Remember how I said I currently play Division II football? It has its perks. Aside from being able to play college football, one perk is having an up-close and personal look at future diamonds in the rough from southern D2 football. There are certainly NFL Draft prospects all over the country that play at D2 universities, but there is one prospect that my teammates and I know is going to get a shot at playing professional football. This prospect plays for a little D2 powerhouse in Hickory, North Carolina named Lenoir-Rhyne University (LR). And the prospect’s name is Kyle Dugger.
Size, speed, dreads. Those are the first words that pop up in your head the moment you see Kyle Dugger. At 6’2, 220 pounds, one would think Dugger would be playing at linebacker, not free safety. But Dugger can be seen in coverage quite a bit, and when he’s not in coverage, he’s coming downhill like a cannonball.
Oh, and the man can HIT HIT! He’s a two-time Ronnie Lott Heavy Hitter Award winner.
LR plays a lot of quarters coverage (Cover 4/8) where Dugger plays over the #2 reciever. Dugger is smooth in his backpedal and is reading the quarterback’s eyes the whole way, looking to play over the top of routes and run to anywhere the ball lands. LR mixes in Cover 1 as well, where Dugger will most play as the only deep safety, but he also comes down and makes plays in man coverage.
Dugger helped the Bears to one of their best seasons defensively, and as a team, they won the South Atlantic Conference (undefeated in conference play) and advanced to the quarterfinals of the D2 playoffs (the real college football playoffs). With 76 tackles, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in 2018, Dugger’s impact on defense is sensational. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. With Dugger being such a dynamic athlete, the Bears thought to put Dugger on special teams as well, which turned out to be a very wise decision. Bruce Feldman didn’t make Dugger #19 on his Freaks List for giggles.
I got to watch his punt return skills on the field when I was on our (Tusculum University) punt team in 2017. I ate his dust as he ran away from us for a touchdown. Thankfully, a flag took the points off the board.
As good as Dugger is at safety, his physicality may be more suited to play linebacker in the NFL. Dugger is fast when he gets his motor going, but he is not the quickest cat in the jungle. His coverage skills and run defense, however, would make Dugger a great linebacker that can play the run and cover tight ends, running backs and receivers if a team would like him to. Or he could keep doing that at safety. As a fan of the CFL, if Dugger cannot sustain NFL success, he could be an elite SAM linebacker up North. And if all else fails, Dugger can be a special teams MVP as a returner or anything you want him to be. He has the tools to be a versatile playmaker on defense or special teams; versatility or special teams value almost guarantees young NFL players a roster spot.
Scouts currently have Dugger as a late Day 2, early Day 3 NFL Draft pick, going in-between the 3rd and 5th rounds. Lenoir-Rhyne has had seven NFL Draft picks in history; the highest draft pick was the latest one in 2000, with defensive end John Milem going in the 5th round, 150th pick overall. With another great season and an excellent pre-draft process, Dugger could become the highest Bear drafted in their deep, historic program.