The New England Patriots got a crucial win in their home closer against the division rival Miami Dolphins to keep their playoff hopes alive, and third-year safety Kyle Dugger played a big role in the victory. Dugger picked off Miami’s backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater late in the third quarter and returned it 39 yards to the house. Dugger’s pick-six could not have come at a better time, with the fourth quarter approaching and the Patriots being down 14-10. Dugger’s pick-six makes it the fourth straight week that the Patriots’ defense has scored, further emphasizing the fact that defense is the anchor of this 2022 Patriots team.
Dugger has been coming into his own this season, which many expected, with him having a productive season last year, collecting four interceptions, a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and 92 total tackles in his sophomore season. Last season cemented Dugger’s role as one of the Patriots’ starting safeties this year, alongside veterans Devin McCourty, Adrian Philips, and Julius Peppers.
So far this season, Dugger has recorded 72 total tackles, a sack, a fumble recovery, and a forced fumble, which was returned for a touchdown by Raekwon McMillan against Arizona three weeks ago. The pick-six against Miami is Dugger’s second pick-six of the season, with one against Las Vegas two weeks ago, which put New England back in the game, being down 3-17. Dugger now has three interceptions on the year as well as eight pass defenses.
Dugger was drafted early in the second round by the Patriots in the 2020 draft, coming out of Lenoir-Rhyne University, a division two program in North Carolina. Dugger made history, being the first player to be drafted out of the North Carolina private school since 2000. At Lenoir-Rhyne, Dugger recorded nearly 200 total tackles, six interceptions, 26 pass defenses, four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. After redshirting in his 2014 freshman season, Dugger appeared in ten games the following season, where he put up 43 total tackles, four interceptions, and two fumble recoveries. Dugger was named South Atlantic Conference Defensive Freshman of the Year.
The following season, Dugger only played one game due to an injury, but came back with a vengeance in 2017, being named Second Team All-Conference by the end of the season. Dugger showed off his versatility by returning twenty punts for 197 yards and a touchdown, he also kept up his physical playstyle on defense, putting up 87 tackles.
In Dugger’s junior season, he showed that he was an all-around football player, earning honors such as First Team All-South Atlantic Conference at both defensive back and return specialist. In the return game, Dugger was lethal, finishing second in the nation in punt return yardage and touchdowns, with 534 yards and two touchdowns. Dugger’s two punt return touchdowns happened to come in the same game, which broke a school record. On defense, Dugger recorded 76 total tackles along with three interceptions.
Although Dugger only played in seven games his senior season because of another injury, he was still able to attain awards such as the Cliff Harris Award, given to the best defensive player in NCAA division two football, and first Team All-Conference and All-Region among others. In the return game, Dugger was able to repeat his magnificent feat of having two punt return touchdowns in the same game, which earned him a place in Lenoir-Rhyne history, being the only player to achieve such a thing. Dugger was also able to record a pick-six in his short-lived senior season.
Coming out of college, Dugger received a draft prospect grade of “will eventually be plus starter” this projection now seems to be pretty accurate, with Dugger becoming a key player on defense for the Patriots. Dugger coming to New England has proved to be a perfect match, with him coming into the league with impressive credentials paired with the team’s ability to consistently develop defensive backs. So far in his career with the Patriots, Dugger has tallied 228 total tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, seven interceptions and two touchdowns. Not bad at all.
When watching Dugger play, he shows an ability to do just about everything in the defensive backfield. Dugger can be shown lining up in the box as a linebacker as well as going back into the nickel spot in pass coverage. Dugger shows excellent play recognition, with him being able to see what is going on and break on the ball, whether it is being swung out into the flat or being thrown downfield, he is also a great run stuffer when he is put in the position.
Standing at 6'1 and weighing 217 pounds, the Lenoir-Rhyne product is the perfect size for an NFL safety, he also has decent speed, with his official forty time clocking in at 4.49. In his draft profile, Dugger has glowing compliments such as "looked like a man among boys on tape," and "Rare combination of size, speed and explosiveness", all pretty accurate.
In high school, Dugger was a two-sport athlete, excelling in both basketball and football at Whitewater High School in Fayetteville, Georgia. Dugger's athletic prowess drew comments such as "all the athletic gifts under the tree have his name on them," and this is evident when watching him move, catch the ball, and run with the ball.
Dugger is also a strong tackler, he can deliver a hard hit as well as wrapping up his man, he also shows a ball-hawk ability, being able to read the eyes of the quarterback as well as the body language of the receiver. When Dugger gets interceptions, he shows great skills as a runner, being elusive and able to break tackles, harkening back to his college punt return days. Kyle Dugger is just a great all-around football player.
With Dugger only having one more year left on his rookie contract, there will be an important decision to be made with him in the future. For now, Dugger and the Patriots have one more game left to play, which is another must-win to get into the playoffs. Dugger and the rest of the defense will have their work cut out for them facing a powerful Buffalo Bills offense, they will likely need to keep their scoring trend alive to help slay Goliath.
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