Trent McDuffie: Did the Chiefs draft a future NFL DPOY Candidate?
The NFL’s growing emphasis on the passing game makes it imperative to have a talented cover corner in the lineup. This corner can discourage throws to the prominent side of the field. While some teams elect to have their top corner follow the opponent’s top receiver, others play the percentages and position their top cover man on the side the quarterback targets the most.
I believe that in Chiefs rookie cornerback Trent McDuffie, they’ve found that guy. McDuffie has relentlessly covered receivers all year, establishing himself as one of the NFL’s most productive defensive players in his debut season.
But due to missing six games because of a Week 1 injury, McDuffie’s pursuit of the Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year or even the All-Rookie Team eluded him. Not to mention, the tough competition for the honors against New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Tariq Woolen. This still doesn’t take away from the impact McDuffie has made for the Chiefs this season.
Since his return in Week 9 against the Titans, McDuffie has immediately transformed a previously porous Chiefs secondary in his rookie campaign so far. Playing with physicality, toughness and ball skills,
The Chiefs allowed 277.8 passing yards per game from the time McDuffie left in the Cardinals game to Week 7. Since his return, the Chiefs secondary has allowed just 181.6 passing yards per game. That’s just as insane as Mahomes putting up Numbers. Because of that impact and due to his undeniable presence, I wouldn’t be surprised if Trent McDuffie became the first player in franchise history to win the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in just a couple of years notice.
Despite his 5-foot-11 size, McDuffie’s physical traits jump off the game film. The Washington Huskie product gives zero inches in press coverage, can glide step-for-step with wideouts, owns quick route recognition, has superior vision, and reacts to the ball with lightning fast reflexes. His natural instincts and understanding of defensive concepts made McDuffie an immediate lockdown corner since his days at Washington.
The Chiefs trust the rookie so much they will deploy him on as a shadow defender down the stretch of the season, including taking on Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins one-on-one in one contest. The early season comparison between McDuffie, Janoris Jenkins and Jaire Alexander doesn’t look far off now. Watching the way McDuffie has played this season gives me Darrelle Revis and Stephon Gilmore vibes as well.
The rookie cornerback has allowed a passer rating of 82.6 over the course of the season, per Pro Football Focus, which is 27th-best in the NFL out of 121 qualifying cornerbacks.
McDuffie has allowed just 54.5% of completed passes which is tied for the 15th-best among the other 127 qualifying cornerbacks. It marked the second-lowest completion percentage in coverage by any Chiefs rookie CB since Marcus Peters in 2015 (51.7%) and allowed just one touchdown on just 200 coverage snaps in 2022, and is giving up 8.7 yards per catch. That’s marked tied 5th-best among cornerbacks, per PFF.
McDuffie’s ability to beat up the opponent’s top receiver in these last five games has completely morphed the Chiefs defense from sieve to respectable. With the rookie taking on the solo matchup, the Chiefs could roll safety coverage to the other side of the field, knowing McDuffie wouldn’t get burned if left on an island. The rookie allowed a meager 65.4 passer rating in zone coverage this season (15th best in the NFL). Proving why he was called the best zone corner in the draft class by PFF. For a secondary that routinely got torched and dealt with consistent coverage busts in recent seasons, McDuffie is a godsend.
Perhaps the rookie’s most memorable play came Week 9 on an pass intended for Titans 6-foot-4 tight end Austin Hooper, McDuffie made a great play on a key third down early in the fourth quarter by deflecting the ball out of Hooper’s hands in a huge victory over the Titans.
However, it wasn’t even McDuffie’s most impressive play so far. That came on a Ja’Marr Chase one-handed catch where the rookie corner out-physicaled the star receiver to keep him making the catch inbounds. On the next play, Chase finally got called for Offensive pass interference as a result of dealing with his difficulty to beat McDuffie in single coverage. McDuffie held both Chase and Higgins to one catch out of 3 targets for 8 yards and allowed just a 42.4 passer rating allowed. That’s the type of play that shows the rookie’s talent, promise, and willingness to battle.
Despite the Week 1 injury and missing six games, I don’t think it slowed McDuffie’s development, he is becoming one of the ascending young starters in the NFL. Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s presence in Kansas City should give him every opportunity to elevate himself into one of the best defensive backs in the NFL.