By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
If any team became an expert on Patriots cornerback Duke Dawson in recent years, it's the Patriots.
The former Florida Gator checks a lot of boxes in terms of what the Patriots look for in the secondary, most notably versatility. Dawson will primarily play the slot and act as the primary defensive back (corner or safety) in nickel packages, and is also comfortable in either man-to-man or zone coverage. He can contribute against the run, too.
Dawson's versatility is one reason why head coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio had their eyes on Dawson - even before 2018. He considered declaring for the draft after his junior year at Florida, but ultimately decided to stay for his senior year. Caserio revealed after day two of the draft that Dawson made a good decision to improve his draft stock, because the Pats could've targeted Dawson had he declared in 2017.
"This was a player who actually thought about declaring as an underclassmen last year, so we’ve been tracking him or doing work on him for the past few years," said Caserio. "He may not have started but he’s played a lot of football. Like you said, he was a third corner or the third safety. ... This guy has played a lot of football against a lot of good people and in a good program. So on paper he may have started X amount of games, but he’s played a lot of football and you can see that on a weekly basis."
Dawson himself revealed some qualities that Belichick and Caserio undoubtedly liked enough to trade up to take him with the 56th pick - their only one of eight draft trades that didn't move down or out to 2019. When a reporter asked Dawson, who broke up 17 passes over his last 18 games at Florida, about his knack for getting his hands on the football, he showed that he's a natural with the Patriot-isms.
"I feel like my coaches prepare me well every week," said Dawson. "They give us a great game plan. Then I just go out and compete at a high level. Just like to go out and have fun with my brothers. Just being able to play a team sport with guys that you build relationships with, I mean it gets contagious. Just being able to do that and see other guys around me making plays as well, it's just awesome to see."
When asked to introduce New England to the "real" side of himself, Dawson no doubt put at least a little smirk on Belichick's face.
"I'm a very humble guy," he said. "I just come in and do what is said. I've never been a guy that came in conceited, cocky. I've just always been humble and mellow. I'm just a laid back guy. When it's time to turn up and do the things that I like to do, that's when things start to get even better for me. I just like to come in and help in any way that I could. It really don't matter where I get put. I just want to come in and help this team in any way I can."
Expect Dawson to contribute immediately in situations where the Patriots need a fifth defensive back. And he could enter camp at the front of the line as the slot cornerback. If his words are any indication, he'll do the most important thing for Belichick: his job.
It didn't take long for Dawson to show why the Patriots had him on their radar for a long time.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].