Patriots roster reset: How quickly can Kyle Dugger impact the safety position?

Andy Hart
June 16, 2020 - 10:15 am

Over the next few weeks, as we crawl closer to the hopeful opening of Patriots training camp later this summer, will take a position-by-position look at the New England roster following an eventful offseason of comings and goings.

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Roster: Devin McCourty (11th year), Patrick Chung (12th), Kyle Dugger (rookie), Adrian Phillips (6th), Terrance Brooks (7th), Justin Bethel (9th), Malik Gant (2nd), Adarius Pickett (1st), Cody Davis (rookie)

Key Additions: Adrian Phillips (FA/Chargers), Kyle Dugger (2nd round)

Key Losses: Duron Harmon (Trade/Lions)

Projected Starters: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung

Biggest Question: Approaching his 33rd birthday, can Patrick Chung continue to be a key physical cog in the back end of the New England defense or might Kyle Dugger be asked to make significant contributions as the team’s top rookie?

Key Stat: 0 – Combined number of sacks/interceptions/FF/FR Patrick Chung had in 13 games with 12 starts a year ago – playing 64 percent of New England’s defensive snaps -- the first time he’d gone a season without a “big play” in his 11-year NFL career.

Overview: Devin McCourty has been a focal point in the Patriots secondary for a decade. Set to turn 33 in training camp – and with a new two-year, $23 million extension in the bank – the team captain and Pro Bowler remains a huge presence in the back of the defense which happens to be the strength of the overall unit. McCourty is coming off one of his best seasons when he finished fifth on the team with 58 tackles, tied for second with five interceptions and added two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Both literally and figuratively McCourty shows no signs of slowing down, despite plenty of retirement talk little more than a year ago. Unfortunately the same may not be true of his running mate at safety for much of his New England career – Patrick Chung. Also set to turn 33 this summer and with a one-year extension of his own (technically through 2023), Chung may be starting to show the wear and tear of his key physical role. While counting on a pair of 33-year-old safeties may be a dangerous game, McCourty would seem better suited to play at a high level in 2020. Potentially an acknowledgment of Chung’s age, New England invested in second-round pick Kyle Dugger this spring. The versatile, athletic safety has the physical tools to be a box presence and more in the NFL, assuming he can make the huge jump from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne to pro football. While New England cut into its veteran safety depth by trading former captain and rotational presence Duron Harmon to the Lions, it also added to the depth chart with the signing of Adrian Phillips. The former special teams All-Pro also started 12 of 23 games played over the last two seasons with the Chargers, including a 94-tackle year in 2018. Phillips could be asked to help fill the void left by Harmon’s departure and may be an upgrade over the playing time that Terrence Brooks saw a year ago. Malik Gant is an interesting practice squad returnee, who showed some pop as a hitter last summer. Another factor in the safety rotation, especially in terms of free safety reps, is the potential versatility from cornerbacks Jason McCourty and second-year second-round pick Joejuan Williams. Overall, though, the story of the safety position in New England this fall will be dominated by how well McCourty and Chung continue to age and how quickly newcomers like Dugger and Phillips are able to contribute. Either way, the safety position will continue to be expected to combine with a strong cornerback depth chart to field one of the best all-around secondary groups in the NFL again in 2020.

Power Rating (1-5): ****

Assuming that Devin McCourty doesn’t get old overnight, the Patriots have solid veteran leadership at safety. The second-round addition of Kyle Dugger also brings versatile youthful potential to the mix, assuming he can transition from DII star to the NFL.

Related: Patriots roster reset: Dont’a Hightower must truly lead new-look LB unit