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Patriots S Kyle Dugger Placed on COVID/Reserve List: What It Means for New England

If Dugger is sidelined for Monday’s matchup with the Buffalo Bills, might the Pats look to a 2021 rookie to fill the void?

The New England Patriots may be without one of their most prolific players in their defensive backfield Safety Kyle Dugger when they take on the Buffalo Bills on Monday night in Orchard Park New York.

The Patriots placed safety Kyle Dugger on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday, putting his status for their upcoming Week Thirteen matchup against their division rivals in serious doubt.

While reports indicate Dugger having tested positive, he still has a chance to play. If he is vaccinated, and asymptomatic, he must produce two negative tests taken 24 hours apart to be activated in time for Monday night’s game.

Over the past few weeks, Dugger’s versatility has earned him a spot as a mainstay in the Patriots defensive backfield. Through twelve games played this season, the 25-year-old has compiled 62 solo tackles, 4 tackles for loss, four passes-defensed, three interceptions and one fumble recovery. The Pats have heavily used both big nickel (five defensive backs) and dime (six defensive backs) defensive packages in 2021. Dugger has seen action alongside safeties Adrian Phillips and Devin McCourty when three safeties are deployed in the secondary. Thus far, he has been most effective when used against tight ends and receiving backs out of the backfield.

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Making matters more problematic for New England, the Bills employ several players at offensive skill positions that can be effective in the middle of the field. From receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley, to receiving back Matt Breida, and tight end Dawson Knox, New England will need to step up their coverage in the backfield, should Dugger be sidelined for Monday’s matchup.

On the surface, both McCourty and Phillips will be called upon to be the primary options at the position. However, the Pats could utilize special teams stalwarts Justin Bethel or Cody Davis, who can play safety, if needed. Sean Davis is the lone designated safety available via the practice squad.

An intriguing option for the Patriots might be activating rookie safety Joshuah Bledsoe, who was recently removed from the Non-Football-Injury List. The Patriots opened the sixth round by selecting Bledsoe with the 188th overall selection. Throughout his four years at Missouri, he started 40 of his 43 games. Bledsoe appeared as a box safety, free safety, and slot corner. Unfortunately, Bledsoe sustained a wrist injury in January, which has kept him sidelined until now.

As a result, Bledsoe projects as a versatile safety for the Patriots. His ideal fit would feature him in the D-gap/slot, in a big-nickel-heavy defensive scheme featuring man-to-man coverage assignments. Bledsoe could be an option as a third safety who subs in on late downs to play man coverage down closer to the line of scrimmage. While his lack of pro-level playing time make this a highly-unlikely scenario, Bledsoe could add some depth to the position, if activated.

In addition to Dugger, running back J.J. Taylor was also placed on New England’s COVID-19 reserve list.

The Patriots and Bills are set for an 8:20pm kickoff on Monday night, December 6, from Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.