It’s no secret that Bill Belichick’s stock took a massive hit after the 2020 season. After all, he let Tom Brady walk through the door, stupidly hitched his cart to Cam Newton, and recorded a loss record. for the first time since becoming head coach of the New England Patriots.
Needless to say, his resume didn’t look so strong following a dismal campaign that raised legitimate questions about the direction of Robert Kraft’s franchise.
Of course, Belichick has faced a lot of criticism in recent years for his draft difficulties. In fact, even his boss made reference to the squad’s lack of young local players during the offseason, which naturally raised a few eyebrows around Foxborough.
Fortunately for the man with a salary of $ 18 million and an impressive collection of Super Bowl rings, a timely development has drastically changed his resume for good. And not only has that helped Belichick on an individual level, but also from a team perspective.
After all, it’s impossible to watch what the Patriots have been up to defensively over the past month and not be impressed with the results. Thanks to a shutout against the Atlanta Falcons the Thursday night football, they are second in points allowed at just 16.1 per game. The continued excellence of star outside linebacker Matt Judon has certainly helped. The same goes for the emergence of rookie defensive lineman Christian Barmore. In addition, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Ja’Whaun Bentley also stepped up.
But the spotlight should be on a second-year player who showed exactly why Belichick spent a second-round pick to secure his services: Kyle Dugger.
As much credit as Judon and Barmore deserve for putting pressure on quarterbacks and making life miserable for offensive linemen, Dugger’s development deserves special attention. Tipping the scales at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, the physically gifted security suddenly became one of the team’s most dangerous defenders. Considering he went to the Lenoir-Rhyne Division II and didn’t face any NFL-caliber competition, the 25-year-old’s rise is even more impressive.
Not only did Dugger lead the team with 70 total tackles, but he also provided the Patriots with a much-needed playing presence in the high school. After failing to register a single interception or pass break as a rookie, the talented defensive back has totaled three interceptions and four defended passes in 11 games. In addition, Dugger recorded four tackles for a loss and a quarterback hit.
Against the Falcons, Belichick used powerful and explosive security to stop No.4 pick Kyle Pitts. Dugger showed fantastic technique breaking a first-quarter pass intended for the very talented tight end, and he limited Pitts to just 29 yards on three receptions.
At this point, it’s fair to say that the Patriots have another local star on their hands. As well as showing off his ability to make plays on the ball, Dugger also showed a knack for delivering bone-chilling tackles. As the game slowed down for him, he was able to use his stupendous physical tools to make a huge impact in all areas of the game, including special teams.
Luckily for the Patriots’ defense, they now have three top safeties with different skills. Devin McCourty excels as a center who can patrol from the back. Adrian Phillips stands out against the run and has the awareness and experience to charge quarterbacks. Meanwhile, Dugger continues to present himself as a violent tackle and a much improved one-on-one coverage defender who can do it all.
As for Belichick, it’s time he tackled a defensive back early in the round. He has a surprisingly unimpressive track record of selecting safes and corners with high picks. Just look at some of the results from the past few years:
- Jordan Richards (2015 second round, 64th overall): The former Stanford keeper only started seven games and was exposed by Nick Foles at Super Bowl 52.
- Cyrus Jones (second round 2016, 60th overall): The ex-Alabama started a game as a rookie, suffered an ACL tear in the 2017 preseason, then was canceled in October 2018.
- Duke Dawson (2018 second round, 56th overall): Belichick traded for the Florida product, which later appeared in zero games for the Patriots before being traded to the Denver Broncos in a late-round pick trade.
- Joejuan Williams (second round 2019, 45th overall): Another build-up for a player who has yet to become a full-time starter in New England.
Not exactly a good look for Belichick, the GM, is it?
Thankfully, however, it looks like the NFL legend has finally taken the plunge. Dugger has announced his arrival as a top starter, and he still has room to grow. Meanwhile, his other 2020 draft pick, Michael Onwenu, looks like a long-term fixture along the offensive line. And it’s obvious Belichick got him out of the park with a 2021 class led by Jones, Barmore, and Rhamondre Stevenson.
Right now, her resume is much better than it was even a month ago. Belichick can officially add Dugger to his list of draft successes – one that includes key players like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower and Matthew Slater.
More importantly, the Patriots added a dynamic player to their defense by taking a chance on a D-II safety from a school that no one had heard of before the 2020 draft.
As they say, good things happen to those who wait. And while it took a bit of patience and a lot of training reps, it’s clear that Kyle Dugger has taken a new step forward in his development.
If that’s a sign of things to come, the rest of the NFL had better prepare for at least a few more years of Bill Belichick’s brilliance.
All statistics are courtesy of Professional football benchmark.
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