Patriots Sleeper WR Has Been ‘Surprise Offseason Standout’

Getty Tre Nixon

The weapons New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones will have at his disposal in 2022 appear to be an improvement over the group he threw to in 2021.

While we saw Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne have career seasons last year, the team lacked the sort of weapon that could get the attention of opposing defensive coordinators. The acquisition of DeVante Parker from the rival Miami Dolphins might be the answer to that void, but the veteran receiver wasn’t the guy from the WR group grabbing most of the attention in voluntary workouts and mandatory OTAs.

Second-year man Tre Nixon was called a “surprise offseason standout” for the Patriots by ESPN’s Mike Reiss.

While the long-time Patriots beat writer acknowledges Nixon still has an uphill battle to make New England’s 53-man roster, the 2021 seventh-round pick has some momentum.

“[He] caught two deep passes from Mac Jones — one of which he pinned to his chest with his right hand while covered tightly — to earn himself an unexpected trip to the post-practice interview podium,” Reiss wrote. “Nixon, who drove to the stadium every day last season with Jones as they took their COVID tests together before entering the facility, spent 2021 on the practice squad. He faces a crowded WR depth chart headlined by DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and 2022 second-round pick Tyquan Thornton, but he has made an early case as a player to watch when training camp begins.”

Those five receivers might automatically have a spot and Nixon’s play and upside would have to convince the Patriots to keep a sixth receiver. However, it is possible the Patriots could look to trade Agholor after a disappointing 2021 season.

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Agholor was expected to provide the Patriots with a field-stretching presence in the passing game. Unfortunately, Agholor only managed 37 receptions for 473 yards and 3 TDs. That was a far cry from what New England expected and what he did the previous season with the Las Vegas Raiders (48 receptions for 896 yards and 8 TDs).

In short, Agholor’s slippage may create an opportunity for Nixon to make the roster. Nixon spent the entire 2021 season on the practice squad after a standout career at UCF, though he only played in 4 games in 2020 as his school’s season was severely impacted by the pandemic.

Nixon could be the next diamond in the rough for New England.

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How Many WRs Will the Patriots Keep on the 53-Man Roster?

It seems as though N’Keal Harry’s days on the Patriots’ roster are numbered. Every indication suggests he will be traded or released before the season begins. If Harry doesn’t make it, Nixon’s biggest competition for a roster spot might come from veteran Ty Montgomery or Kristian Wilkerson.

Nixon has more upside than both men, though Wilkerson showed some flashes in 2021. Still, Nixon’s speed and connection with Jones might make him a more attractive player.

Expect the Patriots to keep only five active receivers with tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith split out wide fairly often.

Special Teams Opportunities for Tre Nixon?

If Nixon doesn’t get on the field a ton as a wide receiver in 2022, the Patriots could give him a look as a return man. He didn’t have a lot of opportunities returning kicks in college, though he has excellent speed. To be specific, Nixon had exactly one kickoff return during his time at Ole Miss and UCF combined.

Because of that, it would be a shock to see him returning kicks or punts. However, he might get some reps as a flyer on special teams. Matthew Slater has made what is arguably a Hall-of-Fame career in this role. Could Nixon get his first opportunities to shine during the regular season in this capacity?

Nixon’s journey to a roster spot might be one of the more intriguing preseason storylines to follow with the Patriots.

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