ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.— There were two players that helped themselves at the NFL Combine a few weeks ago and they both happen to go to Baylor. They also happen to be two players that could fill voids with the Eagles—who are interested in both.
Tyquan Thornton, a 6-foot-2, 181-pound wide receiver ran a mind-blowing 4.28-seconds in the 40-yard dash and Jalen Pitre, a 5-foot-11, 198-pound safety, showed his athleticism with a 35” vertical leap and 4.18-second shuttle run.
No one ones each player better than Baylor head coach Dave Aranda, the Maxwell Football Club’s George Munger Award winner as the Collegiate Coach of the Year Award.
“A fair amount of teams has spoken to me about Tyquan (including the Eagles),” Aranda said. “Initially, there was a fair amount of promise with a fair amount of speed, and a fair amount of singularity in terms of types of balls were directed his way, and types of balls where catches would come out of it. Credit to Tyquan, credit to Chansi Stuckey, his receivers’ coach this past year for the growth in him, which has been tremendous.
“He worked on releases, being more physical. He worked on blocking assignments, being physical in effort and working on contested catches. There were times when some of those things were struggles. Throughout the year, his confidence grew and those things all became success stories.
“I’m excited for Tyquan. He was on our leadership counsel and was a great role model for the rest of the team in terms of doing the good stuff right and never on any lists. Whatever comes at Tyquan, he’s going to knock it down. He’s going to do it the right way. The Eagles have spoken to me about him.”
Thornton has NFL-level separation speed. He goes after 50/50 sideline balls. He’s also rail-thin and that means he could have problems breaking free in press coverage. It also means he can be pushed around by larger, stronger defensive backs that could redirect him. That also makes his range limited when it comes to the availability of the entire route tree.
Pitre could have some Brian Dawkins in him in terms of leadership ability. He was at the foundation of Baylor’s core values. Under Aranda this past season, the Bears slugged through a 2-7 COVID 19-shortened season in 2020, casting doubts on the program.
It didn’t take long for second-year head coach Aranda to push the skepticism aside. In an incredible turnround, Aranda pulled Baylor back into national title contention. Under his patient guidance, the Bears finished 12-2, winning the Big 12 by beating then-No. 5-rated Oklahoma State, then putting the exclamation point on it with a 21-7 Sugar Bowl victory over Ole Miss, the Bears first New Year’s Day bowl win since 1956. As a result, Baylor earned its highest final ranking in program history, finishing No. 5 in the AP Poll and No. 6 in the Coaches Poll.
At the hub of that turnaround was Pitre.
“What I love about Jalen is that he will speak the thing and then he will live the thing,” Aranda said. “He is an empathetic leader, who will look out for other people and connect. He is such a strong presence in your culture. On the field, he is a gym rat.
“Jalen is always at it. There are gaps (in time) when you’re not doing things, and Jalen owns those gaps. Whoever drafts Jalen is going to be very fortunate. He will be the leader of the young guys. Jalen has considerable skill and abilities, but it’s maximized though with his study of football and his anticipation.
“Jalen can play multiple positions. He can play nickel, he can play strong safety, for sure, free safety, he’s shown the range and ball skills, and play dime linebacker on third down, covering backs out of the backfield. Jalen is very, very talented and can fill a lot of needs for a lot of teams. And yes, the Eagles, like a lot of teams have been in contact about him.
“I’ve heard Jalen’s interviews have been amazing and the Eagles have spoken to him. They’ve seen, like every other team who has spoken to him, the character he has and the integrity he has. I’m so happy for him.”
No one, obviously, questions Petri’s character and intelligence. He plays fast, and his ability to anticipate enables him to be a playmaker beyond his role in the scheme. His speed, however, could be a concern at safety. He could struggle in space covering quality NFL receivers.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.