The New England Patriots currently have the maximum of 90 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on September 1 and ultimately make the team. Over the next weeks, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Today, the series continues with one of the Patriots’ draft picks.
Name: Duke Dawson
Jersey number: TBD (offseason #52)
Opening day age: 21
Size: 5’10, 200 lbs.
2017 review: After becoming the team’s starting slot cornerback during his 2016 junior season, Dawson returned to college for his senior campaign. It proved to be a smart decision as the Florida native again saw plenty of playing time and was among the most productive defensive backs in all of the SEC. Starting all 11 of Florida’s games, Dawson registered a team-high four interceptions and was named first-team all conference.
The stats – 39 tackles, nine pass breakups, one interception-return touchdown – are only one part of the story: Dawson proved to be a successful defender all season long, physical enough to succeed in man-to-man schemes, and smart enough to make the correct reads in zone coverage. Furthermore, his versatility allowed the Gators to move him around the formation and also use him as a strong safety closer to the box against the run.
All in all, Dawson produced another fine season in 2017 which led to him being invited to the scouting combine. And while his workout numbers in both Indianapolis and at Florida’s pro day did not stand out in any way, he entered the draft as one of the top prospects at the cornerback position.
2018 preview: The Patriots selected Dawson with the 56th overall pick in this year’s draft, which barring injury guarantees that he will be on the team’s 53-man roster this fall at a salary cap hit of $862,705. The main question entering the 2018 season therefore is which role the 21-year old will play during his first NFL campaign. Ideally, he will see plenty of time on both defense – helping bring stability to the slot – and special teams.
If the few open practices during OTAs and minicamp are an indication, Dawson might be headed for a rotational role on defense as a slot corner/safety hybrid in nickel and dime formations. As such, it would not be unrealistic to see him play around 30-40% of New England’s defensive snaps over the course of his rookie campaign – all while possibly playing regular snaps in the kicking game as a gunner.
While Dawson should not be expected to become an instant difference maker in 2018, he will be likely be given every chance to lie the foundation for the years to come. And if his first year in the NFL goes as planned, his second might see him as one of the secondary starters alongside Stephon Gilmore – or even as the eventual heir to strong safety Patrick Chung.