It sounds like New England’s top pick Kyle Dugger will have a role on the 2020 Patriots even if that’s not on defense.
The rookie safety brings a good degree of versatility to the Patriots on defense and special teams. Dugger is 6-foot-1, 217 pounds, played free safety in college but might take on a different role in the NFL.
He said NFL teams discussed playing him at free safety and at strong safety in the box.
“It was a good mix of both — more so coming down towards the box,” Dugger said Friday on a conference call. “It was a little bit of talk about free safety, though. It was definitely a pretty good mix of both.”
Devin McCourty is the Patriots’ top free safety while Patrick Chung mans the strong safety role. The Patriots traded away No. 3 safety Duron Harmon, who, like McCourty, was also a deep safety. McCourty and Chung both will be 33 years old this season, so the Patriots could be looking to replace either in the not-so-distant future. Patriots top backup safeties Adrian Phillips and Terrence Brooks are mostly box safeties, so perhaps the Patriots will use Dugger’s 4.49-second 40-yard dash speed back deep.
Dugger is also one of the most accomplished punt returners in the 2020 NFL Draft. He returned 67 punts for 926 yards with six touchdowns in his college career. He returned 12 punts for 175 yards with two scores as a senior, albeit at the Division II level.
“I’m very comfortable with the ball in my hands and standing back there to catch the ball and receive and have the opportunity in that phase of the game other than being on the defensive side of the ball,” Dugger said. “I’d say really comfortable. I did play running back for the first 10 years of my football career. I think it really stands out. I’ve got a feel for the football when I’m back there catching punts.”
Even if Dugger doesn’t win the punt return job, he’ll still be on the field on fourth down.
“We definitely discussed special teams,” Dugger said. “I know for a fact that I’ll have a big role in the special teams department. As far as punt returns, if the opportunity presents itself I’ll be given the opportunity and I’ll try to take advantage of it. And that’ll be it. As far as special teams as a whole, I definitely know I’ll have a big role in that.”
The Patriots struggled to find a punt returner after undrafted wide receiver Gunner Olszewski went on injured reserve last season. Mohamed Sanu filled the role but also got injured doing so. Julian Edelman returned punts in the past, but it seems the Patriots would prefer to have another player take on what’s a fairly risky job on an NFL field.
Dugger will likely compete with Olszewski for the punt returning gig in the preseason.