New England Patriots: Kyle Dugger could be key to defensive success

Rookie safety Kyle Dugger will be a major contributor for the New England Patriots in 2020. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
Rookie safety Kyle Dugger will be a major contributor for the New England Patriots in 2020. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images) /

Rookie safety Kyle Dugger stepping into a big role for the New England Patriots.

No team in the NFL has been hit with more losses this offseason than the New England Patriots. Obviously, the big one was Tom Brady moving on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after a legendary career in New England.

Following Brady out the door were defensive centerpieces Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton and Duron Harmon. The Patriots also lost solid contributors like Ted Karras, Elandon Roberts and Nate Ebner. Simply put, the Pats suffer major losses on both sides of the ball this offseason.

On top of that, the New England Patriots have more players sitting out the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic than any other team in the NFL. Most notably, this team will be without starting right tackle Marcus Cannon and key defenders Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung.

As we look at this list of players who the Patriots will be without in 2020, the defensive front seven stands out as a major hole on this team. Shelton was a tremendous run-stuffer in the middle of the defense, while Van Noy, Collins and Hightower formed one of the best and most versatile linebacker trios in the league. Chung is listed as a safety, but he does a lot of his damage as an in-the-box defender who defends tight ends and helps fill against the run.

The New England Patriots will be looking to many players to help fill these holes, but rookie safety Kyle Dugger stands out as a particularly key piece. Dugger landed in New England when the Pats took him 37th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. After trading out of the first round, Dugger was the first pick made by New England in the draft.

Dugger was an absolutely dominant college player who showed a tremendous blend of size, speed, athleticism and playmaking ability on the field. Based on his tape alone, Dugger could have easily been a first-round pick. However, when we consider that he played at the Division II level, it is easy to have questions about his game.

Any prospect who plays at such a low level of college football has to absolutely dominate his competition, and that is exactly what Dugger did at Lenoir-Rhyne. Dugger is a tremendous athlete at the safety position, showing fantastic range and closing speed in coverage. He is a big and physical player who shines in man coverage and shows impressive natural instincts in zone. Dugger also shows impressive toughness in-the-box and is a reliable tackler in space.

Dugger has a ton of upside at the next level as a versatile defender who can help against the run and erase opposing tight ends in the passing game. His combination of size, length and athleticism make Dugger a perfect player to match up against all of the big and athletic middle of the field receivers throughout the league.

In a perfect world, Dugger would be brought along slowly by the Patriots, as they use him sporadically in situations where he is set up for success. However, with the Pats being without so many key defenders this season, Dugger will likely step into a major role right away for the Patriots. In particular, the loss of Chung sets up an immediate opportunity for Dugger.

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If Dugger can come in and adequately replace Chung and perhaps help fill the void left by their talented linebacker group, the Patriots could be in good shape defensively. It is a lot to expect out of a second-round rookie out of Division II, but Kyle Dugger may be the single most important defender for Bill Belichick and company in 2020.