KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs have a gem on their hands in the secondary.
They may have one of the best defenses in the NFL led by defensive tackle Chris Jones.
But people are beginning to talk about the defense also boasting one of the best young cornerbacks in the game in Trent McDuffie. The Chiefs already had an underrated top corner in L’Jarius Sneed and now, they may have two.
At 5’11, 195 pounds, McDuffie is a fluid athlete who is aggressive against the run, tackles well in space and has the intelligence to be moved all around the defense. He is Pro Football Focus’s number one-rated cornerback heading into Week 4.
Defensive backs coach Dave Merritt said he sees that and more all the time with the second-year player.
“He’s probably one of the smartest DBs that I’ve come across at this age, as far as going into his second year,” he said.
“He’s been playing some good football for us and we need that.”
Merritt recalled feeling McDuffie strike the five-man sled every Wednesday in practice showing his strength and aggression.
“I’ve been saying this for two years. Every time he hits the sled, I’m surprised at how heavy-handed he is,” Merritt said.
“This young man is explosive coming out of his hips.”
Merritt said McDuffie’s patience is the most impressive part of his game since he can play three different press techniques and perform all three at different times at a high level.
For McDuffie, the key to his success is consistency and studying his game and the opponent’s game even when he leaves the facility.
“A big part of it is knowing Spags’s defense and where he wants me and his mentality behind it. After coming off a year of last year and going back and watching that film, you kind of start seeing and recognizing certain keys, formations, stuff like that,” McDuffie said on Thursday.
“Retaining information has been huge for me.”
According to Pro Football Reference, McDuffie has held receivers in his coverage to 10 completions on 17 targets for a quarterback rating of 74.9. While the Chiefs have been known for man coverage and exotic blitzes under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, they have increased their amount of zone coverage this season.
Spagnuolo said that is because the defense returned most of its starters from last season along with most of the secondary improving because of the experience and continuity that they gained from last season.
He also credits McDuffie for having as much versatility as Sneed by being able to move him from outside corner to slot corner to inside the front seven. It’s also allowed the Chiefs to have Sneed follow the opponent’s number-one receiver.
For McDuffie, missing six games during his rookie season gave him a chip on his shoulder.
“Just in terms of just the impact that I can have this defense and be able to have Coach Spags, trust me on the field not only just know my assignment,” McDuffie said after the Chicago Bears game Sunday. “He has this thing called ‘My Job Plus’, and, you know, go out there and make plays and really make an impact on the game. It’s something I’m really focused on doing this year.”
The 23-year-old has done that this season already by forcing two fumbles in the first three games.
The Chiefs’ defense already regards themselves as one of the best in the league and with some of the league’s best at all three phases of the defense (Jones on the DL, Nick Bolton at LB), they have a chance to have the defense carry the offense for the first time in the Andy Reid era.
“I’m not surprised,” head coach Andy Reid said on Wednesday. “From what I saw in camp – I mentioned the zones were tighter and the guys in man coverage were also tighter and doing a nice job. I thought the young guys – they’re growing, they’re in the process of growing. The thing you’ve got to do is you have to do it every week and keep working to get better. These guys have some good receivers, so you’re going to have a good, nice challenge there.
“Again they’ll tell you they can get better, but they’re working their tail off and I think that’s been a big part of it Spags does a phenomenal job teaching along with, if you’re talking about the DBs, Dave and (Safeties Coach) Donald (D’Alesio) putting them in good positions, but these guys, they’re making plays all over.”