Hidden Patriots: Slot Cornerback Didn’t See The Field In Rookie Season

By the time rookie cornerback Duke Dawson got healthy, the New England Patriots didn’t need their 2018 second-round pick.

Dawson was limited throughout the summer with a hamstring injury and ultimately was placed on injured reserve prior to Week 1. He was activated before the Patriots’ Week 11 bye but didn’t wind up appearing in a game all season. The Patriots made him a healthy scratch for six regular season games and three postseason contests.

Dawson had fallen behind Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, JC Jackson, Jonathan Jones and Keion Crossen on the Patriots’ cornerback depth chart, and all five players stayed healthy throughout the course of the year. So, Dawson was the odd-man out.

He could get his shot in 2019, however. Gilmore, Jackson and Crossen are under contract next season, while McCourty is an unrestricted free agent and Jones is a restricted free agent. McCourty is no sure thing to return, while Jones likely will be back.

Gilmore and Jackson are expected to be the Patriots’ boundary cornerbacks next season, but the slot role likely will be open to a competition between Dawson, Crossen and maybe Jones and McCourty. The Patriots also could look to draft or sign more cornerback competition, though it seems unnecessary.

Despite failing to play a single game last season, Dawson might be the favorite for that role. The Patriots did draft him 56th overall for a reason, after all. He also could compete for a spot at safety. His position coach in college, Travaris Robinson, believes Dawson’s best spot in the NFL is either in the slot or at safety.

Dawson ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash with a 1.57-second 10-yard split, 7.02-second 3-cone, 4.39-second short shuttle and 15 bench-press reps of 225 pounds during 2018 predraft testing.

He let up just 21 catches on 48 targets for 223 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions in 2017 at Florida. He allowed just 13 catches on 30 targets for 140 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in the slot.

He played just 16 preseason defensive snaps, allowing one 2-yard catch on two targets.

Dawson was one of six Patriots draft picks who didn’t appear in a game all season, and New England still won Super Bowl LIII. Only Crossen, first-round pick Sony Michel and fifth-round pick Ja’Whaun Bentley wound up playing.

Dawson, and the rest of the Patriots’ 2018 draft class that wound up missing their rookie seasons, already give the 2019 squad some degree of upside heading into next season.

If Dawson can play up to his upside, then he could give the Patriots’ secondary a boost in his sophomore season.

Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images

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