Kyle Dugger

FILE – In this March 1, 2020, file photo, Lenoir-Rhyne defensive back Kyle Dugger runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis. Dugger made Hickory, North Carolina, a must stop for NFL scouts last fall. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

BOSTON — After trading out of the first round on Day 1 of the NFL draft, the New England Patriots made a little history on Day 2.

New England selected safety Kyle Dugger out of Lenoir-Rhyne University in the second round with the 37th overall pick 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 to Baltimore for the 60th and 129th picks. New England used the 60th pick to take Michigan linebacker Josh Uche.

New England then used the No. 87 pick in the third round to grab another linebacker – Anfernee Jennings of Alabama – before making trades with the Raiders and Jets and drafting two tight ends – UCLA’s Devin Asiasi at No. 91 and Virginia Tech’s Dalton Keene at No. 101.

A versatile defender and special teams player during his five-year career at Lenoir-Rhyne (enrollment 2,700), the 6-foot-1, 217-pound Dugger had 10 interceptions and returned six punts for touchdowns. He earned the Cliff Harris Award as the top small-school college defensive player despite playing in just seven games as a senior because of a finger injury.

He had 237 career tackles, 36 pass break-ups, six forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries and two blocked kicks.

Dugger made the most of his predraft opportunities earlier this year, playing well in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, where he was the only Division II player invited. He was also impressive at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, where he ran a 4.49 40-yard dash, and had the best vertical jump among safeties (42 inches) and second-best broad jump (11 feet, 2 inches).

Dugger was lightly recruited coming out of Georgia’s Fayetteville Whitewater High, where he didn’t start until his senior season. Lenoir-Rhyne, located in Hickory, North Carolina, and a member of the South Atlantic Conference, was one of only a few schools to offer him a scholarship.

Dugger will compete for a spot in a Patriots 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 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.”

The Patriots will be looking for the 6-1, 245-pound Uche and the 6-2, 256-pound Jennings to help rebuild at linebacker after they lost Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts in free agency. That trio combined for 117 tackles and 14 1/2 sacks in 2019.

Uche didn’t start a single game during his first three seasons at Michigan, despite earning All-Big Ten honors his junior year, posting seven sacks.

He started nine of the Wolverines’ 13 games as a senior, leading the team with 8 1/2 sacks and earning second-team all-conference honors. Uche played on both the edge and on the inside, giving New England multiple options to work him into the scheme.

He’ll join a unit that also features former Michigan teammate and defensive end Chase Winovich, whom the Patriots drafted in the third round last year.

Jennings led Alabama with eight sacks last season and was a first-team all-Southeastern Conference selection.

Asiasi and Keene fill a glaring area of need for the Patriots, who never adequately replaced Rob Gronkowski after his retirement last year.

Asiasi caught 44 passes for 641 yards and four touchdowns last season as a redshirt junior. The 6-3, 257-pound California native played one season at Michigan before transferring to UCLA.

The 6-4, 253-pound Keene was used by Virginia Tech in several roles, including as a wingback, slot receiver and fullback.

 

Comments are not available on this story.