2020 NFL Draft: Patriots make their first pick of the draft, surprisingly take a Division II player

After trading out of Round 1, the New England Patriots finally made their first pick of the 2020 NFL Draft on Friday, and their selection turned out to be a total surprise. 

With the 37th overall pick, the Patriots took safety Kyle Dugger. If you’ve never heard of Dugger, it’s probably because he went to Lenoir-Rhyne, and if you’ve never heard of Lenoir-Rhyne, that’s probably because you don’t follow Division II football. 

A D-II player getting drafted this high is something that almost never happens. The last time someone from that level got taken at any point during the first three rounds of the draft came all the way back in 2006, when the Bears selected Danieal Manning out of Abilene Christian with the 42nd overall pick. 

The fact that the Patriots took a D-II player might not have even been the biggest surprise. It was also mildly shocking to see them take a safety. Going into the draft, the team’s biggest needs were perceived to be at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end and linebacker. However, this is the Patriots we’re talking about and they don’t really draft based on positional needs, as the team’s director of player personnel, Nick Caserio, explained on Thursday. 

“There’s never one particular position that’s priority,” Caserio said, via quotes from the team. “I think you go through your draft board. We grade the players on their respective positions, then you compare players across positions. We take the information that we have and we try to make the best decision that we feel is best for our team. If it happens to be a tight end, it’s a tight end. If it’s another position, it’s another position. I mean, there’s no set formula. We just try to go through it. That’s why we have a grading system in place so that you assign grades because what you don’t want to do is assign a certain grade, maybe it’s one position that’s a little bit higher than the other, or it’s a little bit lower, then you take a player out of scale. Like, is that the best thing for your team? Ultimately you just have to answer those questions, do what you feel makes the most sense.”

The Patriots clearly felt that Dugger was the best option even though they already have one of the best secondaries in the league, a secondary that includes Patrick Chung, Stephon Gilmore and the McCourty twins (Jason and Devin). 

Of course, there’s a reason the Patriots selected Duggar and that likely has to do with his ability to play multiple positions. Belichick loves to use his players like chess pieces and the more versatile they are, the better. Dugger is a player who can potentially line up as at safety for the Patriots or be thrown in at linebacker. Another bonus with Dugger is that he can return punts. Not only did he set the school record with 929 punt return yards during his college career, but he also tacked on six return touchdowns. 

Although Dugger came from a small school, his talent was no secret in NFL circles. Not only was the safety the only D-II player invited to the NFL combine in February, but he was also the only D-II player who took part in the Senior Bowl back in January. 

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