In the landscape of today’s football, trench play is widely seen as less than average around the league by those who cover it.
The most common explanation recited for the downfall of trench play, specifically along the offensive line, is the lack of practice time allotted to these players while in college or the NFL, as well as the spread systems commonly seen within college football programs. To skirt around the issue of underdeveloped players who can’t play up to par on Sundays, teams have invested in raw athletes that don’t have as many tendencies ingrained into their brains.
These teams are banking on being able to teach this top-notch athletes enough offensive line fundamentals that their God-given talent will cover any gaps and allow them to succeed. The Kansas City Chiefs did not sit idly by while other teams attempted this new strategy; they invested in a raw, medical student out of McGill University named Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.
As expected, early in his career Duvernay-Tardif struggled to play with good fundamentals and in doing so played rather poorly. As he got more experience, Duvernay-Tardif made stark improvements in the basics involving offensive line play, which allowed him to fully allow his athleticism to grow.
The question now isn’t how much Duvernay-Tardif has improved? But rather, “How good is Laurent Duvernay-Tardif right now?”
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif: Offensive Guard
6’5” | 320 lbs. | Exp: 5 Years
As a blocker on passing plays Duvernay-Tardif most often plays with a base vertical pass set but will mix other pass sets as he sees fit. The biggest boon with this style of play is that when he mixes up his passing sets, it often catches the pass rusher off guard, allowing him to win the play early on.
Whether widening out with a 45-degree angle drop, as more commonly seen by offensive tackles, or jump setting into defenders early, Duvernay-Tardif knows how to execute different sets both technically and how to maximize them with his athleticism.
Not something used too often by LDT but effective when he did it. He gets Suh with a quick jump set, reduces the distance off the snap, both players try to press out with minimal effect. LDT keeps his inside hand under Suh’s arm and works outside hand to center chest for control pic.twitter.com/nKRCRAFl8s— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) June 26, 2018
This play is an example of Duvernay-Tardif switching up his normal pass set with a secondary move that allows him to get ahead in the snap through the act of surprise. Duvernay-Tardif, knowing this plan, is able to eliminate the space between the two making the play all about leverage control giving him the advantage. Just simply getting into his pass set quickly isn’t going to be enough to stop a great defensive lineman like Ndamukong Suh.
To finish the play off, Duvernay-Tardif is able to get his hands in position to give him all the leverage and control of the play while he quickly gets into his pass set. The combination of this leads to a quick and clean pass protection snap for Duvernay-Tardif.
Now, the quick sets and angled sets don’t work if a DL doesn’t respect the traditional, vertical pass set used by most guards in the NFL. The biggest disadvantage given up when dropping vertically as an OG is that pass rushers have their momentum moving towards you while your momentum is moving backward.
The rep is often decided on the timing of the hands by the blocker, as well as the power he can generate from the ground up into the defender. This is an area Duvernay-Tardif excels in no matter what kind of pass set he is using, but especially on his vertical sets.
He doesn’t lunge or attempt make contact with defenders while he is off balance and keeps his base under him while using his athleticism to mirror quicker defenders trying to get around him.
Raw Score: 84.5 - All Pro
Early in his career, Duvernay-Tardif’s biggest benefit of being on the field was his ability to get out in space and block on the move. While he has improved tremendously as a player over the years, this is still a staple of his game.
Often used as a second-level blocker, lead blocker on a screen or as the pulling lineman on some run plays, there is no task Duvernay-Tardif isn’t asked to do as a run blocker.
LDT’s athleticism makes him very effective when reach blocking. Gather/bucket step the works straight down LoS. Punch and extend with outside arm to get leverage on outside gap then releases to only control w/ inside arm (1 arm=longer reach). Rides block into the ground pic.twitter.com/lbgmqtS7sN— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) June 25, 2018
The main run utilized by the Chiefs continues to be outside zone, and for the play to work on a consistent basis, the play-side offensive guard and offensive tackle have to be able to reach or get to a defender lined up at least 1-technique (alignment for defensive linemen) away from them.
Not only do they have to be able to get to this player, but they also need to be able to get outside leverage on this defender at times in order allow the running back all three gap options for the running play. On this play, Duvernay-Tardif not only displays his natural athleticism of simply being able to cover the distance quickly and the strength to turn the block, but also showcases excellent technique with his feet and his hands to secure outside leverage on the defender trying to maintain it.
Good explosion out of the stance by M.D. Duvernay-Tardif as he gets good depth to pull. Good feet to open up w/ 1 step then to get lateral off the 2nd step. Sees no kickout necessary and turns up into the LB, never stops churning his feet and working to extend pic.twitter.com/fEFEy3ew8m— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) June 26, 2018
On this play, Duvernay-Tardif is asked to showcase his athleticism in a different way as he now must explode backward off the line of scrimmage, flip his hips laterally as he makes a square pull across the LoS and then turn the corner tight around the play-side gap.
Duvernay-Tardif executes the play great with quick, concise steps and gets across the LoS with plenty of time to square up on the linebacker while Kareem Hunt follows.
An area that Duvernay-Tardif could improve upon as a run blocker is bringing his balance discipline from his pass protection with him on the move. He rarely topples over or stumbles on the field, but Duvernay-Tardif does tend to reach and duck his head a bit more when blocking on the move in an attempt to get to a block quicker or cover more ground.
Unfortunately, this results in a few missed blocks (or un-maintained blocks) in close quarters that shouldn’t be missed.
Raw Score: 81.25 - Pro Bowler
Duvernay-Tardif has what is often referred to as “functional strength” in the offensive line community. Usually, this term is reserved for someone who isn’t actually strong but plays with leverage, has good lower body strength to anchor and core strength to maintain blocks and he has all of those in spades.
This isn’t to say Duvernay-Tardif is by any means weak, but rather that his punch or initial contact isn’t jarring. That being said, he has more than enough leg strength to generate movement when churning his legs and hold up against the best power rushers in the game, and even overpower them. He just doesn’t accomplish this through raw strength like some other guards in the NFL.
Along with his lower body power and core strength, Duvernay-Tardif possesses strong hands. Once he gets latched on in the right spot, players can’t get free. Not something usually thought of in regard to power or strength, but as an offensive lineman, you have to be able to hold on to a defender while they attempt to break free of the contact. Doing so often puts the defender in an advantageous position, making the importance of keeping your hands on the defender very high.
Beyond just being able to hold on a defender, Duvernay-Tardif shows the ability to control them using his core by creating torque. This helps Duvernay-Tardif guide pass rushers where he wants them to go, even if they are making forward progress against his block.
Raw Score: 84.5 - Pro Bowler
One of Duvernay-Tardif’s best traits is how he can recover on a snap once he gets behind and is forced to operate on his Plan B. The combination of the aforementioned power, athleticism and active footwork allows Duvernay-Tardif to rarely, if ever, get beat so badly that he has no effect on the play.
Beyond just being a nuisance for the defender, he is often able to make up the ground he has lost and re-anchor or drive the rusher around the pocket. It sounds simple, but not every player in the NFL (see Eric Fisher) is able to maintain a block if their original plan is foiled, let alone excel in these situations.
Good job by LDT to recover after losing the initial contact. Doesn’t get clean placement with his first punch and has to surrender a few yards but does so calmly while he reworks his hands inside. As he gets both feet wide and under him he gets low and re-anchors strong pic.twitter.com/vySW7FUbLR— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) June 26, 2018
Duvernay-Tardif is able to bounce back after losing the initial punch by staying calm and cool under pressure. After having his initial punch slapped away, he doesn’t panic or try to over-extend to press the pass rusher off of his body.
Instead, Duvernay-Tardif keeps his composure as he kicks his feet back and sinks his hips. While doing this, he is working his hands low on the pass rusher to force him upright. As the defender’s momentum slows and he gets high, Duvernay-Tardif sticks both feet in the ground and presses out, stalling out any pass-rush attempt that was still in the cards.
It’s little intricacies like this that allow Duvernay-Tardif to consistently recover and re-anchor when beaten immediately off the snap.
Raw Score: 87.75 - All Pro
Accessory Skills and Traits
Duvernay-Tardif’s overall hand technique is clearly a step above average and his hand placement is often great. He keeps his hands in the ready position, doesn’t shoot them too early and rarely overextends while he punches.
Whether working in his frame or outside of it while on the move, Duvernay-Tardif consistently is able to place his hands on the defender and do so in a way that gives him the leverage. With that said, there are some faults to Duvernay-Tardif’s hand technique that showed up more than once.
Part of playing as patient as Duvernay-Tardif does is that he can be late to get his hands on players who come at him aggressively. He’s able to rebound from this loss, as discussed above, but it does cost him some real estate from time to time and can affect the rest of the play. The other fault that creeps into the film occasionally is ducking his head while engaging a defender with his hands wide and outstretched. If the move results in contact with the player, it works out, but at the NFL level, it also results in too many missed blocks to not be addressed.
Raw Score: 71.5 - Average Starter
Balance & Foot Technique
The single area of biggest improvement for Duvernay-Tardif throughout his NFL career has been his footwork and his ability to play balanced. Early in his career, he took long, heavy steps and routinely lunged and reached defenders, so much so that many fans (myself included) were really unsure about his ability to turn the corner.
Fast forward a couple years and all the hard work he has put into his footwork has paid huge dividends. Working forward, laterally, and backward, Duvernay-Tardif’s feet have become extremely explosive, quick and stay underneath him, as he is always working to keep a good base under his body.
LDT has come a long way since entering the NFL but no bigger improvement than his ability to play balanced. A good, quick punch to slow the momentum of the DT who throws a hard 2 hand swipe at him and LDT stays balanced and in his set to re-anchor. pic.twitter.com/TPc0MRHeVp— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) June 24, 2018
You see the violence by the defensive tackle in an attempt to knock Duvernay-Tardif’s arms to the side throwing him off balance. However, Duvernay-Tardif stays perfectly in his gap.
He quickly works his feet back under his body before re-engaging the defensive tackle, and then, as an added bonus, he keeps his feet moving forward while holding up the defensive tackle, so he can’t get pulled forward completely off balance.
Duvernay-Tardif brings the same level of expertise to his footwork while blocking for the run, showcasing the quick feet to get his hips out and around defenders or up into their body. He keeps his steps underneath him, keeps his hips open the direction he wants to go and covers ground quickly with no false steps.
Raw Score: 81.25 - Pro Bowler
Explosion (out of stance)
Adding to the last point of covering ground quickly, the ground Duvernay-Tardif can cover coming out of his stance is as impressive as one would think given his athletic pedigree. The two areas most offensive linemen struggle with in regard to exploding out of their stance are when they have to move laterally (outside zone) or backward (pass set or pull block). Duvernay-Tardif, as seen through some of these plays, has no issue getting out of his stance and reaching a defender away from his gap. He also gains good depth off his initial step in pass protection, as well as when pulling around.
Great get off by LDT to get wide of the DT as he starts upfield. Catches enough of the DT to let Fulton establish position then disengages cleanly as he climbs. Gets to the LB square, balanced, and gets hands inside. Takes him for a 10 yard ride and literally buries him on the EZ pic.twitter.com/ZeMPmooVAg— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) June 27, 2018
The most common way to see how well an offensive lineman explodes out of his stance is working upfield to the second level of the defense while uncovered.
Not only does he come off the LoS quickly, but he shows the body control to work through another player and once he sheds the defender, he also closes in on the linebacker before he has a chance to react.
More than just a single play, the overall usage of an offensive lineman tells you what a team thinks about his range and ability to cover ground off the snap.
Raw Score: 78 - Pro Bowler
Duvernay-Tardif is clearly a very smart guy and that shows up on the football field in multiple ways. He’s able to quickly identify his assignments even while on the move or working through traffic. He does a good job recognizing angles and beating players to their spots and reading the defender so he knows how to engage them.
This trait also translates to his pass sets in which he is able to quickly read a pass rusher and decipher his pass rush plan and how to stop it. He constantly looks for work when not directly engaged with a defender and tries to help his teammates around him.
This aggression can be used against Duvernay-Tardif on occasion, however, as he was targeted by a few different teams with stunts and delayed blitzes. A few too many times, defenses were able to slip defenders in through Duvernay-Tardif’s gap as he chased a defender. It wasn’t something overly exploited by opponents, but teams that went to this tactic once dipped back into it later in the game.
It's impossible to know the protection call, but usually against the double A gap pressure look the blockers inside-out. The Eagles were able to get LDT to chase a DT outside and bring a rusher in behind him a couple times in the first half. Hunt gets put in a bad spot. pic.twitter.com/g7MnXAK3Mf— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) June 24, 2018
It’s a hard thing to be definitive about, but plays like this had a few too many breakdowns through the B-gap on Duvernay-Tardif’s side of the field.
Raw Score: 71.5 - Average Starter
Bonus Points: 2
For the bonus points section, Duvernay-Tardif scored an extra two points for his ability and desire to finish plays aggressively and for being an overall smart player.
Overall Score: 83.15
Grade: Pro Bowl Player
Quick Outlook Going Into 2018:
As long as Laurent Duvernay-Tardif can stay healthy for the entire season, which has yet to happen, he should continue his ascension into the upper tier of offensive guards in the NFL.
At this point, it seems silly to say he can’t continue to improve his technique, specifically with his hands and his ability to process misdirection aimed as his assignment. If he can make marginal improvement in either of those areas, he will be pushing the Zach Martin’s of the NFL for the top offensive guard spot.
For the Chiefs, he’ll continue to be a linchpin of their running attack and a focal point of the multiple different schemes they run.
If Duvernay-Tardif is slowed down by injuries or unable to see the field, the Chiefs will struggle to make up the impact he brings to every snap.
PSS Grading Scale
|84.51+||All Pro Caliber|
|78 - 84.5||Pro Bowl Caliber|
|71.63 - 77.99||Above Average Starter|
|65 - 71.62||Average Starter|
|58.63 - 64.99||Below Average Starter|
|52 - 58.62||Rotational Player|
|45.63 - 51.99||Good Back-Up|
|39 - 45.62||Back-Up/Special Teams|
|32.63 - 38.99||Depth Player|
|26 - 32.62||Practice Squad|
|19.5 - 25.99||Camp Player|