When the New England Patriots made Kyle Dugger their top pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, head coach Bill Belichick spoke with the Lenoir-Rhyne product over the phone. Belichick noted that he loved Dugger’s potential, and that he would be provided with a unique opportunity for growth playing alongside a veteran secondary filled with versatile contributors.

For an exciting, athletic player coming from a Division II school, the fit with the Patriots would be a chance for Dugger to maximize his ceiling as he grows as a player. To this point in the season, it’s tough to imagine it playing out any better for the rookie.

Dugger has held a role on the defense throughout all 9 games so far, but his performance on Sunday Night Football against the Ravens has been his best to date. He played his most defensive snaps of the season (56), as Belichick clearly wanted to utilize Dugger’s speed as a response to quarterback Lamar Jackson and the unique skill-sets of the Ravens weapons. Dugger ran a 4.49s forty-yard dash and had even more impressive marks on the jump tests, all at 217 pounds. With that combination of size and speed, Dugger is athletically equipped to play in space or be physical with tight ends.

Throughout the game on Sunday, New England asked Dugger to fill multiple roles, which shows that he’s growing as a player both physically and mentally. 

Dugger took most of his snaps as a rolled down safety, getting involved in the running game and finishing with a combined 12 tackles. Early in the game, Dugger was the contain player against the Ravens outside zone run. He took on the block from one of the most physical tight ends in the NFL in Nick Boyle, sending Boyle to the ground and then wrapping up running back Mark Ingram for a short gain.

Just a few plays later, the Patriots tasked Dugger with covering one of the best receiving tight ends in the game in Mark Andrews. Andrews ran an in-breaking route, and Dugger was basically glued to his hips as he crossed the field.

In a lot of ways, the Ravens offense is run through their tight ends, and the rookie safety essentially shut down both of them on the opening drive of the game.

Dugger made multiple splash plays against the run throughout the game. While aligned as the cutback or bootleg responsible player, Dugger was tasked with tracking down Lamar Jackson if he kept the ball on a play-fake. Despite being aligned in space, once Dugger saw that the ball was handed off, he exploded towards the runner. Dugger dropped power running back Gus Edwards (6’1, 238 pounds) like a ton of bricks.

Against Baltimore, New England ran more zone coverage than they generally would, as zone coverage allows the defensive backs to keep their eyes on the quarterback. That is paramount while facing a quarterback who can escape the pocket and be dangerous in space. For Dugger, New England generally tasked him with covering shallow zones.

Late in the first half, Baltimore got the ball back with just enough time for a scoring drive. New England decided to put Dugger as the “Overhang” player to the side of speedy wide receiver Marquise Brown. On three separate occasions, you could see Dugger’s range in this spot, rallying to the ball.

At a separate point of the game, Dugger was aligned in the same position to the side of Marquise Brown. On this rep, there was no interior receiver or tight end to take away Dugger’s attention. Because of that, Dugger’s responsibility became to cover underneath Brown, and he stuck to his hips like glue.

Bill Belichick decided to generally use extra defensive backs against the Ravens for more speed on the field, and purposefully places Dugger in that outside shallow zone.

In that spot, he would be there for anytime Lamar Jackson was able to break contain or if the pass went to a checked down running back. On the final drive of the game, both scenarios played out and Dugger was there to make the play.

For those keeping track at home, Dugger did the following on Sunday Night:
– Put Nick Boyle on his back and tackled Mark Ingram

– Blanketed Mark Andrews in man coverage

– Used the hit stick button on Gus Edwards

– Helped shut down Marquise Brown

– Tracked down Lamar Jackson and J.K. Dobbins in space

That type of performance from a rookie is an impressive one, and shows his ever-growing potential. New England may have drafted themselves a future pro-bowler in Kyle Dugger. 

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