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Bedard’s Breakdown: What Kyle Dugger’s Senior Bowl film tells us about his Patriots future

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College All-Star games are often a double-edged sword.

It gives players, especially those from smaller schools, the chance to measure themselves against major college players and highly-touted prospects. But it's also a tough projection because everyone is learning a simplified but new scheme, and that can lead to mental errors in the game. It's also impossible to get a look at the player in your own scheme, which enhances the projection.

For example, a strong safety at the Senior Bowl might have to worry about a running back bouncing the ball outside because they have containment responsibilities in that scheme. A box safety for the Patriots wouldn't have that "two-way go" because other players have spill (bouncing the play outside) and force responsibilities. Against the run, that box safety would be an alley defender who freed up to go and attack the ball.

That's part of the issue in evaluating Patriots second-round pick Kyle Dugger out of Lenoir-Rhyne. We have good film on him from the Senior Bowl, but like the teams themselves, we're stuck making a big projection on the prospect. There were a few plays during the game where Dugger was in perfect position to make a play, but didn't. If you're a pessimist, you can say that's a bad indicator. But the optimist — and, actually, the realist — will point out that in the Patriots' scheme, Dugger likely blows up that play.

When it came to evaluating Dugger in his best showcase, there was a mixed bag in the game. He at least factored into two touchdowns allowed, but he's quite easy to see what the Patriots saw in him to draft Dugger, perhaps, a little bit early.

Our evaluation:

POSITIVES

  • Ideal physical profile for a strong safety who excels around the line of scrimmage. Dugger is 6-1 and 217 pounds with 33-inch arms and 10 1/2-in hands. That means he plays about 6-3 in theory. A vertical of 42 inches and broad jump of 11-2 shows absurd explosive ability.
  • In just about every physical category, Dugger represents an evolved Patrick Chung. He's taller, longer and more explosive.

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  • Looks like an extra linebacker, not a safety playing linebacker. He's well-built, long and strong (he should be, he's 24-year old).
  • Flies to the ball once he makes a decision and is not afraid of contact. Has no concern for his body or, really, anyone else's. He's a heat-seeking missile.
  • When he gets downhill ... he goes downhill. Heavy player coming into the box.
  • Good speed going sideline to sideline tracking down ballcarriers.
  • Shows very good coverage skills against tight ends. Not many will run away from him and he sticks with multiple moves.
  • Appears smart on the field with knowledge of coverages.
  • Should be able to excel on special teams.
  • Doesn't look out of place as a deep safety. Decent footwork and ability to flip hips and change direction.

NEGATIVES

  • Looks uncomfortable in space, whether that's as a free safety or detached in coverage. He's pretty much limited to being a box player with coverage ability from seam to seam.
  • Factored into two touchdowns with communication issues, one passing off a tight end and failing to switch to the running back. The other was typical where two defenders in man coverage failed to switch or lock. Appeared that Dugger was at fault on both, but that's a guess and also likely not a huge concern because of the all-star game backdrop.
  • Can sometimes get out of control pursuing plays and over-runs them.
  • Reads plays a step or beat late in coverage and against the run.
  • Doesn't look like a natural playmaker. Does his job and that's about it. Doesn't appear to have an overly natural flair for the position. Some guys just look like naturals. He's not that, but he's far from a robot.

GAME FILM WITH ANALYSIS

PATRIOTS FIT

  • Would fill a Chung role in this defense, and probably do it a bit better because he's a better athlete overall.
  • He's not going to be a free safety, so that really limits his playing time if Chung stays in the lineup for a year or two.
  • Could see him gaining extra playing time against certain run-heavy and fast teams, like the Ravens. Having Dugger on the field instead of a slower linebacker against speedy backfields could be a real option. Could fill some of Jamie Collins' job in this manner.
  • Overall, Dugger is an exciting athlete who doesn't look like he'll need the on-ramp that is typical for many small school players. He looks ready to play right now and will do his job in the scheme. But if Bill Belichick continues to hang onto and ride or die in games with his binkie in Chung, then it's really hard to see how Dugger gets much playing time this season and even the next one.
  • For that reason, a second-round pick for the Patriots is a tough value. With second-round picks, you expect them to be starters at some point in their rookie season. If Dugger doesn't start until Year 3 on a four-year contract, is that good value?
  • That's why I don't think Chung is a complete lock for this team this year, and especially next year. Yes, I know Belichick loves Chung and that makes it unlikely. And the pandemic will not help Dugger be a starter this season. But if you're going to draft a player where they did, he needs to be a starter at least a year from now. Maybe Chung will accept just being a role player come 2021.