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This Recent Patriots Draft Pick Helps Bring The Secondary From Good To Elite

The Patriots do things differently. Rumor has it that in 1849, during the California gold rush, while hundreds of thousands of people looked for gold in California, focusing near the mill where gold was previously found, there was an eccentric in some random area in North Carolina who was convinced he had found something even better. That man was Bill Belichick, the area was Lenoir-Rhyne’s football program, and the gold was Patriots safety Kyle Dugger.

Why Did The Patriots Draft Dugger?

Dugger was somewhat of a jack of all trades in college. He was an effective tackler and made plays all around the field, and in total, he had 194 tackles with 6.5 tackles for loss. He was a useful member of the secondary, having 26 deflected passes and creating turnovers, with six interceptions and four forced fumbles. His versatility around the field certainly attracted the Patriots to him, as did his ability to finish plays.

Even more than that, his speed and athleticism made him an extremely exciting prospect. He was able to get from one point of the field to another extraordinarily quickly and changed direction well. This showed not only as a safety, but also as a punt returner, and he had some explosive punt returns in his time at Lenoir-Rhyne, and even scored five return touchdowns.

Upon drafting, he was certainly going to be a project, as there was room for improvement in terms of his awareness and ability to read, but his latent potential was too much to pass on, and with good coaching, it was hard to see a limit on what he could become.

Where Has Dugger Evolved Himself And The Team?

Dugger certainly took some time to find his niche within the Patriots’ defense. His athleticism never waned in 2020 and 2021, and he had some impressive tackles, interceptions, and pass breakups at times, but it was never consistent. In pass coverage, he wasn’t able to provide the reliability that Patriots fans saw with Adrian Phillips and Devin McCourty.

This has changed drastically in 2022, and the main reason is the center of why every corner or safety in the Belichick system has the potential to elevate: reads. Kyle has slowly but surely transitioned from instinctively reacting to what happens and using his athleticism to make plays to reading the play and predicting what is going to happen. This way he uses his athleticism too, but now, he’s even quicker to plays because he anticipated beforehand.

There are two big ways in which this has helped the Patriots’ secondary tremendously. One is that the unit can work together more cohesively. In an NFL full of dynamic wide receivers, skilled tight ends, and pass-catching running backs, there is no limit of the number of looks that an offense can throw at a defense. Single coverage simply doesn’t work against some of the receivers in the league.

Rather, it’s important for corners and safeties to work together in zone coverage schemes, and with Dugger’s improved understanding of the game, combined with his incredible speed, the Patriots can lock down offenses a lot more. Dugger’s interception against Cleveland was the ultimate example of this, where Dugger provided help over the top, read the ball, anticipated the slight underthrow, and made the play.

Dugger’s versatility is also fearsome, and it allows him and the Patriots’ defense to throw off offenses with different looks. He’s a rare breed of safety with the tackling sense of a linebacker and is able to get into backfields extraordinarily quickly considering where he’s lined up. Furthermore, for his size, he’s a huge hitter and makes open-field tackles really well. He leads the secondary in tackles, and he and Andrian Phillips are the only members of the secondary with tackles for loss.

There has certainly been improvement across the board for the Patriots defense, but Dugger is a huge component of that, and as he continues to evolve, no offense is safe against him.

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