3 New England Patriots who have to take the next step this season

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Jan 1, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Tyquan Thornton (11) takes a selfie with fans after a game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

In 2023, there are at least three New England Patriots players who will feel unique pressure to take the next step at their positions. 

Even though the NFL is the world’s premier professional gridiron football league, it takes time for its most talented athletes to develop into Hall of Fame legends. No Canton inductee entered the field as a finished product, as it often took years of playing at the professional level to become truly transcendental at football. Tom Brady absorbed knowledge during his rookie season, and Rob Gronkowski exploded after his rookie debut.

While young players do need time to develop, there’s also a point by which players are expected to accelerate their development and take meaningful strides on the field. New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones beat out Cam Newton for the starting job in his rookie season, yet in an underwhelming sophomore season, reporters murmured about the possibility of a Bailey Zappe takeover. Elsewhere on offense and defense, other stars progressing through their rookie contracts need to exhibit major strides in 2023 in order to earn big follow-up contracts.

The Patriots have scouted significant talent through the last few drafts, but for the following three players, they’ll need to amplify their playing potential and get the most out of these athletes in 2023.

3 New England Patriots who have to take the next step this season

3. Tyquan Thornton, WR

Tyquan Thornton featured prominently in New England’s gameplan in 2022, but the second-round wide receiver didn’t feature prominently enough given his measurables. Thornton impressed in camp last year when onlookers in New England witnessed his speed and agility firsthand, but his numbers during his rookie season weren’t as spectacular.

Thornton started in nine of 13 games and caught 22 of 45 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns. Averaging a decent 11.2 yards per reception, Thornton’s meager catch rate of 48.9 percent offers him an opportunity to develop in the upcoming season.

Previously, Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien led the Patriots’ offense in 2011, later leading the Houston Texans offense as well as the Alabama Crimson Tide. O’Brien was able to spotlight the talent of deep-threat receivers such as DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller V and Jameson Williams, and while O’Brien is a proponent of two-tight end sets, he should also be capable of devising a gameplan utilizing Thornton more effectively.

So far, Thornton has looked promising at camp this summer under O’Brien’s tutelage, and Thornton’s former coach at Baylor believes that Thornton is “pumped up” about having a coordinator that will “put him in positions to succeed.”

“I’m sure that falls right into Tyquan’s wheelhouse,” said Chansi Stuckey, Thornton’s receivers coach at Baylor. “I’m sure he’s excited about being used and getting opportunities to be used to his skillset.”

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