BOSTON (AP) — After trading out of the first round on Day 1 of the NFL draft, the Patriots went to Tobacco Road to make a little history on Day 2.
New England selected safety Kyle Dugger out of Lenoir-Rhyne University 37th overall in the second round Friday night. The Patriots’ pick marked the first time an NFL team has selected a Division II safety during the first three rounds since the Chicago Bears took Danieal Manning in the second round in 2006.
Later the Patriots moved up, trading the 71st and 98th overall picks (both in the third round) to Baltimore for the 60th and 129th (fourth round) picks. New England used the 60th pick to take Michigan linebacker Josh Uche.
The Patriots previously traded the 23rd overall pick in the first round to the Chargers in exchange for the 37th and 71st picks.
A versatile defender and special teams player during his five-year career at the North Carolina school (enrollment 2,700), it took a while for Dugger to get on NFL executives’ radar after entering high school in Georgia at just 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds.
But the 24-year-old grew to 6–1, 217-pounds by his senior season at Lenior-Rhyne in 2019, earning the Cliff Harris Award as the top small-school college defensive player despite playing in just seven games because of a finger injury. He finished his career with 10 career interceptions and six punt returns for touchdowns.
Dugger said coming from Division II to finding out he had been drafted by New England felt surreal.
“Probably the closest thing would definitely be Christmas,” he said.
Dugger is the first Lenoir-Rhyne player to be drafted since defensive end John Milem was taken by San Francisco in the fifth round in 2000.
Dugger said he spoke with the Patriots several times throughout the draft process, including multiple conversations with coach Bill Belichick.
A Georgia native, Dugger comes from a family of athletes. His mother, Kimberly Dugger, played basketball for Fort Valley State University in the 1980s and was inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame. His older brother, Patrick, played at Lagrange (Ga.) College from 2012 to 2014.
Dugger was considered to be a top prospect in a strong small-school class that also includes offensive lineman Ben Bartch of St. Johns (Minnesota), running back James Robinson of Illinois State, tight ends Charlie Taumoepeau of Portland State and Adam Trautman of Dayton.
Three of the four, in addition to Dugger, were at the Senior Bowl. All five received NFL combine invitations.
Dugger said the Senior Bowl appearance was the icing on a senior season in which he drew at least one representative from every NFL team to Lenoir-Rhyne’s campus in Hickory, North Carolina.
“It just gave me an opportunity to kind of solidify what I already knew, that I could play at this level,” Dugger said.
He will now have a shot to compete for a spot on a secondary that has an opening after New England traded safety Duron Harmon to the Lions. Dugger also will have a chance to learn from a pair of 10-year veterans in Patriots starting safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung.
“I’ve watched them play for a long time and I know a lot about their versatility, how they can do anything you ask of a DB on the football field,” Dugger said. “So to be able to learn from guys who have played at a level that high and have done it well for so long, it’s a huge honor.”