Finding the Fits: Duke Dawson could be Patriots' next Malcolm Butler

Duke Dawson returned three INTs for TDs at Florida.University of Florida Athletics

By Rob Rang,

This is part of a series -- Finding the Fits -- in which will review the more intriguing picks made during the 2018 NFL Draft. The goal is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and, therefore, more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career.

New England's best fit: Duke Dawson, CB, Florida, selected No. 56 overall (second round)

We will likely never know for sure if Patriots head coach Bill Belichick regrets not playing Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl LII.

The decision might have played a role in the outcome of the game, and it all but snuffed out any chance the club would re-sign Butler in the offseason. Spurned by the team that signed him as an undrafted free agent out of West Alabama, the Super Bowl XLIX hero and 2015 Pro Bowler signed a five-year, $61 million dollar deal with Tennessee, leaving a significant hole in Belichick's secondary.

If Belichick had rounded up New England's scouts in spring meetings and asked for the closest thing in the 2018 class to the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Butler, Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio and his staff might very well have pointed to Dawson, a 5-11, 197-pounder praised at Florida for his versatility, instincts and knack for big plays.

Dawson allowed just 40 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed over his final two seasons and created eight turnovers, returning half of his six career interceptions at Florida for touchdowns. Physical when in press coverage, gutsy and cat-quick, Dawson was particularly effective at jumping underneath routes.

Sound familiar?

Like Butler (who was clocked at 4.62 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his March 12, 2014 Pro Day), the knock on Dawson has been straight-line speed. He quieted critics who suggested that his reliable form-tackling and diagnosis skills were best suited to safety, proving with a 4.46-second time at the Combine that he has the speed to run with receivers.

Ideally, Dawson would be left to play inside, where his instincts, quick hands and willingness in run support would provide a perfect complement to the greater length and playing speed that Stefon Gilmore and Eric Rowe have on the perimeter.

Other thoughts on the Patriots' 2018 draft class:

With all due respect to Butler on the defensive side of the ball, the loss of 6-8, 325-pound left tackle Nate Solder in free agency (New York Giants) was a bigger concern for the Patriots this offseason. It therefore came as no surprise when Belichick and Co. invested their top choice in Isaiah Wynn, the star left tackle who helped guide Georgia to an SEC crown and national championship berth.

Wynn lacks the imposing frame that made Solder so effective in protecting Tom Brady's blindside, but what he lacks in height and arm length, the first-team All-SEC blocker makes up for with quick feet and balance. Wynn was the best left tackle in college football last season.

Given how quickly Brady typically gets the ball out, keeping Wynn at left tackle is not out of the question. Sliding him inside to left guard -- where he excelled at the Senior Bowl and has Pro Bowl potential -- is a heck of a consolation prize, if necessary.

If you watched the national championship game -- and let's face it, you did -- you probably left the game more impressed with Sony Michel than Nick Chubb, a bigger runner who generated more yardage and buzz while the two starred alongside Wynn at Georgia.

The fact that Michel excelled as the "air back" against Alabama's notoriously physical defense in that one contest is all you need to know as to why the Patriots preferred him. With defenses already stretched attempting to defend Brady's pinpoint passing, Michel is an ideal threat as a runner and receiver, projecting as a bigger, faster version of Super Bowl LII standout James White.

Like White, Michel is slippery in the open field and a fantastic receiver, as well as a trustworthy pass protector.

Of New England's Day Three picks, I'm most intrigued by Arizona State inside linebacker Christian Sam and Miami wideout Braxton Berrios, each of whom fit in better in New England than they might elsewhere.

The 6-1, 244-pound Sam lacks top-notch athleticism, and his gaudy tackle numbers for the Sun Devils (Pac-12 leading 127 tackles in 2017) were padded by a 4-2-5 scheme that funneled the action to him. He is a classic inside thumper who could play an important role against run-heavy offenses like divisional foes Buffalo and New York, however.

No team has enjoyed greater success with undersized slot receivers than New England, and Berrios possesses the quickness, toughness and soft hands the Patriots lost to division rival Miami with Danny Amendola moving on.

New England's 2018 draft class:

1st Round, No. 23 overall: OL Isaiah Wynn, Georgia

1st Round, No. 31 overall: RB Sony Michel, Georgia

2nd Round, No. 56 overall: CB Duke Dawson, Florida

5th Round, No. 143 overall: LB Ja'Whaun Bentley, Purdue

6th Round, No. 178 overall: LB Christian Sam, Arizona State

6th Round, No. 210 overall: WR Braxton Berrios, Miami

7th Round, No. 219 overall: QB Danny Etling, LSU

7th Round, No. 229 overall: DB Keion Crossen, Western Carolina

7th Round, No. 250 overall: TE Ryan Izzo, Florida State

Key Undrafted Free Agents Signed:

DL John Atkins, Georgia

CB J.C. Jackson, Maryland

RB Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt

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