Last spring’s acquisitions of Tyrann Mathieu from the Houston Texans and Juan Thornhill from the NFL Draft revitalized a position group that had been underperforming ever since Eric Berry was injured in Week 1 of the 2017 season.
From the time he was signed to the team, there was never much question of Mathieu’s ability. But as a second-round rookie, it was reasonable to worry whether Thornhill could make an impact. As early as mid-August, Mathieu was expressing confidence in him.
“I think some guys, they’re a natural at what they do,” Mathieu said during training camp. “I think he’s one of those kids who you just put them in the middle of the football field, nine times out of ten he’s going to make a play.
“That’s his mindset, he’s very confident, he’s becoming more vocal. I think we’re going to look forward to really seeing him play well for us — not early on — but especially down the stretch.”
So it was a bit of a surprise when Thornhill started alongside Mathieu in Week 1. But any concerns over his ability to play quickly disappeared. He started all 16 regular-season games, allowing a passer rating of just 43.0 when targeted — and collecting three interceptions and 58 tackles (42 solo).
But in the season finale against the Los Angeles Chargers, Thornhill tore an ACL while blitzing.
“Once it happened, I felt the pop, and I pretty much knew it immediately,” he said this week via Sam McDowell of the Kansas City Star.
“I feel so bad for the kid. He was having a great season,” said Mathieu in January. ”Like I’ve said, we really leaned on him to make big plays in critical situations. We put him in tough situations, and he found a way to come through for us.”
So Thornhill had to sit out the 2019 postseason.
“It definitely hurt me a lot,” he told McDowell. “I definitely wanted to be out there, especially as a rookie. That’s anyone’s dream — to play in the Super Bowl. But at the same time, I was really happy that my team got there and that we won the Super Bowl.”
So it was good news when NFL Network’s James Palmer reported in late February that the injury hadn’t been as severe as previously thought, and that Thornhill would be ready to start the season.
But this week, Thornhill had even better news.
“It’s going pretty good. Finally got my full range of motion,” he said. “They say I should be ready for camp. That’s always good news.
“I’m super hungry to get back out there. I want to get back to a Super Bowl and actually be able to play in that game. It’s a dream of mine that I’ve always had as a kid.”
The Chiefs will need him back.