When the Patriots drafted a 24-year-old safety from a Division II school with the 37th overall pick in the NFL Draft, most fans were baffled and frustrated with Bill Belichick. Everyone expected and hoped that they would draft a position of need with this pick such as adding a tight end, defensive line help, or perhaps even a quarterback. Instead, Belichick decided to draft Kyle Dugger, an unknown safety from Lenoir-Rhyne University. While this was an unpleasant surprise to many people, I am going to explain why I believe Patriots fans will look back on this draft pick as one that ended up paying off, despite the reaction from fans when he was first drafted.
One of the most exciting things about Dugger is how versatile he can be. According to Jim Nagy, a former Patriots scout and current Executive Director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl, Dugger is a “label-less player” who can play a multitude of positions including strong safety, free safety, and even linebacker. One might argue that a Division II player will not be this versatile at the NFL level, but Dugger is a 6-foot-1, 217-pound athletic freak who ran a 4.41 second 40-yard dash last spring. On top of his size and athleticism, Dugger is at an age (24 years old) where he should be developed enough to contribute right away for a very good Patriots defense that might just be one key piece away from becoming elite. By drafting Kyle Dugger, Bill Belichick made it very clear that the Patriots are not rebuilding, but retooling.
While I truly believe Belichick drafted Dugger with the intention that he would contribute right away, I also believe that he was thinking about how important he’ll be in the future. Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty, the two starting safeties for the Patriots, aren’t getting any younger. Both Chung and McCourty will be turning 33 years old in August and they will be retiring sooner rather than later. Rather than waiting until they retire, Belichick was proactive by drafting Dugger. That being said, Dugger can also make the Patriots a much more dangerous team in the present by adding a whole new dimension to their talented defense. If he can play to his full potential, this draft pick will be a win-win situation in that Dugger can help the Patriots compete now and in the future.
Even if you’re convinced that Dugger is a good player, you still might disagree with the pick based on team need. This is a fair point, however when you look deeper into how the Patriots roster is shaping up, you will understand why Kyle Dugger was the right pick. First, let’s take a look at the tight end situation: Many people thought drafting a tight end with the 37th pick was an obvious choice for the Patriots after seeing how big of a hole it was last year. There was a lot of frustration from a lot of people when Belichick went in a different direction. With that said, there are more than two rounds in the NFL Draft and Bill took advantage of this. The Patiots traded up in the third round to get Devin Asiasi, a skilled tight end out of UCLA, with the 91st overall selection. He’s expected to be an elite route-runner at the next level. Dave Spitz, a trainer at California Strength who trained both Zach Ertz and Austin Hooper, claims that Asiasi “has more bend, more wiggle, than both of them.” Shortly after Asiasi was picked, Belichick got himself another tight end, drafting Dalton Keene with 101st overall pick. Keene played at Virginia Tech in college and he has a lot of raw talent. The unique thing about him is that he has a great deal of experience in the backfield and he even ran the ball 11 times last season, which is unprecedented for a tight end. Drafting Keene was a great move by Belichick considering James Develin recently retired due to complications with a neck injury. Although he didn’t draft them before Dugger, Belichick clearly took care of a need by drafting two tight ends who both have great potential.
Moving on from tight end, at the quarterback position, it is clear that Bill Belichick believes that Jarrett Stidham can be “the guy” for the Patriots moving forward, and why should we question the greatest coach of all time?
The other team need I mentioned earlier is defensive line, an area that Belichick didn’t choose to address in the NFL Draft. At first this was concerning to me, but the more I thought about it, aside from Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler, there is going to be an intense roster battle for the other spots on the defensive line. While tough decisions will have to be made, competition brings out the best in people and it is a great thing for a team. Regardless of which other defensive linemen make the team, they will have an experienced leader in Lawrence Guy and I’m sure Belichick will get as much out of them as possible.
Drafting Kyle Dugger was the right decision for the Patriots because instead of looking at who’s the best fit, Belichick picked the player that is best suited to make an immediate impact while also having an extremely high ceiling, making his long-term value incredible.