Raiders impressed with Division II standout safety Kyle Dugger
Safety Kyle Dugger, who played at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University, could be a fit for the Raiders as they look for much-needed defensive playmakers.
INDIANAPOLIS — It’s not as if Kyle Dugger got bored during his senior season at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University. Even though he looked as if he was on All Madden mode playing against a bunch of guys on rookie setting, he never would disrespect anyone by giving anything less than his full attention.
But the dynamic safety had outgrown the competition by such a wide margin that he needed to find new challenges to keep improving. The NFL was emerging as the next step of his football journey, and preparing himself for that opportunity became paramount.
At 6-foot-1-inch, 217 pounds and with a fondness for contact, it wasn’t often that Dugger was physically challenged as his college career started to wind down. That was in stark difference to his arrival at the campus in Hickory, North Carolina, with a body still in catch-up mode after going through a dramatic growth spurt in high school.
In fact, Dugger redshirted as a freshman to give himself time to physically develop. The plan worked, and soon after he was racking up numbers and grabbing the NFL’s attention while amassing 237 tackles, 10 interceptions, 36 pass breakups, six forced fumbles and fumble recoveries and six punt return touchdowns in 42 games.
He was a man among boys from that standpoint.
Understanding the game better, being able to read and react and dissect and command the sport intellectually is a challenge he began embracing more and more. The edge he could create certainly would be transferable to the next level, where even the slightest advantage goes a long way.
It helped, of course, that all of that tapped into a side of Dugger he takes as much pride in as the athlete side. He studied engineering at Lenior-Rhyne with an eye on eventually becoming an architect. In many ways, the engineering background blended perfectly with what he was trying to accomplish in the film room and on the field.
Or, as Dugger explained: “In engineering, it’s a lot of solving problems, just based off will. You just see it, and you’ve got to do something about it. So fix it. That goes a long way, especially at my position, safety. You have to be the quarterback of the defense. You aren’t always going to have the answer for everything you see, so you have to fix the defense.”
The practical approach has certainly helped Dugger navigate the daunting challenge of the NFL draft process. At Lenoir-Rhyne, he stood out as a freakish athlete who sometimes appeared to be toying with opponents. Over the last month or so, though, he’s been among peers that are every bit as big and fast and athletic at the Senior Bowl and NFL scouting combine.
That he hasn’t blinked once in the elevated setting is telling. And it stood out to Raiders general manager Mike Mayock, who got a good look at Dugger at the Senior Bowl.
It’s what Mayock didn’t see from the small-school standout that struck him as much as what he did.
“I get a kick at looking in the huddle,” Mayock said. “You see Lenior-Rhyne standing next to LSU and Alabama, and it’s less about what they’re doing on the field and more about if it’s too big for them. We can see athletic ability and talent. Is it too big for you? It wasn’t too big for him.”
Dugger was a star at the Senior Bowl while flashing coverage skills, run defense awareness and the ability to play close to the line of scrimmage as a hybrid safety/linebacker to be deployed as a blitzer, run defender or pass coverage weapon.
He also felt like he belonged.
“There weren’t any misplaced feelings when I stepped on the field,” Dugger said. “I’m a football player. I’ve been doing it a long time.”
The physicality and playmaking are attributes the Raiders covet as they look for much-needed defensive playmakers, though he might not be around when their second wave of picks arrive in the third round.
The Raiders are expected to use their 12th and 19th overall selections to address wide receiver and linebacker, but Dugger could be a candidate to trade up for in the second round. He impressed teams with his confidence, demeanor and intelligence, and measured in this week with almost 33-inch arms and a wingspan of more than 78 inches.
Contact Vincent Bonsignore at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @VinnyBonsignore onTwitter.