Following the Rookies: AFC East New England Patriots
This is the last article on the Following the Rookies series where I take a look a 1-2 of the more successful rookies on every team in the NFL. The New England Patriots traded out of the 1st round with the LA Chargers and were able to draft safety Kyle Dugger out of Lenoir-Rhyne University which is a small Division II school in North Carolina. Having to deal with the loss of Tom Brady as well as the most opt-outs of any team in the NFL there were a lot of question marks surrounding the Patriots entering the 2020 season. I didn't think that drafting a division II safety would be an answer to help this defense, especially at a position they did not necessarily need.
Dugger has played in 11 games, starting in 5 and missing 2 due to an ankle injury. Dugger has 48 total tackles (31 solo/17 assisted) and has been targeted 20 times giving up 14 completions for 153 yards and 0 touchdowns. Dugger has been used as a chess piece for the Patriots from playing a lot of man coverage against specific matchups to being a box safety who is used to mainly play against the run. Dugger was picked so high coming out of a division II school because of how good of an athlete he was. So far that has shown up in the NFL when he plays against the run as he is has shown a lot of range to be able to get sideline to sideline as well as come from high to low to make plays against the run. He is best as a box safety where he can be used as a hybrid type linebacker. Since the Patriots have lost 3/4 of their main linebackers from last year due to free agency and covid they have had to play with a much smaller lineup using safeties in linebacker roles. Dugger can improve in a few ways in the pass game. To start he needs to improve in man coverage. Not to say that he has looked bad but there are times that he needs to do a better job of staying in phase. Another aspect of the pass game where I would like to see more out of him is when playing in deep zones. He isn't often used as a deep safety but he has the instincts, athletic ability, and range to play there. As he gets more comfortable with the speed and diagnosing of NFL teams he will become a very good safety who I think will be used as Patrick Chung's replacement in the strong safety role.