Kyle Dugger’s slow rise proves this season was always a work in progress

Patriots safety Kyle Dugger (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Patriots safety Kyle Dugger (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Patriots rookie safety Kyle Dugger’s steady maturation proves this season was always going to be an uphill climb.

The New England Patriots falling well short of expectations this season has prompted media members to shed a damning light on general manager Bill Belichick’s recent draft blunders.

For the sake of time, we’re not going to dive into a complete breakdown, but you better believe that he regrets jumping the gun to draft certain players (like Sony Michel or N’Keal Harry) over other prospects who have already morphed into studs at those positions.

Patriots fans probably thought history would rear its ugly head following the selection of Division II safety Kyle Dugger with the team’s first pick of the 2020 draft, and given his sluggish start to the season, that was an understandable mindset.

However, the 2020 second-round pick has quietly been coming to his own in recent weeks — ranking second among all safeties with 11 stops against the run during that span — and his steady maturation proves this season was always going to have its peaks and valleys.

In a recent interview CLNS Media this week, Belichick spoke very highly of the strides Dugger has made since training camp.

"“I would say Kyle’s the type of player that gets better every day. It doesn’t matter whether it’s kickoff coverage, kickoff return, third down, play action. The more he sees it, the quicker he processes it, the quicker he reacts and the more consistent he becomes.“He has a lot of things that you like at that position, and again, he’s a smart, hard-working kid that will enable him to try to maximize all the skills that he has.”"

Dugger has admittedly been suspect in coverage this season, but that’s to be expected given the sheer leap in competition he made from college (Division II) to the NFL. He also shouldn’t be as dependable from a tackling standpoint as he’s been, and you can bet that caught the Patriots’ eye leading up to the draft.

Seriously, when was the last time you saw the 24-year-old rookie miss an open field tackle? This stop in the fourth quarter vs Arizona last Sunday might not seem like much, but it’s a microcosm to how valuable he’s been to the defense over the last month.

For the season, Dugger is the ninth-best player at his position when it comes to defending the run, per Pro Football Focus. This has seen him rewarded with a significant uptick in playing time — he’s played 80% of the snaps over the last three games after logging a 32.3% snap share in the first six games.

Fans were right to raise questions about the Patriots’ decision to draft Dugger at No. 37 overall back in April, but the strides he’s made of late should serve as sweet vindication for Belichick and the rest of the front office. And it further proves that the entire 2020 season was going to be a work in progress for this whole roster.