Two things are known to be true when talking about the NFL: the New England Patriots can't draft receivers and Baylor pass-catchers never flourish.
Maybe both trends will end in 2022 following Tyquan Thornton's rookie debut.
Thornton, New England's second-round pick, saw extensive reps during a 23-21 loss to the New York Giants. Patriots coach Bill Belichick elected to sit potential starters DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor and Jakobi Meyers, allowing those fighting for roster spots to see the field.
Thornton took advantage. Both Agholor and Kendrick Bourne should be paying attention come Monday morning's practice.
There wasn't much to go off Thornton's night, but anything in an anemic offense ran by the combination of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge will go far. Thornton beat Giants cornerback Aaron Robinson in the back of the end zone and hauled in a pass from backup quarterback Brian Hoyer for a 2-yard touchdown.
Go back and watch the play. Look closely at Thornton's feet. When Robinson tries to pull Thornton down inwards, the receiver stops, cuts back and takes the advantage for Hoyer to find him near the backside pylon.
Why is this important? He's a rookie running routes like a veteran. That's needed in Foxboro.
"It looked like he just came back out of the route when Brian scrambled to his right and Tyquan came back out, and that was a good red area scramble play," Belichick said postgame. "It's fairly common. Those happen a lot. But they did a nice job executing it."
Throughout the draft process, Thornton was pegged for his speed rather than consistency. Coming from Baylor, he served as the Bears' leading receiver on the way to a Big 12 title and the first 12-win season in program history.
And because of the addition of Baylor offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes joining the mix last season, Thornton was required to block. Baylor recorded 572 rushing plays against 365 passing.
The result? A better run blocker. On more than one occasion, Thornton held his own against nickel defenders and outside corners on rushing plays, all but taking them out of the picture.
"It was a great experience just to be out there with my teammates," Thornton told reporters postgame. "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.”
New England hasn't been afraid to cut players in the past despite having success the year prior. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy was a staple of the defense that finished 10-7 record, tallying 10 pass breakups and five sacks. He was cut in March due to salary cap issues.
Anyone remember Cam Newton? The first quarterback who took on the mantle following the Tom Brady era? Belichick knew he wasn't the future after leading the Patriots to a 7-9 record in 2020, so he cut him loose in favor of rookie Mac Jones.
Could Agholor be next after Thornton's outing?
Both players are known for their ability to go vertical. During his breakout season in Las Vegas with quarterback Derek Carr, Agholor averaged 18.7 yards per reception on his way to scoring eight touchdowns. Last year, that number regressed to 12.4 yards per play.
It's not as if Agholor has looked rough in practice, but Thornton's upside offers multiple advantages to New England that the former first-round pick doesn't. The biggest might come in terms of cap space. This season, Agholor is set to make $9.8 million, with a cap hit of $14.8 million.
What does this mean? New England could explore trade options for Agholor moving forward should Thornton continue to improve. Then again, someone will have to be willing to bite to take on an extensive contract for what could be a No. 3 receiver in a different system.
One preseason should give New England fans plenty to talk about, but remember that the regular season is where it counts. And again, there's a history of Baylor receivers looking the part early in camp only to fizzle on Sundays in September.
Denzel Mims hasn't flourished with the New York Jets entering Year 3. Jalen Hurd played three years with the San Francisco 49ers and never recorded a snap. Corey Coleman was the first receiver taken in the 2016 draft and is perhaps best known for Week 17 drop in 2017 that gave the Cleveland Browns a winless record.
Terrance Williams, Kendall Wright, David Gettis, Gerald McNeil. The list continues. And while Josh Gordon showed potential of breaking the streak after his 1,646-yard season in 2013, he's yet to play a full season since.
New England added Agholor to expand its vertical passing attack with Jones. Thornton can be the option as well at a cheaper cost. He also offers more in terms of run blocking, a staple for the style of offense Belichick leans on.
Thornton's performance Thursday won't catapult him to the first-team offense yet, but there's a conversation to be had about expanding his role. He puts pressure on opposing defenses, but he's also adding pressure to veterans stepping up in practice.
Soon, he could be reason vertical passing from Jones becomes a must-see spectacle.