Going into the 2020 NFL Draft, all the talk around the Patriots was about the quarterback. How are they going to replace Tom Brady? Are they moving up for Tua (never was going to happen) or will they sit at 23 and take someone like linebacker Kenneth Murray, a talented prospect out of Oklahoma that would have been a nice fit in Bill Belichick’s hybrid defense.
Tight end was also another area the Patriots could go, with Cole Kmet of Notre Dame being rumored to possibly be sporting the flying Elvis on his helmet. Experts spoke about the wide receivers in the 2020 class being the best they’ve ever seen, so this is another area where the Patriots were thin and could potentially go with pick 23. All these were well thought out opinions with players that made sense at that spot.
Bill Belichick doesn’t care what the “experts” say because he actually is one. The Patriots did what they do- they went with where they saw the most value. As we have seen before, with the 23rd pick, the Patriots traded down with the Chargers to obtain pick 37 and an additional 3rd rounder. The Patriots did what they do- they drafted the player they liked the best, value-wise, at that spot. As I heard Kyle Dugger announced as the pick, admittedly, even I said “a D-2 safety?”, but when you dig into Dugger’s film and background, it is very easy to see why Belichick and Co. fell in love with the athletic, rangy, physical safety that hails from the Atlanta area.
Dugger wasn’t widely recruited coming out Whitewater High School In Georgia, so he decided to enroll at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, a small private school in North Carolina. Typically we discuss the recruiting process for all the newly-drafted Patriots, but when they aren’t recruited and fly under the radar as Dugger has, it simplifies things as far as background. When Dugger was in high school, he excelled at basketball. He wasn’t a regular starter on the football team until his senior year, although he did contribute as a junior too. Two D-3 schools were also interested, but Dugger is a legitimate diamond in the rough, people just didn’t know who he was. That WAS the case, but those days are over now. Duggar is considered one of the best athletes in the 202 NFL Draft, and his considerable talents will finally be on display for the world to see.
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Dugger is the son of Kimberly Dugger, a former power forward for Fort Valley State and also a member of the school’s Hall of Fame. His older brother played center for the LaGrange College basketball team before graduating and going to play professionally overseas. Obviously, the athleticism in this family is in abundance, and the Patriots are looking to take full advantage of said athleticism.
The Patriots are getting older at the safety spot, even with the recent addition of former Charger Adrian Phillips. Duggar brings more of what Patrick Chung offers than Devin McCourty, but he does project to be better in coverage than Chung has been throughout his career. Where the comparison fits is Dugger’s aggression and lack of fear to come up and tackle in the running game. This is a non-negotiable, especially with Bill Belichick. and it appears he has drafted the type of safety he likes- unknown, smart, talented, and aggressive. Dugger also possesses excellent return skills, something the Patriots are certainly looking for to add an element to their special teams that really hasn’t been there as much as it was during Julian Edelman’s younger days. If Dugger can be anywhere near what Edelman was in his prime, that is a weapon Belichick would love because field position means everything.
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One of the fears in drafting Dugger is his lack of experience against real competition. No offense to the D-2 players because all levels of college football are hard, but the reality is D-2 is just not as good as D-1. Dugger absolutely deserved to be a D-1 player, it just didn’t work out for him. When he had his opportunity to play against the D-1 level at the Senior Bowl, he stood out among the best, and that is why he worked his way up the board to be a second-round prospect.
Kyle Dugger at Lenoir-Rhyne University
Dugger, who is listed at 6’2, 220, is well built, possessing long arms that he knows how to use to his advantage (he was terrified as a kid that his body would never catch up to his long arms), and he is a smooth athlete that knows how to run. There are so many players that waste steps, but Dugger is efficient in his movement, which allows him to close in coverage and defending the run. When Dugger does make an interception, his ability to return makes him that much more dangerous.
Dugger is a little older (24), Award as the D-II Defensive Player of the Year having graduated in 2014. He was redshirted as a true freshman, and then, after winning the SAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2015, he had his 2016 season cut short with a meniscus injury. He was a medical redshirt, so he didn’t get game experience in 2014 or 2016. He also hurt his hand as a senior and was forced to miss the second half of the season. In just seven games, he still was able to win the Cliff Harris Award as the D-II Defensive Player of the Year, First Team All-American, and First Team All-SAC (South Atlantic Conference).
As stated earlier, there is always an underlying fear of picking a guy who dominates at a lower level due to the fear of him not being able to adjust to the game speed of the pro-level, but Dugger’s athleticism and coachable attitude should help him avoid those pitfalls. It is going to take some time, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Dugger play in sub-roles and special teams as a rookie before taking a starting role at strong safety, a spot that is occupied by Patrick Chung, a 32-year old safety. 32-year old safeties don’t last long in the NFL, so this pick was made with that in mind. Dugger has everything he needs in his toolbox to be good to a possibly great NFL player, it is just a matter of if he is willing to put in the work to make it happen. For a kid like him, that knows nothing is just given, that will suit him well as he battles NFL playing time.