One lineman shined above all of the rest during Thursday’s Patriots game. This player has not even appeared in one NFL game. You’d think it might be the $6 million dollar left tackle.

But no. He is a rookie.

When I first watched Joe Thuney’s tape from North Carolina State I was definitely impressed. The tape didn’t blow you away, but it certainly left the feeling this offensive guard could someday serve as an NFL starter. With Thuney’s recent on field dominance he might be ready to start much sooner than planned: Week 1.

With oft injured Jonathan Cooper reeling from injuries once again, Thuney was thrust into an early starting role in camp. Rolling with the first group in the league is an accomplishment at any point in a career. I presumed that Thuney would show flashes of brilliance but fall victim to Cooper or Tre’ Jackson in the depth chart battle. Reports out of camp consistently mentioned Thuney’s dominance. One practice he was declared the most impressive player in one-on-ones against the defensive line.

Players often flash in the pan during this time of the year. Players like Aaron Dobson have made all their catches during the summer and disappeared once the regular season rolled around. Thuney’s performance on Thursday night graded out tremendously higher than any other Patriot. No one was even closed. By my count, he was a critical component of 6 drives and 38 plays.

When grading film I usually keep a simple tally of very good or very bad individual plays for offensive lineman. It’s nothing complicated. Make a tremendous block, cut, read, or effort and I take note. On six different occasions, I marked down tremendous individual effort or plays he made. The closest other player was Nate Solder with two.

Thuney isn’t someone that overpowers you with strength. He beats you with sound technique and a very impressive football IQ. This former member of the NC State Wolfpack has potential to be one of the top guards in the league if he continues to grow. It’s not often a team lands a rookie season starting guard in the third round.

It will be interesting to see how Belichick employs Thuney considering the past struggles of the offensive line. He is currently learning both guard and tackle and could appear on the edge in upcoming preseason games. The 32-year-old Sebastian Vollmer is in the last year of his contract. If Thuney can play tackle, Belichick has already landed Vollmer’s replacement.

At the very least, Thuney will gain valuable first season experience at guard. His main competition will likely be sophomore Tre Jackson and veteran Josh Kline. Kline played Thursday but didn’t appear until the final drive of the second quarter. Most of his playing time was at center, not guard. The Patriots could potentially deal one of their very good centers (Stork, Andrews) and Kline may serve as backup center while contributing to guard depth. If Thuney stays healthy and continues to look this good there is no way either Jackson or Kline beats him for the starting job.

The Patriots have loaded up the interior of the offensive line in recent years. In 2014, they landed Bryan Stork. Last season brought David Andrews, Tre Jackson, and Shaq Mason. Former high first round pick Jonathan Cooper was acquired via trade this season. All of these players do not possess the ability to play on the edge. If Jackson, Cooper, or another guard can step up, Thuney could serve as the future swing tackle. The astoundingly average and amazingly overpaid Marcus Cannon currently holds that role.

The Patriots are notorious for cutting ties with players at the perfect time. Cooper was a shot in the dark. If he doesn’t pan out the Patriots can cut him knowing they still got great return on their investment.

The Patriots dealt Chandler Jones for Cooper, and two picks. Those two picks garnered Malcolm Mitchell, and you guessed it, Joe Thuney. And I haven’t even mentioned the huge amount of cap space they freed by not extending Jones to a longer contract in Foxboro.

Dealing away a 26-year-old former Super Bowl Champion entering his prime never felt so good. Joe Thuney should serve as a key cog on Brady or Jimmy’s line for years to come. All under a rookie contract that doesn’t cost the Patriots over $720,000 a year until expiring in 2019.

The Hoodie is always one, two, maybe 16 steps ahead.