FOXBORO — As the New England Patriots continue their preparations for the upcoming season, a door may have opened a bit wider for some roster hopefuls to earn a spot on the team’s roster for 2022.
Kristian Wilkerson, New England Patriots
Quinn Nordin, New England Patriots
Tre Nixon, New England Patriots
The NFL has announced some modifications to their rules regarding practice squad spots. Per the revised roster parameters, each team is allowed to carry 16 players on its respective practice squad. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the league had allowed for an increase in practice squad players to 14 players in 2021.
The 2022 update will permit up to six of those spots to be used on veterans. Additionally, a player can now be standard-elevated three times rather than two during the regular season. In keeping continuity from 2021, no elevation limits will be set for the playoffs.
The Patriots were among the teams to utilize practice squad elevations to their full advantage last season. From the start of the regular season to lone playoff loss in Buffalo, New England promoted 15 players onto their game-day rosters as part of 36 combined transactions.
The new set of rules, which has been made permanent in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, can therefore be seen as good news for the Patriots, who boast a great deal of depth at several key positions.
While it may be a bit early to determine which players may be on the roster bubble, here is a six-pack of veterans who may find that the modifications to the practice squad rules may make remaining in Foxboro is a bit more feasible.
Will Sherman, OL
Having been selected by the Pats in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, Sherman started at both left and right tackle for Colorado, and might also be a candidate to move inside to the guard position. At 6-3, 304 pounds, he has adequate size to block at the pro level. Sherman could be a swing tackle on both sides, and also has the potential to transition to guard, or even center. There are some concerns regarding his pass protection. However, has some upside as a zone blocker, due to solid movement and his ability to get set quickly. Sherman was a roster elevation for New England’s Week Five matchup with the Houston Texans, but did not register any stats from that game.
Tre Nixon, WR
Having been drafted by the Pats in the seventh-round of the 2021 NFL Draft, Nixon has the distinction of being Ernie Adams’ final draft selection in the Patriots organization. The product of Central Florida has NFL-level speed (he ran the 40 at a time of 4.43) and is able to use his speed to shed defenders at the line. Though he lacks some physicality, he is physical enough to make catches in tight coverage. Nixon could be a promising project in the slot.
Quinn Nordin, K
Since Nordin joined the team as an undrafted rookie out of the University of Michigan in May, fans and media alike have helped to cultivate the legend of his leg strength. During training camp in 2021, special teams captain, Matthew Slater, even compared Nordin’s leg to a “cannon” and expressed excitement on watching him develop. At one point, Nordin had yet to miss a kick inside the confines of Gillette Stadium. Nordin finished the preseason going 6 of 8 on field goals and 4 of 7 on extra points with longs of 48 and 50 yards. He was placed on injured reserve prior to the start of the 2021 season with an abdomen injury. Nordin was released by the team on December 1, and subsequently signed to the practice squad two day later after clearing waivers.
Kristian Wilkerson, WR
Since joining the Pats in 2020, Wilkerson has been a mainstay on the team’s practice squad. The SE Missouri State product had an impressive showing during training camp. He saw the majority of his reps in an X-Receiver role, in conjunction with the team getting solid contributions at the X from both Nelson Agholor and N’Keal Harry. He also received notable work on special teams drills; at one point, alongside special teams captain. Matthew Slater. However, his preseason spotlight began to dim amidst issues with securing the catch. Though Wilkerson was rumored to be in line for a roster spot, he was released by the team during roster cutdown, and subsequently signed to the practice squad. The promising wideout put on an impressive performance in the Pats Week Seventeen’s 50-10 blowout of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Wilkerson compiled four receptions for 42 yards and two touchdowns in his most productive game as a pro.
Will Sherman, New England Patriots
Daniel Ekuale, New England Patriots
Malcolm Perry, New England Patriots
Malcolm Perry, RB/WR
Perry joined the league as a seventh round draft choice by the Miami Dolphins in the 2020 NFL Draft out of Navy. The versatile 24-year-old was claimed by the Patriots prior to the start of the 2021 season, after his release from the Miami Dolphins during roster cut downs. However, Perry would never play a down in New England. He reached a settlement off injured reserve in November. Since that time, the former Navy Midshipman spent one month on the New Orleans Saints’ practice squad. As a rookie in 2020, Perry played nine games with two starts and had nine catches for 92 yards, including a touchdown in Miami’s season finale at Buffalo. Perry also had three rushing attempts and returned one punt. Along with playing wide receiver, Perry also has the versatility to be an option at running back, as well as returning punts on special teams.
Daniel Ekuale, DL
Ekuale originally entered the league as a rookie free agent out of Washington State in 2018. He spent his first two seasons with the Cleveland Browns, and his 2020 campaign with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Ekuale signed with the Patriots’ practice squad in September 2021. Though he remained on the practice squad for the duration of the season, he was elevated to the game-day on multiple occasions, both as a standard elevation and a COVID-19 replacement. As a result of these elevations, Ekuale appeared in seven regular-season games, and one playoff game in 2021. The 28-year-old logged 115 defensive snaps, while compiling six tackles, two quarterback hits and two sacks. Ekuale’s increase in playing time heading into the home stretch of the 2021 season indicates that he might be primed for a larger depth role at the position in 2022. Having signed a futures deal with the Patriots earlier this year, expect Ekuale to make a strong push for a roster spot in 2022.