With their eighth and final pick of the 2021 NFL draft, the New England Patriots selected UCF wide receiver Tre Nixon.
We break down his game and what he could bring to the Patriots offense:
Brief breakdown and player profile:
Measurables: 6'1 (1.85m), 187lbs (84.82kg)
Age: 23 years old
40-Yard Dash: 4.44
3-Cone Time: 6.81
RAS Athletic Testing Score: 8.98
Evaluation: Tre Nixon is a player who has his speed and size going for him, along with a pretty strong athletic profile. At the very least, he is someone who will be a vertical deep threat in training camp and will challenge defenders on his release and in press coverage. He has the opportunity, the foundation, and the skill set to develop and become a much more refined receiver and route-runner. Whether he can be advantageous of the opportunities he will have, in a situation where he could earn a role and playing time with a real impressive act, remains to be seen.
Draft grade: B+
The selection of Nixon was good for where the Patriots were picking. Ernie Adams, in his last season as research director with the team, hand-selected Nixon and he did with good reason. At the 242nd spot in the draft, there were very few receivers who gave the Patriots what Nixon can provide. That is a lot of what they have struggled with recently. The Patriots seemingly did not have a receiver who could handle press coverage and stretch the field vertically. At the very least, Nixon can provide glimpses of something entirely different than the 2020 New England receiving corps showed.
How he fits with the team:
Everyone has heard all the complaints about the Patriots' receiving corps dating back to Tom Brady's last season in New England. Concerns with speed, concerns with finding separation, timing, route running, lack of vertical threats, etc. The Patriots' receiving corps has been ripped apart over the last two seasons, having every flaw pointed out about them, to later be labeled one of, if not the, worst receiving corps in football — all this criticism coming since the selection of 2019 first-round pick N'Keal Harry. Nixon would now become the first receiver they would select since Harry. Luckily, while his ceiling may be limited, he addresses a lot of these areas of weakness for the New England receiving corps.
With Nixon's height, vertical threat-style, with quickness out of his release and speed down the sideline, he likely projects favorably into a X-receiver type role behind Nelson Agholor. Having a guy like Nixon behind Agholor might make sense from an injury standpoint, but Nixon shouldn't be required to see real-time NFL snaps in his first season. It's Nixon's height that makes him a bigger target than Agholor and has him inching up on a guy like Harry, and when he can combine his height with athletic ability and quickness, he can be a type of player that this receiving corps hasn't had.
Nixon not only has athleticism, but also an ability to separate and if this can translate to the NFL level and he can find ways to get open in the intermediate and deep parts of the field, then he can carve a role in this team for the future. He has shown ability to understand route concepts and get open at the college level, but now needs to show his ability against next level competition.
But Nixon showed in college that he can run, get open, stretch the field, get out of his release quickly, and showed football IQ (which should give hope for any potential development). He fits squarely into the X receiver prototype and will join Harry in a battle for that backup role.
Chances of making final 53-man roster:
As the roster stands, it's going to be hard to make room for players picked in the sixth, seventh rounds. Just with a very competitive roster and depth chart with multiple layers to it, Nixon's chances of landing a spot with the final 53 are unlikely, though certainly not out of the question. It's truly going to depend on him being a quick learner and being able to put out good reps versus quality competition in camp. While it's hard to imagine Nixon jumping right on the scene and blowing by J.C Jackson for a 30-yard touchdown, he's going to have to put together an array of impressive plays and reps to show that he can keep up in this league and that he deserves the patience that it would require from the team to develop him.
However, just as things stand right now, he is currently in the third tier of a still rather weak receiving corps. One has to think that Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers are sitting in the first tier on the depth chart, Harry and Gunner Olszewski figure into the second, and lastly guys like Nixon, Isaiah Zuber and Kristian Wilkerson in that third tier. Including special teams ace Matthew Slater, Nixon making the team and everyone else above him doing so too means that seven receivers would be making the roster, on a team that is going to struggle to get down to final cuts. With loaded spots at tight end and running back, a more run-heavy approach, and more two-tight end sets, it's unlikely that seven receivers make this football team. That means Nixon would have to beat someone out. Can he outstage a player like Harry as they both figure into that backup X receiver role? That would be a heck of a story line in training camp, but it's more likely that he will end up on the practice squad.