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When the Kansas City Chiefs watched the bottom half of the first round in the 2022 NFL draft go down, they knew they might have to move up to get the guy they wanted. So, they traded up with the New England Patriots for the 21st overall pick, and took Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie to help redefine their defense.
“He moves around well,” head coach Andy Reid said of McDuffie after the pick happened. “Good hips. Good hands. I like the part about being smart when you’re playing that position. Leverages become important. How you do those. Size, different-sized players… we have some big receivers that we go against. How are you going to take care of that?”
Outside of Sauce Gardner and Derek Stingley, McDuffie is one of the top cornerback prospects now in the NFL. It would be a three-way tie between these top selections if it wasn’t for McDuffie’s length. He’s only 5-foot-11 and his arms are in the bottom 7th percentile among all cornerbacks (29.75 inches). Due to this lack of size, there is a good chance that the Chiefs may start him out at the nickel corner position to see how adjusts to the NFL.
Let’s go to the film and examine how his skillsets can contribute to the Chiefs defense.
Entering the draft, McDuffie was known as one of the top rookie cornerbacks because of his exceptionally good zone coverage traits. He has great instincts when dropping back into open space and has fantastic closing speed when pursuing ball carriers. With the Chiefs defense needing a replacement for Tyrann Mathieu, McDuffie can come in and fill the role that Mathieu had when he lined up in the nickel slot. According to Pro Football Focus, he played 20.7% of his total snaps there in 2021.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is known to run plenty of zone coverages with switches and disguises, and McDuffie should get plenty of snaps as the fourth or fifth defensive back defending slot receivers.
In the video below, the Chiefs have split the defense between man and zone coverage. The cornerback at the bottom of the screen is in man coverage, with the strong side safety stepping up into the strong side curl/flat responsibility.
This was the touchdown that first showed his patience and ability to throw on the run. When the Chiefs went Man to Man at the bottom of your screen and then Zone at the top the WR runs all the way across the field to expose the zone defense. #Duval pic.twitter.com/rgth381kgg
— Laurie Fitzpatrick (@LaurieFitzptrck) November 2, 2019
The defensive back has responsibility for the receiver behind him but also the running back coming out underneath. That is where McDuffie could make an impact.
With the Washington Huskies, McDuffie showed a lot of patience and exceptionally good field awareness when sitting in the curl/flat. He has smooth twitchy hips that help him sit in passing zones, while using his reaction time and speed to locate the ball quickly.
In the clip below, the Washington defense is in Cover-2, and McDuffie is at the bottom of the clip. The first thing that McDuffie does off the snap is push his receiver towards his linebacker this disrupts any timed routes and puts him into traffic. Then he gets into the perfect depth in order to contest the throw which forces the ball to the flat.
Deep zone/match coverage
Now that we know that McDuffie can play from an inside alignment, let’s look at where else he excels. According to PFF, McDuffie lined up in the boundary for 593 snaps and had only 12 snaps from an inside alignment. So, if the Chiefs asked him to drop back into a deep coverage zone, or even better, zone-match, lined up from off-coverage on the outside, McDuffie certainly has the experience.
His instincts in zone-match coverage are how McDuffie sets himself apart.
In the video below, the Washington defense is in man coverage on one side of the field, and zone on the other. McDuffie sits in his zone waiting to jump one of the routes to the sideline, but as the quarterback is going through his reads, McDuffie looks up and is aware of the possible deep over.
Once he glances at the quarterback to notice him throwing it to the vertical route, he times it perfectly to jump the route for an interception.
Since there aren’t always two receivers McDuffie has to worry about, here he is in zone-match keeping up with the wheel route up the sideline.
Once McDuffie matches up with his defender, he will get a good look at the quarterback and then swarms to the ball. So, it doesn’t matter if he’s in pure zone, zone-match or in man coverage, his instincts when reacting in open space are top-notch.
There comes a time in the NFL where an offensive motion may leave a nickel defensive back defending on the outside or having to follow a quick slot receiver across the field in man coverage. This is where McDuffie uses his fluid hips and downhill speed to keep up.
In the clip below, he mirrors his receiver with ease. McDuffie’s hips are what make him so hard to beat in open space.
He uses his similar instincts and speed to stop Colorado University from a conversation on 3rd-and-four.
McDuffie is a great addition to the Chiefs’ defense when they need a nickel defensive back who can drop back into deep zones quickly or sit in the curl/flat zone when running Cover-4.
McDuffie is a guy who works well with linebackers who cover the flat, so he can break on the ball carrier quickly and also cover smaller receivers from man coverage. Although he shouldn’t be asked to cover bigger ‘Z’ receivers in man coverage due to his length.
McDuffie was lucky to get drafted to a team who can put him in the positions to succeed. We shouldn’t see him against bigger receivers his rookie year, but in a few seasons, McDuffie has a versatility to be one of the Chiefs’ most utilized defensive backs, especially from the nickel position.