Dawkins made his comeback from a three-game absence with a groin injury as a substitute against Bournemouth on Saturday.
Head coach McClaren felt the attacking midfielder's introduction helped swing the match in the Rams' favour after they maintained their automatic promotion challenge with a 1-0 win to remain within two points of second-placed Burnley, who Derby face at Turf Moor this coming weekend.
"Simon keeps the ball for us - we lost the ball too many times in the first half," said McClaren.
"Simon goes on dribbles, he can take players on and he causes problems for defenders. You can give him the ball and you know he will not give it away.
"He made a difference. He is a great asset for us. I thought he was excellent."
Dawkins spent three months on loan at Derby from Tottenham prior to signing a permanent two-and-a-half-year contract with the Rams in January.