Patriots

2 Patriots players viewed among most underrated players at their positions by NFL expert

Kendrick Bourne and Kyle Dugger were placed on ESPN's NFL All-Underrated team.

Kendrick Bourne's made plays all over the field in his first season in New England. (AP Photo/Greg M. Cooper)

Finding glowing words about the Patriots hasn’t been difficult in recent weeks.

New England is winners of its last five games, moving to 7-4 and looking like the playoff threat it usually was prior to 2020. With the recent success, the Patriots have been viewed by several analysts and experts as a favorite to win the AFC while there appears to be no cap on how many nice things can be said about Mac Jones.

But one NFL expert believes two Patriots players are getting glossed over. ESPN NFL expert Bill Barnwell placed wide receiver Kendrick Bourne and safety Kyle Dugger on his NFL All-Underrated Team for the 2021 season.

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Bourne, who signed a three-year deal with the Patriots as part of the team’s free-agent spending spree, has 37 catches for 562 yards and three touchdowns in his first season in New England. His biggest play so far this season came in Week 6 against the Cowboys when he caught a deep pass from Jones for a 75-yard touchdown to give the Patriots a late lead. The Patriots lost that game and while Bourne hasn’t made many other spectacular plays like that, Barnwell is a fan of Bourne’s consistency.

“The former 49ers wideout has caught more than 78% of his targets this season. NFL Next Gen Stats has his expected catch rate at 67.4%, meaning he’s operating at nearly 11% above expectation,” Barnwell wrote. “That’s the third-best mark in the league, behind only those of [Cardinals receiver] Christian Kirk and [Broncos receiver Tim] Patrick.

“Some of the hype surrounding the Patriots’ offense is overstated, given that they rank 16th in offensive and passing DVOA, but Bourne has outplayed his three-year, $15 million deal.”

Bourne’s had a couple of his best games over the Patriots’ winning streak, flashing talent outside of playing receiver. In the first game of the winning streak, Bourne not only caught four passes for 68 yards against the Jets, he also tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor on the game’s opening drive.

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Three weeks later, Bourne again showed his versatility in the Patriots’ 45-7 win over the Browns. Not only did he have four catches for 98 yards – including a leaping grab in the endzone for a 23-yard touchdown reception – he also added 43 yards on the ground on three carries with the Patriots missing top-rusher Damien Harris.

As for Dugger, he’s seen some praise as of late. The second-year safety recorded his third interception of the season in the Patriots’ Week 10 win over the Browns and has a team-high 71 tackles this season.

Dugger’s versatility to play both safety spots and slot corner in the absence of Jonathan Jones is something that stands out to Barnwell.

“Dugger is nominally a safety on paper, but he plays both safety spots and also chips in a fair amount of the time as a slot corner,” Barnwell wrote. “When NFL Next Gen Stats identifies him as a slot defender, he has allowed a passer rating of just 35.2 and generated 13.2 EPA for the Patriots’ defense, the latter of which ranks fourth in the NFL.”

In the Patriots’ most recent win against the Falcons, Dugger held opposing rookie tight end Kyle Pitts to one catch for 16 yards on three targets. Barnwell wrote that shutting down opposing tight ends “might” be Dugger’s best skill.

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Whether slowing down tight ends is his best skill or not, Dugger’s looking like the player the Patriots hoped they would get when they drafted him early in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

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