Xavier Nixon has all the tools to be a permanent fixture in the Washington Redskins’ offense by the start of the season. He played both left and right tackle within a zone blocking scheme at Florida, has great size and athleticism, as well as the experience of going up against elite competition in the SEC.
So, what’s the problem?
Well, when a player loses their starting position more than once, it raises red flags. When both those demotions were due to inconsistent play and mental lapses, it gains that player a reputation.
This was Nixon’s story up until being drafted by the Redskins, and one that he is desperately trying to shake.
"All that to this point is really irrelevant," Nixon said when talking to The Washington Post. "All I can do is worry about the future and where my work ethic will take me. This is a new beginning for me, so I have to start fresh."
Although he went undrafted, Nixon‘s arrival in Washington gives him the best possible chance to succeed. At 6’6” and 321 pounds, he has the size required to be a starting tackle in the NFL. The ZBS under which he played at Florida is a perfect preparation for Mike Shanahan’s scheme; he also worked the read-option in front of Jeff Driskel in 2012, as well as when protecting Tim Tebow as a freshman.
It helps that the Redskins are in a transitional period when it comes to the right tackle position. Tyler Polumbus signed a new deal in the offseason, but no one really considers him anything more than a short-term solution. Jeremy Trueblood and Tony Pashos were also added, but Trueblood lost his place with the Buccaneers and Pashos missed the entirety of last year.
Therefore, it would seem that the first person Nixon must beat out before taking the field is Tom Compton. Although Compton—a sixth-round pick from 2012—hasn’t yet played a down in the NFL, it’s well-known that the Redskins coaches hold him in high regard.
When Compton was promoted to the active roster in December 2012, Shanahan told The Washington Post that, "We felt like he has earned the right to be on our football team and a part of our group. I think he has a big-time future for us."
That sort of endorsement indicates that Nixon is at least third on the depth chart going into the new season.
However, Nixon has something of a head start, due to both the Florida scheme and the level of competition he faced every week. Compton struggled with both his footwork and blocking at South Dakota, which was always going to slow his progress under Shanahan. Although they like him very much, the Redskins also don't seem to be in any hurry to get Compton on the field, which bodes well for Nixon.
The former Gator has the chance to impress his new coaches with a good showing in camp, and the response has so far been positive. According to Nixon—again via the Post—“They’re just telling [me] my athleticism, my foot speed and my agility all fits into the scheme.”
If Nixon can show that he can be consistent in pass protection, he will quickly find himself jumping up the roster. Polumbus was the weak link in the Redskins’ passing game last year, regularly causing Robert Griffin III to rely on improvisation to make a play.
With Trent Williams growing into the player Shanahan always believed he could be, there is an opening for a similar bookend on the strong side.
Nixon could be that player and cement his place along the Redskins line. He has the advantage of playing both left and right tackle—although some of his time on the left was actually the strong side with Tebow under center—so could make the roster as both a backup to Williams and competition for Polumbus and Compton.
However, he’s also something of a project, occasionally relying on his athleticism ahead of technique. That’s not going to fly in the NFL—it also contributed to him being usurped at Florida—and Mike Shanahan is going to be quick to drop him if he sees him as untrustworthy.
Dezmon Briscoe will testify as to how that feels.
The Redskins are thin on the ground at both tackle positions, and in an ideal world Nixon would be allowed to develop in the same manner as Compton. If he finds himself on the field in 2013, it will be a great achievement, but also speak volumes about how the cap penalty has affected the Redskins' roster depth.
Nixon’s chances of making the 53 are very good indeed, while his chances of starting in Week 1 will improve with every good showing in camp and preseason. He’s got a ton of talent, and if he is truly dedicated to improving his technique and consistency he’ll be a starting tackle in the league—as well as one of the true steals of the 2013 draft.