The New England Patriots surprised some with their first selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. After trading down from the 23rd to the 37th pick, the Patriots selected safety Kyle Dugger from a little-known Division II school, Lenoir-Rhyne.
Safety wasn't high on the Patriots' short-term needs. But Dugger was an explosive playmaker in college both on defense and as a kick returner. And Bill Belichick may envision him as a long-term successor to either Devin McCourty or Patrick Chung at safety.
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But should there be any concern about Dugger adjusting to the NFL after playing against lower-level competition? Patriots Hall of Famer Rodney Harrison doesn't think so and offered some high praise of Dugger in a recent interview with NBC's Raul Martinez.
To me, if you can play -- there's a lot to be said about Division I-AA players like myself, Division II players. We're hungry ... And you get so tired of all the big schools and LSUs and Grant Delpits being named in front of you, so I think this kid's gonna come in with an edge on him.
I think Belichick's gonna use him whether it's over the slot, over the tight end, because they need a bigger guy that can come in and relieve Patrick Chung and cover tight ends. I love this pick. I absolutely love this pick.
That's certainly a great endorsement for Dugger. After all, Harrison was a key part of the Patriots' defense from 2003 to 2008 and played a key role in their Super Bowl-winning seasons in '03 and '04. He was a first-team All-Pro in his first season with the Patriots and did a lot to strengthen the back end of that great defensive group.
Harrison also knows a little bit about making the jump in competition. As he referenced, he was drafted out of Western Illinois back when they were a part of Division I-AA, but Harrison emerged as a starter after two years and became a perennial Pro Bowler for the then-San Diego Chargers.
Dugger will look to follow a similar path. He'll learn from Chung and McCourty while giving the Patriots a younger, cheaper depth option than 29-year-old Duron Harmon, a former third-round pick who they traded to the Detroit Lions this offseason.
It seems likely that Dugger will battle free-agent acquisition Adrian Phillips for the third safety role on the roster. But even if he doesn't play much on defense this year, he could still have a big impact on special teams. And either way, getting that type of endorsement from Rodney Harrison should bode well for Dugger moving forward.