With training camp already underway, the New England Patriots have fully set their sights onto the upcoming 2022 season.
The team currently has 84 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 men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots build on their 10-7 record.
Today, the series continues with second-year wide receiver Tre Nixon.
Name: Tre Nixon
Position: Wide receiver
Jersey number: 82
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6-foot-0, 190 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 ERFA)
What is his experience? Nixon arrived in the NFL as a seventh-round draft selection by the Patriots last year, and despite having one season in the league under his belt only carries limited experience into his sophomore campaign. The 6-foot-8, 190-pound wideout, after all, has appeared in no games outside of preseason just yet; spending his entire rookie campaign on New England’s practice squad. Nonetheless, Nixon does have plenty of football on his résumé stemming from his college career at Ole Miss and UCF.
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 in redshirt capacity — he transferred to Central Florida 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 2021 season look like? Even though he posted some solid numbers during his Pro Day, Nixon entered the NFL Draft as an under-the-radar player — mainly due to his struggle with consistency and injury during his final season in college. As a result, he had to wait until the 242nd overall selection in the seventh round to come off the board: the Patriots let retiring research director Ernie Adams hand-pick Nixon out of a group of player, adding him to a wide receiver room that had seen some changes earlier in the offseason.
Despite getting drafted, the UCF product found himself on the roster bubble from Day 1. He did participate in the Patriots’ rookie developmental program and offseason workouts as well as training camp, but he also missed time during the summer due to injury. As a result, he found himself on the chopping block on roster cutdown day. After clearing the waiver wire without getting picked up by another team, however, he was signed to the New England practice squad. Nixon spent his entire rookie season there.
While he was never elevated to the game-day squad and ended the year without any regular season or playoff snaps, he did see the field a bit during the exhibition portion of the schedule. Despite appearing in all three of the Patriots’ preseason games, however, the rookie wide receiver played only 23 of a possible 199 offensive snaps (11.6%) as well as 10 more on special teams (of 72; 13.9%). Sharing the field primarily with the backups and bottom-of-the-roster players, Nixon caught a pair of passes for a combined 11 yards.
What is his projected role? Nixon was used primarily as a perimeter receiver at Central Florida, but the Patriots changed his usage upon his arrival. He played a majority of his snaps last preseason in the slot, with him taking more of a hybrid role this year. Given his size and athletic profile, Nixon projects as a Z-receiver in New England’s offense; similar to Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne, he will play both inside and outside the formation.
Does he have positional versatility? Despite his rather one-dimensional collegiate usage — he lined up almost exclusively on the right side of the offensive formation, for example — the Patriots opted to give Nixon a more flexible role. The preseason opener against New York last week was a good example of his development in that area. After seeing most of his snaps in the slot in 2021, there was almost an even split between inside and outside snaps this season. Additionally, he also increased his kicking game contributions.
What is his special teams value? After serving as a two-unit special teamer last season — aligning on the kickoff coverage and punt return squads — he is being used on two more squads this year. Additionally, Nixon also played on the kickoff return and punt coverage team. New England is also giving him some looks as a return man: he aligned back deep on one punt that he fair-caught and on two kickoffs, one of which returned for 25 yards.
What is his salary cap situation? The Patriots re-signed Nixon to a one-year reserve/futures deal after his rookie campaign on the practice squad, allowing him to compete for a roster spot again in Year 2. The contract on which he is playing is a reflection of his status: it consists of a $705,000 salary and does not include any guarantees or bonuses. At the moment, it is therefore not counting against New England’s cap under the NFL’s Top-51 rule.
How safe is his roster spot? Nixon was one of the standout performers in mandatory minicamp and has also played an active role in training camp thus far. The question now becomes whether his momentum will carry him to a roster spot, because he still remains on the bubble. With five wide receivers already locks or near-locks to make the team — DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor and Tyquan Thornton — he is competing not just against the other depth wide receivers under contract, but indirectly also against somebody like cornerback Myles Bryant. Will the team see more value in carrying a sixth receiver or depth at another position? That might decide Nixon’s fate.
One-sentence projection: Given the depth ahead of him, Nixon will ultimately fall short of the 53-man roster but become a prime candidate to make the practice squad yet again.