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Chiefs’ ‘Fab Five’ defensive backs eager to prove they belong in Year 1

The youth infusion is real in Kansas City.

Tennessee Titans v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs selected 10 players in the 2022 NFL Draft. Nine of them have played in three or more games this year. Seven of them play defense, and five of them play defensive back.

During training camp, defensive backs coach Dave Merritt went as far as to coin the term, “Fab Five” to describe the five rookies that belong to his room. Thus, the youth infusion is in full force in Kansas City.

Trent McDuffie was the first of the rookies to hear their name called on draft night when the Chiefs traded up to select him with the 21st overall pick. Unfortunately, McDuffie suffered a hamstring injury in Week 1 which kept him sidelined for over a month.

In his stead, fellow rookie cornerbacks Jaylen Watson and Joshua Williams saw increased opportunities and have carved out valuable roles for Steve Spagnuolo’s defense. Throw in safety Brian Cook and seventh-round cornerback Nazeeh Johnson — who have appeared in eight and three games, respectively — and it’s clear that the Chiefs have thrown their rookie defenders into the deep end this season.

What’s the key to accelerating the rookie learning curve? According to McDuffie, it all starts with trust.

“I think a cool thing that the rookies are starting to do is put a lot more trust and confidence in the vets that they can trust us and that we’re able to make plays on the field,” McDuffie told reporters on Wednesday. “So for us, it’s fun to be out there with everybody.”

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to see McDuffie starting as a rookie for Kansas City.

What wasn’t expected was the volume of snaps that his fellow rookie cornerbacks would see this early in their NFL careers. Since McDuffie’s return, Williams and Watson have been operating as the third and fourth cornerbacks. That duo has played so well that the team felt comfortable moving on from veteran Rashad Fenton, who the Chiefs traded to the Atlanta Falcons at the deadline.

McDuffie explained that it’s been a cool feeling to look across the field and be surrounded by his classmates.

“On third downs, we have a package where there are four rookies out there. I look back and see Bryan Cook and J-Wat on the other side and Josh,” McDuffie continued. “I’m like, ‘How cool is this that everybody I came with, everybody was learning the same lingo we all taught each other is all out there?’

“It makes the game so much more fun.”

The Chiefs’ defense has rarely been at full strength this year, as several starters have missed time due to injuries or suspension. But as the team looks to hit their stride and round into form in the second half of the season, they’ll be looking for these rookies to play beyond their years.

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