1. Kyle Dugger vs Adrian Phillips
The cornerback position will be interesting to watch unfold in light of Gilmore’s holdout, but we should let that play out before making any rash predictions. In the meantime, let’s focus our attention on the safety position, which will feature massive shoes that need filling after longtime starter Patrick Chung announced his retirement this offseason.
Luckily for the Patriots, Chung opted out of last season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, so they already have recent experience without him. During his absence, New England formed a starting duo of Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips, with 2020 second-rounder Kyle Dugger filling in off the bench (though he made seven starts) and playing 51% of the defensive snaps.
Can Kyle Dugger start for the Patriots as a sophomore?
Though McCourty is entering his age-34 season, Bill Belichick arguably trusts him more than any member of the defense, and nothing proves that more than the fact that McCourty started 16 games and played 95% of the defensive snaps last year in a trying season for all parties.
Assuming the ageless vet starts the majority of games in 2021, the likes of Dugger and Phillips could slug it out for the spot opposite McCourty. While experience and consistency favor the latter, versatility and overall dynamism favor the former in a landslide.
After all, Dugger can be deployed as a box safety, in man coverage against tight ends (yes, he’s that physical), as a run-stopper off the edge or even a deep-lying safety. Though Phillips is solid in coverage, don’t be surprised if Dugger’s ability to assume a handful of different roles helps him carve out a starting role in his second year.