The New England Patriots, who will be off until training camp starts in late July, currently have 90 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with a former second-round draft pick.
Name: Duke Dawson Jr.
Jersey number: 29
Opening day age: 23
Size: 5’10, 200 lbs.
2018 review: Duke Dawson’s NFL journey began when the Patriots traded up in the second round of the 2018 draft to select him 56th overall. The Florida product started his pro career by receiving regular practice reps alongside New England’s projected secondary starters in spring and early training camp. In the team’s preseason opener on August 9, he played 17 of a possible 60 defensive snaps (28.3%) and registered two tackles.
In the week after the game, however, Dawson was limited in practice and subsequently held out of the Patriots’ remaining three preseason contests. And while he did stay on the active team through roster cutdowns, the club opted to place him on its injured reserve list ahead of the season opener against the Houston Texans. He spent the first ten weeks of the regular season on IR before being activated again in early November.
Dawson, who was reportedly moved to injured reserve because of a hamstring issue, regularly participated in practice after his return but was held out of the Patriots’ six remaining regular season games and three playoff contests. Even though the second-round pick essentially was redshirted in 2018, he did still find a way to contribute: Dawson was honored as a practice player of the week on three separate occasions.
2019 preview: The Patriots have one of the deepest secondaries in the NFL, but Dawson is still expected to find his way onto the 53-man roster given his draft status and upside as a slot cornerback. That being said, his actual role on the team remains uncertain following organized team activities and mandatory minicamp: after all, Jonathan Jones appears to be on the inside track to earn the role as New England’s top slot corner.
Unless Dawson can outperform Jones over the course of training camp and the preseason, he projects to become little more than a rotational depth option in year two: he will see his fair share of defensive playing time, yes, but at best be the fifth cornerback on the team — and number two as a pure slot defender. It would therefore not be a surprise if Dawson saw most of his action this season on the Patriots’ special teams units.
Even if he indeed fails to become a regular contributor on defense in 2019, however, the former second-round draft pick should not yet be labeled a ‘bust’: with Jones scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency next year, Dawson is in line to take over the slot role. This season might therefore be more about preparing to take the next step than already taking it.