Kyle Dugger did not join the New England Patriots completely out of nowhere, but coming from Division-II’s Lenoir-Rhyne he was not necessarily among the star players in the 2020 NFL Draft. Nonetheless, the Patriots saw something in Dugger and made sure not to give another team a chance at picking him up and developing him.
Accordingly, they ended up investing their highest pick that year — No. 37 overall in the second round — to bring him on board. The investment has paid off, with Dugger becoming a core member of the Patriots defense over his three seasons in the league.
But while he developed into one of the league’s most exciting safeties to watch on a week-to-week basis, he still continued flying under the radar a bit outside of New England (and, frankly, in New England as well at times). However, the discourse surrounding Dugger is starting to shift a bit and a play like the one he made against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday is contributing to that.
In the third quarter of what was then a 17-3 deficit for the Patriots, Dugger jumped a screen pass attempt by Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and returned it for a touchdown. The play was an impressive feat of anticipation, recognition and athleticism, and it showed the immense playmaking ability the 26-year-old possesses.
One of the defensive plays of the year from Kyle Dugger— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) December 19, 2022
Looks like there’s some communication pre-snap between Dug, DMac, and Marcus Jones, then he attacks the route before Carr even snaps the ball pic.twitter.com/22ox0rrioE
“It was just something that I saw on film,” Dugger told reporters after the game, that was eventually lost 30-24. “The motion, the alignment, a play that I saw on film earlier in the week. And I made sure I took advantage of that study.”
Plays such as this are not a weekly occurrence even for a player as talented as Dugger, but they are helping him get the recognition that he deserves. Case in point, the third-year man has recently been named among the best defensive backs in the entire league.
ESPN’s Matt Bowen released his annual cornerback and safety rankings, based on individual skillsets rather than a classic list from one through any arbitrary cutoff number. Dugger is making an appearance on this list, in a category that is rather reflective of his unique skillset and what he brings to the Patriots defense.
He has been named the most versatile safety in the NFL:
Most versatile safety
Kyle Dugger, New England Patriots
I always look at the safety spot in Bill Belichick’s defense. You’ll usually see multiple alignments at the second and third levels, sub-package deployment and the ability to play both the run and the pass. That’s Dugger, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound hybrid defender who can patrol deep or spin down. This season, Dugger has logged 109 snaps at safety, 126 in the slot, 45 at corner and 249 as a linebacker/sub-package defender. He has multidimensional traits.
On the play above, Dugger aligned in the slot over Raiders wideout Keelan Cole. However, he actually played a rather aggressive robber role in New England’s zone coverage — something he is capable of doing not just because of his preparation but also his elite athleticism.
All of those things put together are what make Dugger the NFL’s most versatile safety. And they are also why he is deserving of any and all national headlines coming his way.