Drew Cronic expected Kyle Dugger to be a second-round draft pick. But he didn’t expect the safety to hear his name called quite as early as he did.
Cronic, who coached Dugger during the latter’s final two seasons at Division II Lenior-Rhyne University, said this week in a conversation with NESN.com that he was surprised when the New England Patriots selected Dugger with the 37th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft last Friday.
The Patriots had sent multiple evaluators to Lenoir-Rhyne last season, but Cronic didn’t view them as favorites to draft the small-school star. He and his staff were eyeing the Buffalo Bills, who owned the 54th overall pick, as a potential landing spot.
?I was surprised,” Cronic said. “We thought he was going to be later in the second round. We were really thinking the Bills. So it was a little bit of a surprise, I think, and that?s probably the way (Bill) Belichick likes it. He doesn?t say much about anything and then just does what he does.
“But I was happy — obviously, he went to probably the best franchise in the league, so I know he was excited about that. But that was a little bit of a surprise.”
Dugger, considered one of the top prospects at his position during the pre-draft process, was the second safety drafted this year (behind Alabama’s Xavier McKinney, who went one spot earlier to the New York Giants) and the highest-drafted Division II product since 1999. Cronic believes the 24-year-old is equipped to handle the massive jump in competition from D-II to the pros.
?Well, I think that?ll take time, but Kyle is extremely talented,” the coach said. “Everybody can see that — the way he tested and all the things he did in the combine and all the things you see him do. Now, obviously, when you watch him on college film, the competition?s not anywhere near what he?s going to be up against, but I think he knows that. I think he understands that.
“I think he?s a guy who?s going to improve a ton now because of the competition level. He has the tools to do it, he?s very intelligent and he?ll work at it. He?s not going to run from that. I think in his mind, he?s a guy who?s like, ?You know what? I?m going to go show everybody.? And I think he also has enough patience and understanding and maturity about him to be patient with himself and allow the process to take place. … In the next two years, I think he?s going to get so much better.”
Dugger has the size (6-foot-1, 217 pounds) and athleticism (97th percentile in vertical and broad jump, 78th percentile in 40-yard dash) to play multiple roles in New England’s defense. He’s also an explosive punt returner, running six back for touchdowns during his college career.
Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said Dugger was one of three players New England was targeting entering Day 2 of the draft after trading out of the first round. They moved up to draft another, Michigan linebacker/edge rusher Josh Uche, later in the second round (No. 60).