Patriots: Kyle Dugger’s first NFL start proves why he was team’s top pick in 2020

Patriots rookie safety Kyle Dugger was a stud in his first NFL start Sunday night against Baltimore.

With the New England Patriots off to their worst start of the Bill Belichick era, the de facto general manager has come under a wave criticism for his recent draft failures. While other developments have factored into their struggles more so than errors in drafting judgment, it’s still a fair assessment of the situation and deserves to be discussed.

After all, there’s no telling where the Patriots would be right now had Belichick selected somebody like Lamar Jackson over Sony Michel back in 2018, and/or DK Metcalf, AJ Brown or Deebo Samuel over N’Keal Harry last year. And don’t even get us started on his disaster quartet of selections four years ago in 2017.

However, while the 68-year-old functional GM deserves to face the music for his draft blunders, it’s only fair that media members commend him for his laundry list of great selections. Up until Sunday night, the jury was still out on 2020 second-rounder Kyle Dugger, who hadn’t started a game across his first five appearances for the Patriots.

That all changed in the win over Baltimore, and Dugger rewarded the faith of the coaching staff with a sensational performance, providing some long-awaited proof as to why he was the team’s top pick this past April in the process.

We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but Dugger already looks the part of a tackling savant in both the running and passing games. For the game, he recorded a game-high 12 tackles (seven solo) and arguably sealed the win for the Patriots by making an open field tackle of Ravens running back JK Dobbins — in monsoon-like conditions, no less — on a 3rd & 7 with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation.

If Dugger doesn’t make that play, Dobbins likely gets the first down (and then some) and gets out of bounds to stop the clock, giving Baltimore a realistic shot at getting into field position to attempt a potential game-winning Hail Mary on the final play of the game.

That stop was clearly the highlight of Dugger’s debut, but don’t let it distract you from his complete performance. The 24-year-old rookie led the Patriots with five run stops (!), forced Jackson into a rushed throw and allowed less than six yards per catch on the four receptions he conceded.

We get that the torrential rain didn’t help matters, but let’s keep in mind that Baltimore boasts one of the most dynamic offenses in the entire NFL. The fact that Dugger was this effective against them proves that he can do it against any team in the league and needs to play more moving forward.

Belichick turned a lot of heads when he used the No. 37 overall pick on Dugger, who starred at the collegiate level for Division II program Leinor-Rhyne for four years, and Sunday night’s win served as some much-needed vindication in light of the harsh appraisal he’s received in recent weeks.