If you watched the Steelers this season, you may have noticed that one missing piece of the puzzle is a wide receiver that can get separation or “take the top of the defense” as we often call it. It certainly makes sense to add a player like that to the 2022 NFL draft wish list. Good news, folks, because that wish may have been answered and his name is Tyquan Thornton, WR from Baylor University. I had a chance to sit down with him for a few minutes at the East West Shrine Bowl week in Las Vegas to learn more about this young man whose draft stock will likely be rising over the next month.
Originally from Florida, Tyquan attended Booker T. Washington High School, where he racked up more than 1100 receiving yards and even logged some snaps at QB (can you say future trick play?). Coming from Miami, he says he wanted to experience living somewhere different. During an official visit to Baylor, he met with then-HC Matt Rhule and was impressed by the positive energy in the program, describing it as having a family oriented feel. He committed early to Baylor University and despite coming in at a very slim 149 pounds, he worked hard to gain muscle weight and earned a helmet as a true freshman. He appeared in all 13 games, making two starts, and finished his first year in Texas with 20 receptions for 354 yards, 3 TDs, 5 kick returns for 83 yards and 2 rush attempts for 2 yards.
Tyquan was lucky to share the wide receiver room with Denzel Mims and Jalen Hurd and he credits them with providing guidance on everything from running routes, to taking care of your body and putting in the extra work outside of the mandatory hours that is part of a normal NCAAF player’s routine. All that effort paid off, as he made the jump to his sophomore year, logging 45 receptions for 782 yards and 5 TDs.
His junior year was complicated by the Covid-19 pandemic and limited to 6 games. There was the additional challenge of learning a new playbook with a new head coach, all by Zoom meetings. As Tyquan explained, it was hard to build relationships with the new coaching staff and bond with his teammates, which impacted his play on the field.
He attacked the offseason prior to his senior year to build on what he had already learned and get to the next level.
“I can say coming to the spring, I just had that internal clock in my head like, yo, this is the time, you know, last year I didn’t really play at my best, so that was kind of like a little setback for me. So mentally, I came into this off season working 10 times harder, in the weight room, on the field, working on being stronger at the catch point, working on contested catches, route running.”
He also talked about the importance of having wide receivers Coach Chansi Stuckey in his corner. Tyquan shared that he had a strong bond with this coach, who helped him grow both with regard to his play on the field as well as his devotion and faith.
All that effort in the spring and summer paid off in the fall, when Thornton tallied 62 catches for 928 yards with an average of 15.3 and a long of 75 yards and 10 TDs. 361 of those yards came on 1st down receptions for an average of 19 yards per reception.
Thornton has speed, with an unofficial 40 time of 4.38. He’s got a serious double move and a long stride. He’s even been known to make blocks.
His teammates immediately praise his abilities when asked.
Trestan Ebner, RB, Baylor: “Tyquan is my boy, man. Ty is a deep threat. Ty has the ability to impact a play. You know, you give him space, you’ll see him take slants 60, 70 yards to the house. You know, you can throw on post routes, you can on go balls and he has the ability to go and take it off your head too. Like he’s not all over the shoulder, he’ll go on top of someone’s head and like catch it over top. And his feet are good. You know, he can make those tough catches on the sideline. I think he’s gotten really diverse at receiver, you know, he can do it all. He can run stop routes as well, you know, and make those catches and get vertical yards.”
Xavier Newman-Johnson, C, Baylor: “Speed. Ty’s a dog, man. You wanna talk about that Florida speed? He’s fast. Yeah. So fast. Like just seeing him in workouts, like off season and summer workouts, like running that fast. I wish I could run that fast. You know, man, just seeing him grow as a player and he’s such a good father to his kids and seeing him how he is off the field and seeing how he uses off the field to help him on the field. And he’s a good guy, man. He’s a real good receiver at that too.”
When I asked Newman-Johnson if Tyquan could block, given his build, here was his response: “Check out the play versus Kansas where we threw a bubble screen to RJ [Sneed]. Yep. And you see Tyquan blocking all the way.”
So here’s the play:
As far as where he learned his route running, Tyquan responded that a lot of it comes naturally to him: “I was always like a little route runner growing up. You know, being from Florida, you know, Florida guys, we always try to keep a little wiggle to us.” He references Calvin Ridley and Jerry Jeudy as players he tries to model his game after.
When the height and weight measurements were released on the Shrine Bowl week’s first day, the response from fans to Thornton’s hand size (less than 8 inches) was not enthusiastic, as expected. So I asked him about whether that should concern any NFL team evaluating him. He responded that he doesn’t really feel like it’s a challenge for him, but that there were instances this year when a defender would try to punch the ball out his hands. He added that there is always room for improvement, so he is continuing to work on being stronger at the catch point. He believes that once that issue is no longer a question, the sky’s the limit.
After the East West Shrine Bowl, Thornton will go right back to work. He is training at XPE in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and working with retired Ravens WR Anquan Boldin, a man who tormented Steelers fans and defenses for years. With his physical play and intelligence, Boldin will be a perfect mentor.
Through hard work, dedication, and mentoring from fellow players and coaches, Tyquan Thornton feels he has grown tremendously throughout the four years at Baylor and is ready for the next challenge. Based on what I’ve seen in the film room and on the field so far, I would agree.