Patriots make Lenoir-Rhyne’s Dugger NC’s first 2020 draft pick

Defensive back Kyle Dugger is the first Division II player since 2006 to be taken in the first three rounds of the NFL draft

Lenoir-Rhyne defensive back Kyle Dugger beat the odds by being invited to the NFL Scouting Combine despite coming from a Division II school. (Michael Conroy / AP Photo)

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.

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.