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Patriots 2021 roster breakdown: Will seventh-round rookie Tre Nixon sneak onto the roster?

Related: Patriots roster breakdown: WR Nelson Agholor

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 13 UCF Spring Game Photo by Mary Holt/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the third phase of voluntary offseason workouts underway, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2021.”

The team currently has 90 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early September and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots bounce back from what was a disappointing 7-9 season last year.

Today, the series kicks continues with wide receiver Tre Nixon.

Hard facts

Name: Tre Nixon

Position: Wide receiver

Jersey number: TBD (Offseason No. 59)

Opening day age: 23

Size: 6-foot-0, 190 pounds

Contract status: Under contract through 2024 (2025 UFA)

Experience

What is his experience? Nixon arrived in the NFL as a seventh-round draft selection by the Patriots earlier this month, which naturally means that his experience at the pro level is rather limited at the moment. While he is participating in the team’s rookie developmental program, he was not spotted during the team’s first OTA practice open to the media (he was present earlier that same week, though). Nonetheless, Nixon does have plenty of football on his résumé stemming from his college career at Ole Miss and Central Florida.

Coming off a record-setting senior season at Viera High School, the four-star recruit received offers from multiple power-five schools before eventually committing to Ole Miss. After two years with the Rebels — the first of which spent as a redshirt — he transferred to UCF where he started 27 consecutive games over a three-season span. Between his stints in Oxford and Orlando, Nixon appeared in a combined 40 contests and caught 109 passes for 1,671 yards and 13 touchdowns.

What did his 2020 season look like? Coming off the most productive season of his college career at that point, Nixon was poised for a breakout campaign in 2020. He appeared to be on a good way in the season opener against Georgia Tech: in the first two quarters of that game, he caught four passes for 94 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Late during the first half, however, disaster struck when he had to leave the game due to an injury and was unable to return for the remainder of the contest.

It later turned out that Nixon had suffered a broken collarbone. The injury forced him to miss the Knights’ next six games, and it also halted his early-season momentum. Even though he eventually returned in late November to play in the team’s final three contests of the year, he was unable to establish himself as the bona fide wide receiver he hoped to become before the season. Nixon added 15 more receptions for 166 yards in those games to finish the season with 19 total catches for 260 yards and two scores.

All in all, the 2020 season was a lesson in perseverance for Nixon. Not only did he miss considerable time due to his collarbone injury, he also struggled with consistency in the receiving department: the redshirt senior registered five drops on 25 targets deemed as catchable by Pro Football Focus. As a result of all this, he entered the pre-draft process as an under-the-radar prospect — even though he later posted some some solid athletic numbers during his Pro Day workout.

2021 preview

What is his projected role? While he did align in the slot from time to time, Nixon was primarily employed as a perimeter receiver during his time at Central Florida (oddly enough lining up almost exclusively on the right side of the offensive formation). Accordingly, the Patriots will likely try to train him as such initially: he will work the sidelines and use his solid straight-line speed as a deep-field target — one that has to improve his route tree to see increased action.

What is his special teams value? Nixon might have to leave his mark on special teams in order to make New England’s roster, but he has limited experience in this area after fielding only one kickoff during his college career (one that was not returned for any yardage). The Patriots might decide to give him a look in other departments — as an up-man on punts or kickoffs, for example — but they generally do not employ wide receivers in the game’s third phase outside of the return roles themselves.

Does he have positional versatility? As noted above, Nixon played primarily on the outside during his time at UCF. Transitioning into a more versatile role will therefore be a process even though he does have some solid agility — he posted a 6.81 3-cone time at his Pro Day — to play in the slot as well. All in all, though, he should not yet be expected to become an X/Z hybrid like other wideouts on New England’s current roster.

What is his salary cap situation? The first Patriots draft pick to sign his rookie contract this year, Nixon will be playing on a standard four-year pact. At the moment, hough, only a fraction of that deal is counting against the team’s salary cap: under the NFL’s Top-51 rule, his $24,669 signing bonus proration is the only cash currently on New England’s books. If he makes the 53-man roster, his cap impact will jump to $684,669.

What is his roster outlook? Despite being hand-picked by since-retired Patriots research director Ernie Adams, Nixon is no lock to make the team this year. New England has five listed wide receivers qualifying as either roster locks or relatively safe bets (Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Matthew Slater), leaving only a handful of spots open. To get one of them, Nixon will have to beat out, among others, former first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry. Harry should be the favorite given his experience and athletic profile, but he has yet to put it all together. If Nixon can adapt to the system quickly, he might therefore have a chance to beat him out. But even if he does not, the rookie at the very least appears to be a prime candidate for a practice squad spot.