New England Patriots

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 01: Defensive back Kyle Dugger of Lenoir-Rhyne runs a drill during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 29, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

By Ty Anderson,

Drafting safety Kyle Dugger in the second round was always going to come with its share of questions and raised eyebrows.

Despite the countless pre-draft scouting reports and projections that consistently rated Dugger as a potential second-round selection, Dugger’s status as a Division-II standout at small-school Lenoir-Rhyne was going to elicit scoffs. But that’s nothing new to Dugger, who has used his lack of experience at a D-I program or big-time school as motivation to elevate his own game, which brought him to the New England Patriots with the No. 37 overall pick on Friday night.

“As far as a chip, it’s definitely grown into a mountain on my shoulders,” Dugger admitted. “It’s definitely something that’s going to be permanent. I’m going to carry it throughout my career as long as I have the opportunity to play the game.”

That mountain certainly came to play in 2019, as the 24-year-old appeared in just seven games last year due to a finger injury, but was impactful enough to win the Cliff Harris Award, which is given to the best defensive player in NCAA Division-II, after totaling 31 tackles, two interceptions, and six passes defended. 

“Division-II football, it may be different in the way that the program wasn’t made to produce NFL players, so a lot of the things, if I wanted to get better, I would have to take it into my own hands,” Dugger offered. “As far as my work ethic, the way I approached myself, how I looked at myself on film, how I critiqued myself. I really had to go the extra mile and not just look at who I’m playing against but kind of compare it to what I was trying to get to.

“It definitely developed a lot of the work ethic and the things that I do off the field, the way I look at film, the detail I look at film with, how I teach myself – it definitely developed the side for me.”

Comparing the excitement of his selection to his first Christmas, the 6-foot-2 Dugger did seem to think that New England could’ve been his draft weekend destination based on his pre-draft communication from Patriot Place.

“I did know that they were going to have interest in me,” Dugger noted. “I was talking to them a lot during this process, a lot with [Brian] Belichick, and so I did know they were interested in me.

“My impression of the Patriots is they’re a professional, great organization. They know how to win. They know the little details. They’re detail-oriented. They’re all bought in and they take it seriously… What I do know about them is they’re professional and they’re going to figure out whatever needs to be figured out and continue to be a great organization.”

A highly versatile talent, the Georgia-born Dugger’s jump to the NFL comes after a five-year Lenoir-Rhyne run that featured 237 tackles, 10 interceptions, and 36 passes defended. Dugger was also a major factor in the punt return game, with 67 returns for six  touchdowns and a total of 929 yards (both school records).

And it’s just the start of what’s to come in a career built on proving his doubters wrong.

“It just makes me want it that much more,” Dugger, whose selection made him the highest-drafted D-II player of the 21st century, said of the road to the call from Belichick. “The good and the bad, it all paid off – without any light, going through times that can be described as dark times, just working through those. So it was definitely huge and makes me excited for the future, especially because I know I’m that much hungrier at this point and just it’s going to be incredible.

“I wanted this really bad.”

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.