Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 40: Lenoir-Rhyne S Kyle Dugger

Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports

40. Lenoir-Rhyne S Kyle Dugger

6-foot-1, 217 pounds 

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.97 — starter potential

TL;DR scouting report: Small-school standout with plus athleticism who could develop as good safety and dangerous returner.

The skinny: Dugger was an unranked and virtually unknown high school recruit despite being named to the all-county teams in both football and basketball in Fayetteville, Georgia. He considered trying to play college basketball but ended up at Lenoir-Rhyne — the only school to offer him — for football. Entering college at around 180 pounds, Dugger hit a growth spurt during his redshirt season and started blossoming into an NFL prospect.

Dugger redshirted in 2014 and started 10 games as a redshirt freshman in 2015, with 43 tackles, four interceptions, 10 passes defended, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, two blocked kicks and a punt-return TD. He was forced to take a medical redshirt in 2016 after suffering a meniscus injury in the opener against Virginia State.

In 2017, Dugger made 87 tackles (4.5 for loss), one interception, seven passes defended, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery, earning second-team all-conference mention. In 2018, Dugger was named first-team All-South Atlantic Conference as a defensive back and returner. He made 76 tackles (one for loss), three interceptions, 13 passes defended, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles, and Dugger averaged 17.2 yards per punt return (31 returns, 534 yards, two TDs) and 20.0 yards on kickoffs (nine for 180 yards).

As a redshirt senior in 2019, Dugger won the Cliff Harris Award (the nation's small-college defensive player of the year) and was named second-team all-conference returner and first-team as a defensive back despite missing five games with a hand injury. He made 31 tackles (one for loss), two interceptions and six pass breakups, returning 12 punts for 175 yards (14.6-yard average) with two touchdowns. 

Dugger, who turned 24 years old last week, participated and performed well at the Senior Bowl and NFL scouting combine.

Lenoir-Rhyne S Kyle Dugger had a strong postseason at the Senior Bowl and NFL scouting combine. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Upside: Impressive athletic physique — similar measurements to the Chargers’ Derwin James. Absolutely looks the part for an NFL safety — tremendous wingspan, giant hands, well-sculpted frame. Clearly does well in the weight room and committed to his body. You simply do not see defensive backs this well-developed and talented coming from the D-II ranks.

Impressive athletic showing at the combine — 4.49-second 40-yard dash (sixth-best among all safeties in Indy), 42-inch vertical jump (tied for seventh-best among all combine safeties since 1999), 11-foot-2 broad jump (fifth-best among all combine safeties since 1999). Also put up a very respectable 17 bench-press reps with nearly 33-inch arms, longer than many offensive and defensive linemen.

Dominated at lower level of competition. Clearly the most impressive player (on defense and special teams) in pretty much any game he played the past two seasons. Ran alley to alley on wide-field plays and covered a ton of ground. Avoids blockers well — bobs and weaves through traffic to make plays near the line of scrimmage. Flashes ability to be a statement hitter at times. Skills easily translate to special-teams coverage units. Nice flexibility projection for modern, position-less NFL defenses. Used as slot corner, field and boundary safety and up in the box. Could be exactly what NFL defenses are seeking to combat “big slot” receivers.

Obvious playmaking traits and knack for finding the ball — 10 career INTs, six forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, seven TDs (one by INT, six on punts) in 42 career games. Threat with the ball in his hands — averaged nearly 15 yards per touch on INT returns, punt and kick returns, fumble returns and one rush attempt. Coaches considered using him on offense, too, but decided he was too valuable to risk getting hurt.

Gifted, dangerous punt-return ability (13.9-yard career average) that must be tested on next level. Watch as Dugger fields the awkward, bouncing punt, makes the first man miss, puts on a number of wild moves and finishes strong into the end zone — the first of two punt-return touchdowns against UVA-Wise:

Reacts quickly to screens and swing passes and comes downhill quickly. Did good job sticking with double moves when carrying receivers downfield. Most opponents chose to throw away from him the past two years. Good understanding of spacing in coverage — positions himself well between the receiver and the ball. Natural, raw instincts that can’t be taught.

Level-headed, serious, driven and hungry demeanor. Smart, mature player — still driven by those who overlooked him. Absolutely looked the part at the Senior Bowl — rallied from so-so first day of practice to finish as strong as any South Team defender by the end of the week. Interviewed well and drew all 32 teams for on-campus visits during the season.

Downside: Jump in competition, especially for a defensive back, will be massive. Lenoir-Rhyne played three basic coverages — understanding of advanced passing-game concepts could take some time to absorb. Relied on instincts in coverage and will need to show better pattern-recognition skills.

Wasn’t used as blitzer much in final two seasons. Could struggle to take on blocks if used as nickel or dime linebacker in NFL. Run fits can be inconsistent. Still working on taking on blocks and shedding. Gets jumpy and hyper-aggressive.

Got a little turned around in zone coverage during Senior Bowl game, which resulted in a long touchdown pass on his watch. Got away with false steps in coverage and sloppy footwork at times at lower level of competition. Looked a bit passive at times last season — coasted here and there when teams clearly threw and ran away from him.

Injury history must be vetted — two season-ending injuries in three-year span. Older prospect who might be at his athletic peak now.

Best-suited destination: With the rise of sub-package usage and more teams employing special-teams connoisseurs, Dugger should have strong appeal despite his level of play. Although he will take time to adapt to NFL defense, we suspect, Dugger can contribute immediately in a variety of ways.

Among the teams that potentially could be interested in his services include the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Rams and Carolina Panthers.

Did you know: Dugger will be the first Lenoir-Rhyne player drafted since 2000 (San Francisco 49ers fifth-rounder John Milem) and almost certainly the highest drafted ever from the school. He first got on scouts’ radar with 40-yard dash times 4.5 seconds and faster (best of 4.41) — weighing around 220 pounds — at the school’s Junior Day last spring.

From the first day of summer practice through the end of training camp, there were multiple NFL scouts on campus to watch him. One school official estimated to Yahoo Sports that nearly 100 scouts watched Dugger either at practice or games this past season, including some multiple trips. Panthers’ Marty Hurney — even made the one-hour trip to watch Dugger this year in practice.

They said it: “I kind of like the underdog role, it’s something that’s going to continue to drive me.” 

— Dugger at the combine 

Player comp: As a defender, Dugger reminds us of Jaquiski Tartt (who made the jump from Sanford), who is quietly one of the NFL’s better strong safeties. At the very least, Dugger could make himself into a special-teams ace such as Dwayne Harris or Jalen Reeves-Maybin.

Expected draft range: Although there is a chance he could be taken late in Round 1, that would be a long shot. More likely, he’ll be a second-round pick, perhaps even sliding into the early third.

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor | 35. WR Brandon Aiyuk | 34. EDGE Zack Baun | 33. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos | 32. CB Jeff Gladney | 31. QB Jordan Love | 30. CB Trevon Diggs | 29. EDGE A.J. Epenesa | 28. RB JK Dobbins | 27. WR Justin Jefferson | 26. WR Tee Higgins | 25. S Xavier McKinney | 24. WR Jalen Reagor | 23. CB Kristian Fulton | 22. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 21. WR Denzel Mims | 20. LB Kenneth Murray | 19. RB D’Andre Swift | 18. QB Justin Herbert | 17. LB Patrick Queen | 16. WR Henry Ruggs III | 15. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson | 14. WR Jerry Jeudy | 13. OT Mekhi Becton | 12. DT Javon Kinlaw | 11. OT Andrew Thomas | 10. OT Tristan Wirfs | 9. WR CeeDee Lamb | 8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr. | 7. CB CJ Henderson | 6. LB-S Isaiah Simmons | 5. DT Derrick Brown | 4. QB Tua Tagovailoa | 3. CB Jeffrey Okudah | 2. QB Joe Burrow | 1. Chase Young

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