When you are the guardian of 12 choices in the NFL Draft (as the Kansas City Chiefs were as the first round opened on Thursday night), it is almost impossible to imagine and play from all angles. Led by general manager Brett Veach, the Chiefs attempted to do just that.
It turned out that they failed. And that was a very good thing.
“With our first choice, it’s funny because, every year, we go through what we think [is] every possible scenario, and we haven’t gone through McDuffie’s scenario,” Veach laughed during his press conference after the first round.
The “McDuffie scenario,” as the GM described it, was Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie falling in the 20s – and to be exact, to pick No. 21. Before the draft started, Veach had revealed that the Kansas City Personnel Department had identified 18 real first-round players. McDuffie was one of them.
Believing a player of his caliber would not be available at pick 29, Veach called the New England Patriots, who were willing to trade 21 for 29, one of the Chiefs’ two third rounds and one of their fourth rounds. Veach drafted his guy.
“When you make a move, you’re gonna make it for a guy you got in this [first-round] range, so we were able to do that,” Veach said. “I think the fact that we’ve been aggressive to some extent shows [and] kind of point your hand at what you thought of McDuffie. We certainly thought he was one of those players, and that’s why we made this choice.
Veach called the 21-year-old to inform him of the good news. It was more than the player waiting to hear it.
“My family is huge,” McDuffie said, speaking to local Kansas City media via Zoom after the first round. “I feel like we’re the closest family ever, so during the draft I wanted to make sure my aunts, my uncles, my grandparents – everyone was there, everyone who have supported me throughout my football career were able to come and enjoy this moment with me. When I got the call, I saw the Kansas City Chiefs, and I was like, ‘Wait Let me out. Talking to Coach Reid, talking to Spagnuolo, talking to the Hunt family, and all of a sudden my family starts screaming. And I’m like, ‘Wait. What the hell? I forget here? What’s going on?’ I ran inside and sure enough my name popped up on the screen and everyone started screaming.
“I was like, ‘Give me a second, coach. This might take a minute or two. When I get a chance to talk to you, I’ll let you know. Honestly, it was just such an exhilarating moment. – just being able to spend that time with my family, so it was great to be a part of that.
Veach confirmed that the Chiefs never had McDuffie in Kansas City for a visit simply because as far as some prospects are concerned, it’s not necessary. McDuffie said the Chiefs hosted him for an informal interview at the Scouting Combine, but that was it.
This team saw no chance of him being there near pick number 29… or even in the range of 29.
“I think we’re committed to being selectively aggressive, and if a player like Trent McDuffie was there, ‘Hey, let’s make a move and grab him because he’s really good,'” Veach said. “He probably wouldn’t have been there at 29. We were surprised he was there when we selected him with the New England pick, but I think that was our mindset at the departure, and we just went with the plan.”
the Buffalo Tickets were tipped to pick at No. 25, and Veach felt the Chiefs would have to move ahead of them if they wanted to secure McDuffie.
“[Derek] Stingley and gravy [Gardner] went high, and we had a bunch of corners there,” Veach started. I just knew some of the needs of the team that was directly in front of us, and I think Buffalo took a corner shortly after, and I think I traded a spot as well.
The Bills originally had the No. 25 pick, but traded up to 23 to take Florida’s Kaiir Elam.
“We knew this was coming,” Veach explained. “We had called teams – I believe the pick before and the pick after – from the New England trade, just to get in position. The way the board was falling and knowing that we were picking very late in this draft here, and the odds of a guy like McDuffie being 21, let alone 29, was very low, so we just thought that was the right moment to do this movement.
Modeling your game after a familiar name
McDuffie comes in at 5-foot-11 and 193 pounds, which some say is average or a bit undersized for a first-round cornerback. But pressed by this aspect, head coach Andy Reid did not seem at all worried.
“He’s got enough size, and he’s played against big receivers and done a good job,” Reid said. “We thought his size was fine there.”
As a three-year-old Washington starter, McDuffie compiled 94 tackles (71 solo), with eight passes defended, including two interceptions. Describing himself as more of a defensive back than just a cornerback, McDuffie uttered a name during his first media conversation that most Chiefs fans would be awfully familiar with.
“I almost see myself as a Tyrann Mathieu type guy,” he said of the 5-foot-9 All-Pro, “someone who’s going to be able to come in and play a bunch of different positions and just help the team however I can. It’s a big thing for me to go forward, it’s just to go there with the mindset of: “But I can go on the pitch, but I can help this team”, I will do everything I can to do so, so I know this organization has a great defensive mindset, so honestly, very excited to be part of this team.
McDuffie modeled his football career on the former leader from the days he watched him as a college player.
“Growing up, shooting, watching Tyrann Mathieu at USL — he was one of those guys where he wasn’t the greatest,” McDuffie continued. “[Mathieu] wasn’t the fastest, but he was always going to make a play. And that’s something I always try to do in my game – it’s just be that person that’s going to flash on the screen. You know? Just be that guy who’s always around football because I’m a football player and I want to create the best opportunities for my team. So just watching Tyrann Mathieu and watching how he became a leader, how he trains, how he plays games – just the tenacity and the heart he gave is something I can watch and try to mold my game afterwards.
The Mathieu aspect of his game had to be translated into the film.
“Trent is a guy who can come here on Day 1,” Veach said. “He’s wired the right way, extreme knowledge of the game, a three-year-old player, a three-year-old starter, and that was definitely a position we wanted to approach.”
McDuffie joins a cornerback room that lost Charvarius Ward to the San Francisco 49ers this offseason – and therefore definitely needs more depth. With the next best corners after L’Jarius Sneed being Rashad Fenton and Deandre Baker, a rookie starting as an outside corner on Day 1 seems to be waiting for the Chiefs.
Given the lack of prior communication with the Chiefs, this all came as a bit of a surprise to McDuffie. However, the call was well received.
“When I got that phone call, it was like, ‘Whoa! Kansas City? This is dope.'”
One of the voices on the other line was defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
“He just said to me pretty much, of course, ‘Congratulations. Glad to have [you].’ recalls McDuffie. “We didn’t talk too much because — of course — the night was getting crazy. But I can’t wait to meet him [Friday]. I’m excited to sit down, start learning that defense, start learning how I can help the team. And I mean, go ahead, shoot. I’m ready to go tomorrow…I’m just ready to play football at this point.
“The draft is finally over, I finally have the team, so I’m ready to jump over there, join the team and start making those connections.”