thornton has as good a chance as any receiver on the depth chart.

2nd-Round Pick Needs to Live Up to Billing

A lot was expected of Thornton as a rookie, but a collarbone injury suffered in preseason ruled him out of the first four games of the regular campaign. Once Thornton recovered, there were glimpses of the talents that prompted the Patriots to select him 50th overall in the 2022 NFL draft.

Kenyon referenced how “Thornton flashed his upside with a two-touchdown outing in his second appearance as a rookie.” Those scores came against the Cleveland Browns and included a 19-yard rushing touchdown.

Scoring on the ground showcased Thornton’s versatility, but the Patriots need to see more of the catches he made to beat sticky coverage in the end zone earlier in the same game.

The play proved how effectively Thornton can beat press to get open inside the red zone. Those are skill O’Brien must use more often after Thornton received just five red-zone targets, according to Player Profiler.

Thornton should see more play from inside the 20, as well as extra work from the slot. It’s what Hopkins might have done, but while Thornton is a long way from being D-Hop, he does offer some similarities.

Patriots Can Use Second-Year Pro the Same Ways as DeAndre Hopkins

Acquiring Hopkins would have given Patriots’ quarterback Mac Jones an obvious No. 1 receiver, able to win from the inside and on the perimeter. At 6-foot-1 and 212 pounds, Hopkins has done both throughout his decorated career, but 6-foot-3, 182-pound Thornton is built to attack defenses in similar ways.

He played 118 snaps in the slot as a rookie, a number O’Brien can increase. He coached Hopkins for six seasons with the Houston Texans and knows the best ways to free No. 10.

Those ways included giving Hopkins 117 slot snaps during his most productive campaign in 2018. Motion was another factor behind Hopkins’ production in Houston and with the Arizona Cardinals, and it’s a schematic ploy O’Brien should lean on when designing plays for Thornton.

The latter went in motion before reeling in his second touchdown grab in the pros, against the Miami Dolphins in Week 15, a play highlighted by Casey Baker of Binge Sports.

There are multiple ways for O’Brien to get Thornton more involved, provided the player can stay healthy. The “soft-tissue-related injury” he dealt with during OTAs was not a good omen, but the Patriots still have room for a go-to weapon to emerge for Jones.

Thornton must seize the chance created by Hopkins’ decision.