The Lenoir-Rhyne senior has grown from a 5-foot-6, 140-pound high school freshman basketball player to a 6-foot-1, 217-pound athletic marvel at safety.
And his draft stock just keeps trending up.
Dugger finished the 2018 season as a lightly discussed Division II product who was considered more of a training camp body than a priority free agent despite a growing resume. Then a National Football Scouting representative put Dugger through drills in the spring of 2019. A highlight tape sent to an Indianapolis Colts scout soon followed.
That opened the proverbial flood gates.
Every NFL team sent a representative to Lenoir-Rhyne this past season to get an upclose look at the safety, according to The Athletic. The Panthers general manager visited, while Buffalo has been the most frequent visitor and has sent three different high-ranking members of its scouting staff.
And Dugger owes much of it to a late growth spurt.
"He's got the best story in this Draft, and he might be one of the most dynamic athletes, too. 23-years-old, 6 years in school, a 40-inch vertical, and the breakout star of the @seniorbowl." @PSchrags on @LRBearsFootball DB Kyle Dugger. pic.twitter.com/dztpTau6Aa
— Good Morning Football (@gmfb) February 14, 2020
There was always the possibility that Dugger would grow. His mother is in the Fort Valley State University’s basketball Hall of Fame, while his older brother is a 6-foot-6, 245-pound professional basketball player overseas. (His father served as a Marine.)
Plus, he had unusually long arms for his size, and his hands were the size of a grown man. His mother, Kimberly, said in an interview with NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread, that her son’s fingertips reached his knees when his hands were by his side.
Sure enough, Dugger continued to grow and suddenly went from a part-time starter as a junior in high school to a 5-foot-11, 170-pound senior, but by that time, it was almost too late in the recruiting process, and Dugger wound up at Lenoir-Rhyne, one of two Division II schools to offer him a scholarship.
But he also wasn’t finished growing. Dugger was redshirted his freshman season, then started his redshirt freshman year at cornerback. By the end of the season, he was the team’s best defensive back, starting 10 games and leading the team with 6 pass breakups and 4 interceptions to go along with 43 tackles.
So Dugger was moved to safety, a position he says he’s most comfortable with, and the new position fit him like a glove. He was given a medical redshirt in 2016 due to an injury, then came back as a safety in 2017, earning Second Team All-Conference honors after racking up 87 tackles while also returning a punt for a touchdown and averaging 9.9 yards per return.
His final two seasons were even more impressive. Dugger was named First Team All-South Atlantic Conference as a defensive back and a return specialist as a junior after he had 2 touchdown returns to go with 76 tackles, 3 INTs, two forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries in 14 games. Dugger only played in seven games after dealing with relatively minor injuries his senior year, but he still had 31 tackles, 2 INTs and 2 more kick return TDs. He won the Cliff Harris Award for his efforts, given to the top defensive player in Division II.
And it’s not just the growth spurt and gym-rat mentality that has contributed to Dugger’s success. He’s also shown improvements with his football IQ.
From a recent feature by the Athletic’s Matthew Fairburn:
“A lot of times post-snap I would say I was a ‘Mr. Fix It,’” Dugger said. “I was an extra a lot of times for this defense. I had to fix gaps and make sure nothing got split or nothing broke and kind of correct all the mistakes.”
There are some thoughts of moving Dugger to linebacker at the next level, but his most likely position is safety. Either way, teams will get an up-close look at him during the Scouting Combine Feb. 23 to March 2, where Dugger is expected to shine.
He checked in at nearly 6-foot-1, 217 pounds at the Senior Bowl. His hands tied him with Michigan’s Josh Metellus for the biggest among defensive backs at 10 1/8, while his arms (32 3/4) were the longest. He’s also been clocked with a 40-time of 4.41 and a broad jump of 10 feet, 11 inches.
And he has a big fan in Senior Bowl Director Jim Nagy, who personally delivered Dugger’s invitation.
“He’s really a cool chess piece,” Nagy said, via The Athletic. “I think (Clemson safety/linebacker) Isaiah Simmons is getting all the love as being that guy in this draft, but Kyle, he’s going to be a nice matchup piece wherever you put him. You can move this guy all around. It’s just going to take a coordinator who is willing to think outside the box a little bit and play to his strengths.”
No GM can sleep on Division II freak athlete Kyle Dugger: https://t.co/eld8UNo9Qe (via @NFLDraft) pic.twitter.com/rsVJOzxo2U
— NFL (@NFL) February 16, 2020