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Chiefs’ Laurent Duvernay-Tardif has taken another step forward

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is one of the most interesting players I have had the pleasure of analyzing since I began this long, strange journey as Arrowhead Pride’s ... well, whatever it is I am here.

There are a few reasons for this, including the fact that he came from a Canadian college called McGill, which is about as far from the NFL as it gets. There’s also the whole “he’s becoming a doctor WHILE playing in the NFL” thing.

However, what’s really made LDT so interesting to me is that, as far as I can tell, he is living out fans’ dreams of player progression in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.

Let me explain. In LDT’s rookie season, he was so abysmally bad during preseason against second and third stringers that it didn’t look like he could possibly be a guy who could one day contribute. In LDT’s second season he improved enough to play his way onto the field, but was a subpar starter (I reviewed his film that season here). In LDT’s third season he went from being a liability as a starter to a good right guard who contributed to the Chiefs’ success (I reviewed his film THAT season here).

So, to recap, LDT went from horrific backup, to bad starter, to good starter, in the span of three years. He signed a contract last year that paid $8.5 million a year, which raised some eyebrows. But seeing the rapid improvement he made year by year, it made a lot more sense. I wrote after last season that even if LDT didn’t improve one bit from here on out, the contract would be worth it (he is now the 11th highest paid guard in the NFL, and that number will only get lower over time).

The question on my mind was whether we’d see ANOTHER big leap for LDT. Because he’d already ascended as high as he had, my question was now whether he could become one of the best guards in the league.

Well, we’re two games in to the new season, and it’s way too early to REALLY judge such things, but so far it looks like LDT has made yet another leap.

I could watch that all day, regardless of how the rest of the play went. Someone call that linebacker’s mom and see if he’s OK.

On Sunday, the Chiefs played one of the very best defensive lines in the NFL in the Philadelphia Eagles. Not only are they very talented at the top, led by Fletcher Cox (who is an absolute monster and who just happens to play where LDT would be matched up against him most of the day), but they run deep and have guys who could start on multiple teams rotating in 5-6 deep.

I figured this was as good a time as any to see what LDT’s film looks like this year. Everyone knows he (and the rest of the OL) dominated the Patriots. But this is one of the toughest tests he’d see all year. To me, if you want to be talked about as an elite offensive lineman, you need to at least hold your own, even against great competition.

So the film we go. As always, I reviewed every snap (including plays called off by penalties) and charted wins/losses as both a pass and a run blocker, neutral plays, and pressures/hits/sacks allowed. If you’ve read these in the past, you know the number that REALLY matters is loss percentage, and I want that below 10 percent (the lower, the better, obviously). If a guy wants to be elite, he should also have a good win percentage, which for an offensive lineman would be somewhere over 30 percent but can really vary depending on what a guard is asked to do (most plays are neutrals).

Let’s look at the numbers than talk about what LDT did against the Eagles.

I cannot state this strongly enough: LDT was absolutely fantastic against the Eagles. He was the best offensive lineman on the field for Kansas City (even better than my guy Mitch Morse, due to a couple of losses Morse took in pass protection).

Like I indicated before, a loss percentage below 10 percent is acceptable to me as an average. Against good competition I expect that number to climb a bit. LDT posted a phenomenal 5.7 percent loss percentage, which would be great against even a bad team. Against a front like the Eagles? That’s unreal.

(Quick side note. Fletcher Cox did exit the game for a bit with some apparent injury of sorts, but returned quickly and played well against other OL. So before you even start with “the good things LDT did were only because Cox was hurt” talk, don’t bother. Never mind the fact that the rest of the Eagles line is really, really good as well. Glad we could talk about this)

LDT wasn’t content with simply having a dominant day with regards to losses, either. His 41.5 percent win percentage is again a number I’d consider solid against a bad line, let alone a very good one.

While LDT did give up one hit on Alex Smith (Cox hit Alex’s arm to knock aside a throw. This was the play the Eagles jumped offsides, which is why there are some who are saying LDT didn’t allow a pressure: it was ultimately a non-play), he was overall fantastic in pass protection.

On this snap, LDT is alone against a 321-pound defensive tackle and gives absolutely no ground. If you feel like it, go click on the article I wrote about LDT following his second year and compare the gifs of his pass protection to this one. It’s not even close.

(Another quick side note: someone is going to say Mitch Schwartz got owned there. Just know that though this angle doesn’t show it, Schwartz actually pushed that rusher about two yards behind Alex, recovering well from a really good swim move. Still a loss, but not a bad one)

LDT used to be a classic leaner and lunger in pass protection, not trusting his handfighting skills or lower body strength enough and trying to win by essentially using his whole body leaning on defenders. Of course, he had to do that, because his base was often quite poor, with his legs too close together or bicycling backwards at times. This robbed him of power, so LDT would lean... and inevitably get tossed by any decent rusher. He also didn’t know how to properly extend and attack with his arms without lunging, leaning to plays where he’d just whiff.

Not anymore. Now LDT’s stance and base is textbook, allowing him to attack with his arms from a strong base and an upright position. He’s also good at keeping his pad level low for a bigger guy. This means that he’s maximizing his natural power, which is substantial. One of the things LDT has going for him is that he’s a strong guy for such a good athlete (I assume that’s why the Chiefs wanted him in the first place). His technique has caught up to that natural ability, and it results in a guy who hardly ever loses in pass protection no matter who he’s blocking.

You could search a long time before you found someone having that good a rep against Fletcher Cox in pass protection one on one. LDT shows great pad level here, staying underneath Cox and driving up. He also does a nice job keeping his feet moving and not allowing Cox to rush half a man, staying completely in front of him and keeping his legs active. Cox’s considerable strength isn’t enough to push LDT backwards with such good position and with LDT’s natural strength.

Cox sees that a bull rush isn’t going anywhere and he can’t get into position to try a rip, so he tries a spin move to hopefully (from his point of view) take advantage of LDT leaning or lunging. That would’ve killed LDT in the past, but no dice this time, as LDT’s balance is perfectly intact. Cox is left to drift around as LDT mirrors him. Fantastic rep.

And it’s not as though LDT was only dominating the game as a pass protector, either. In fact, LDT made arguably the most important block of the game, springing Kareem Hunt for his long touchdown run.

Now to be fair, Eric Fisher and Travis Kelce deserve credit for really nice blocks here as well to create a huge running lane, but it’s LDT coming all the way across the line with great speed to meet the linebacker before he can plug the hole that makes this play a big one (well, that and Hunt’s ability in open space combined with the safety blowing it).

LDT’s ability as a run blocker has been apparent for a few years now, but he’s gotten to another level blocking in space. His considerable athleticism allows him to get from A to B faster than most guards (though not Morse, who is still the greatest and hopefully gets well soon), and his considerable strength allows him to block more emphatically in space than a lot of “quicker” guards. He also seems to have improved his understanding of angles and meeting smaller, quicker players in space.

LDT was also huge on another touchdown, this one by Travis Kelce.

The play design helped here, as the Eagles really had no idea how to handle Andy Reid’s new multiple-fake-shovel-pass system (which, seriously, looks borderline impossible to defend right with the personnel the Chiefs have and how well they execute it, but that’s for another article). And Kelce’s superman heroics definitely made a touchdown where 99 percent of other players wouldn’t get one.

But what made the TD possible at all was LDT removing the linebacker from the play. This is a VERY difficult block, even if it’s not a pancake. LDT has to cover 8-10 yards to get to his guy, then manage to stay in front of a much lighter, faster player in space. He does so magnificently, keeping the defender from having any impact on Kelce, and then delivering a shove to knock him off balance as he turns in pursuit. It ultimately ends with the ‘backer making a futile dive for Kelce as he vaults towards the end zone.

In short, I can’t really come up with anything negative to say about LDT’s performance against one of the toughest opponents he’ll see this year. He was able to make every type of block the Chiefs asked of him, including a few power-based blocks in short yardage situations (keep an eye on this, as with Zach Fulton in the mix a more power-based system in the middle may be in the cards). He did everything ranging from pull blocks to reach blocks to helping with double teams in pass protection to standing on an island. He handled multiple stunts with ease, as well as several blitzers.

The knock on LDT was that he didn’t really seem to grasp the nuances of the game in the past, from technique issues to handling stunts/blitzes. He’s improved in every way every season he’s been a Chief, and deserves all the credit in the world for that.

If the game against the Eagles is any indication, LDT has indeed taken another jump forward, this time to the best lineman the Chiefs have and maybe one of the best at his position in the league. Here’s hoping he keeps trending up. Frankly, at this point, I have no reason to doubt he’ll do so.

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