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New England Patriots: Duke Dawson ready to make the jump in sophomore year

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Entering his second season, Duke Dawson is eager to make a name for himself in a crowded New England Patriots secondary.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has a habit of drafting the best player available, regardless of position, and that was exactly the case when the Patriots took cornerback Duke Dawson in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Hailed as one of the best slot cornerbacks in college football, Dawson was slated to join an elite secondary with Stephon Gilmore, Devin and Jason McCourty, and Patrick Chung. Unfortunately, injuries kept him from seeing the field during his rookie season.

Fast forward a year, and the Pats are defending Super Bowl Champs. Stephon Gilmore is the best cornerback in the league, and the Pats’ secondary, although aged, is the most talented and experienced core in the league. Even with the vastly talented defensive backs group, coach Bill Belichick once again drafted an extremely talented cornerback in the second round – Joejuan Williams. A lengthy perimeter defender, Williams won’t compete with for a slot position with Dawson … but star undrafted free agent J.C. Jackson could.

Jackson turned his opportunity into glory once Dawson was placed on the injured reserve last season. An incredibly gifted athlete who has faced trouble in the past, Jackson shined as the slot cornerback while J-Mac and Gilmore manned the outside. While Dawson recovered from the injury that sidelined him, Jackson was a key contributor on defense, helping New England win their sixth Lombardi Trophy. As both players enter their sophomore season, it will be interesting to see who can claim the starting slot corner spot.

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A likely scenario that could occur would be having Dawson learn the ropes as a rookie again, and that would involve limited playing time. Jackson has proved himself, and it’s very unlikely that Dawson usurps Gilmore or McCourty on the outside. Although McCourty played excellent in his first year in Foxboro, he is on the wrong side of 30, meaning next season could be his last in a Patriots uniform. It’s most likely that Jackson or Williams competes for the starting outside spot the following year if McCourty departs, leaving the slot position open for Dawson.

Dawson has the perfect place to blossom into a starting NFL cornerback. The McCourty brothers are both intellectual veterans who have been praised by Belichick for their smarts, and Gilmore is the best cornerback in the league who has mastered most aspects of coverage. Obviously, Belichick will be able to share wisdom with the Florida prospect. Last but not least, Jerod Mayo, a former linebacker hailed as a field general by Belichick, has been brought on as a coach. His leadership will be invaluable to a discouraged player who missed his rookie season.

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With all the opportunities in front of Dawson, there is no reason to doubt his ability and drive to put his wasted rookie year behind him. His teammates will be there every step of the way as they look to repeat and earn their NFL-record seventh Lombardi Trophy.

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