Former NC State lineman Thuney starting Super Bowl after standout rookie campaign

Following a season where he started the most snaps for the Patriots, Joe Thuney looking to make a difference in the trenches in first Super Bowl

Ron Chenoy—USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots offensive guard Joe Thuney (62) during the second half against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field.

When Joe Thuney was drafted in the third round by the New England Patriots, very little was known about the former NC State offensive lineman. So little, in fact, that in the press conference later that night he was asked how to pronounce his name in a conference call — the “H” is silent, by the way.That question was sandwiched in between three queries about fellow third-round pick Jacoby Brissett, a backup quarterback. Such is life for a rookie offensive lineman.But Thuney’s first season in the NFL has been anything but ordinary.After being selected in 78th overall, Thuney shot up the Patriots depth chart and took the starting left guard position in the season opener. The rookie has retained that spot all season, starting 18 games blocking Tom Brady’s blindside en route to the Super Bowl.Reaching the Super Bowl for any player is rare. Doing so in your first year? Yeah, that’s not normal. Less than a year since he was selected by a team that traded back to get him in the draft, Thuney still hasn’t quite come to terms with playing football in February.”It’s still kind of hitting me,” Thuney said, “But I’m just trying to put things into perspective and not make too much of it. But it is a huge game and we’re looking forward to it. … This is pretty cool.”Though he wasn’t taken until the third round, Thuney was actually a high selection for the Patriots. Given the fact that New England was docked its first-round selection due to the Deflategate scandal, the Pats’ second pick was utilized to take the former NC State lineman.Much like other late picks by the Pats — Brady was a sixth-rounder 17 years ago, if you hadn’t heard — Thuney panned out. He not only played the most snaps for the Patriots at 1,114 (99.64 percent), but was also named a Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team.Of the five linemen named to the list, Thuney was the only player not selected in the first two rounds. Rather than focusing on where he was selected on draft day, Thuney’s secret was immediately getting to work.”After I got drafted I just wanted to make the team,” Thuney said. “That was all I was concerned about. Just trying to pick up the playbook and trying to do the best I could out there. I wasn’t thinking all down the road like this, it was all just day-by-day stuff.”Thuney’s success shouldn’t have come as a shock, though. As a starter for his final three seasons in Raleigh, Thuney got experience at both tackle and guard before settling in as a left tackle as a senior. With Brissett under center, Thuney didn’t allow a single sack in conference play, ultimately being named to the All-ACC First Team.There was never a question about Thuney’s ability, but his true position as a guard or tackle was questioned despite guarding ACC defensive linemen for three straight years. Thuney silenced any doubts by tying for 11th in bench press reps (28) and finishing second overall with a 4.95 40-yard dash. That athleticism was enough to convince to convince scouts he was worth a shot. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, never one to show his cards, sneakily traded back with the New Orleans Saints and still came away with a starting offensive lineman in Thuney late in the draft.”[Thuney] was a three-year starter at North Carolina State,” former Ravens coach and NFL Network analyst Brian Billick said at the NFL Draft. “He has the size, and he’ll learn how to use his leverage with that size.”The season hasn’t been perfect for Thuney as he was allowed the most quarterback pressures (45) this year and was tossed aside like a ragdoll by Pittsburgh’s Javon Hargrave in the AFC Championship Game. But after being questioned about a backup quarterback and his name on draft night, Thuney has certainly come a long way.On Sunday night, the former three-star prospect from NC State will make his Super Bowl debut. After the season he’s put together blocking for Brady, it might not be his last start on the biggest stage in sports.