The New England Patriots are obviously counting on young players to improve as they look to build on last year's playoff berth in 2022.
Quarterback Mac Jones needs to make strides in his second year. Rookies Cole Strange and Tyquan Thornton must make immediate contributions. And, according to the analytics-driven site Pro Football Reference, safety Kyle Dugger is poised to be a start in his third season.
PFF recently unveiled its list of "Year 3 Breakout Players" and Dugger came in No. 3 behind only Denver Broncos' receiver Jerry Jeudy and Houston Texans' pass-rusher Jonathan Greenard.
Says PFF of Dugger's potential ...
Hailing from a Division II university in Lenoir-Rhyne, Dugger was always a long shot to really be an impact player early. But the 37th overall pick in 2020 was drafted like someone who should be. We saw his insane athleticism, but not too much playmaking. Down the stretch in 2021, that started to change. He finished his second season with four picks and a pass breakup. Where you really started to see the game slow down for him last season was as a tackler. Over his final nine games in 2021, Dugger had 49 tackles with only three misses. Dugger looks primed to join the upper tier of safeties across the NFL in 2022.
The Patriots are hoping Dugger and veterans Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips give them one of the best safety tandems in the NFL. If the Patriots defense is to improve in 2022, the secondary will likely provide the backbone of the success.