Patriots

Kyle Dugger’s strong second season earns him praise from analysts, Bill Belichick, and teammates

Dugger currently leads the team in tackles and has made big plays throughout the season.

Kyle Dugger has stood out so far in his second season. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Kyle Dugger’s been a standout in his sophomore season with the Patriots.

The safety recorded a team-best 71 tackles this season to go along with four tackles for a loss and three interceptions. Dugger’s latest pick came in the Patriots’ Week 10 win over the Browns, when he returned Baker Mayfield’s mistake 37 yards to set New England up at Cleveland’s 5-yard-line.

Dugger’s first interception of the season was also a timely one. In the Week 6 matchup against the Cowboys, Dugger found himself in the right spot when Dak Prescott’s pass into the endzone was deflected and bounced into Dugger’s hands. Dugger returned that pick 29 yards, preventing the Cowboys from putting points on the board.

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Big plays like that are why Pro Football Focus named Dugger one of its top second-year breakout players.

“Dugger’s unique physical profile was tailor-made to play a versatile role in Bill Belichick’s defense,” PFF’s Michael Renner wrote. So far through 10 games, Dugger has played 271 snaps in the box, 48 snaps on the line of scrimmage, 51 snaps as a deep safety, 131 from the slot, and 34 out wide. And he’s been terrific everywhere, as he’s already accumulated three interceptions and 21 stops this season.”

The Patriots’ 2020 second-round pick has also impressed the man who selected him, Bill Belichick.

When he was asked Friday what Dugger has improved the most at this season, the answer was “everything.”

“He’s a good athlete. He’s a smart kid. He learns a lot,” Belichick said.

“He’s playing with some experienced players, especially with Devin [McCourty] and [Adrian] Phillips, but other guys in the secondary, other guys at linebacker, too, [Dont’a] Hightower, Kyle [Van Noy], Jamie [Collins], [Ja’Whaun] Bentley and those guys. He’s in there with a lot of experienced players. I’m sure he’s learned a lot about everything; keys, matchups, run force, pass coverage, blitzing. He soaks it all in.”

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Dugger continued to show out in the Patriots’ latest game. In Thursday night’s 25-0 win over the Falcons, Dugger recorded seven tackles and a pass break up on a third-down throw to Kyle Pitts.

Dugger covered Pitts, the No. 4 overall pick from this season’s past draft, for a good amount of Thursday’s game. Dugger was targeted three times in coverage against Pitts, allowing just one catch for 16 yards, per CBS Sports’ Tyler Sullivan.

While Dugger’s play has noticeably taken a step up, that isn’t the only thing he’s improved, at least according to his teammates. Veteran safety Devin McCourty has noticed Dugger evolve as a voice within the locker room.

“To me, he’s getting more and more confident in what he does; playing fast, playing physical. He has gifts that not many people playing safety have,” McCourty said following the Week 10 win over the Browns. “But I think it’s just him opening up and blossoming more. I can see them try to challenge him to talk more and be more vocal. He’s doing those things. He’s turning into a veteran even in Year 2. It’s been a joy to watch him.”

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Dugger and the Patriots might have their toughest test of the season awaiting next week. They host the AFC-leading Titans, and while Derrick Henry and Julio Jones won’t play in that game, Dugger and the Patriots defense will still have to go up against Ryan Tannehill and AJ Brown, who both have big-play potential.

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