When you’re the keeper of 12 picks in the NFL Draft (like the Kansas City Chiefs were as the first round opened on Thursday night), it is nearly impossible to imagine and play out every angle. Led by general manager Brett Veach, the Chiefs tried to do just that.
As it turned out, they failed. And that was a very good thing.
“With our first pick, it’s funny because, every year, we go through what we think [is] every scenario possible, and we didn’t go over McDuffie’s scenario,” laughed Veach during his post-Round 1 press conference.
The “McDuffie scenario,” as the general manager described, was Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie falling to the 20s — and to be exact, to pick No. 21. Before the draft began, Veach had revealed that Kansas City’s personnel department had identified 18 true first-round players. McDuffie was one of them.
Believing that a player of his caliber wouldn’t be available at pick 29, Veach called the New England Patriots, who were willing to swap 21 for 29, one of the Chiefs’ two third-rounders and one of their fourth-rounders. Veach drafted his guy.
“When you make a move, you’re going to do that for a guy that you have in that [first-round] range, so we were able to do that,” said Veach. “I think the fact that we were aggressive to some degree shows [and] kind of tipped your hand on what you thought of McDuffie. We certainly thought he was one of those players, and that’s why we made that move.”
Veach called the 21-year-old to inform him of the good news. It was more than just the player waiting to hear it.
“My family’s huge,” said McDuffie, speaking to the local Kansas City via Zoom media after Round 1. “I feel like we’re the closest family ever, so during the draft, I wanted to make sure my aunts, my uncles, my grandparents — just everybody was there, everybody who supported me growing up throughout my football career was able to come enjoy this moment with me. When I got the call, I saw Kansas City Chiefs, and I was like, ‘Hold on. Let me step 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, ‘Hold on. What am I missing here? What’s going on?’ I run inside and of course, my name popped up on the screen, and everybody 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 y’all, 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 awesome to be a part of that.”
Veach confirmed that the Chiefs never had McDuffie to Kansas City for a visit simply because when it comes to some prospects, it isn’t necessary. McDuffie said the Chiefs hosted him for an informal interview at the Scouting Combine, but that was it.
This team saw no chance that he’d be there near pick number 29... or even in range of 29.
“I think we were committed to being selectively aggressive, and if a player like a Trent McDuffie was there, ‘Hey, let’s go make a move and get him because he’s really good,” said Veach. “Probably wouldn’t have been there at 29. We were surprised he was there when we selected him with New England’s pick, but I think that was our mindset going in, and we just followed the plan.”
The Buffalo Bills were slotted to pick at No. 25, and Veach felt the Chiefs would have to get ahead of them if they were to secure McDuffie.
“[Derek] Stingley and Sauce [Gardner] went high, and we had a grouping of corners there,” started Veach. Just knowing some of the team needs that were directly in front of us, and I believe Buffalo did take a corner shortly after, and I believe traded up a spot, too.”
The Bills originally had the No. 25 pick but swapped up to 23 to take Florida’s Kaiir Elam.
“We knew that was coming,” explained Veach. “We had called teams — I believe the pick before and the pick after — of the New England trade, just to put ourselves in the position. The way the board was falling and knowing that we’re picking real late in this draft here, and the odds of a guy like McDuffie being at 21, let alone 29, were very low, so we just thought it was the right time to make that move.”
Modeling his game after a familiar name
McDuffie comes in at 5 feet 11 and 193 pounds, which some would say is average or a bit undersized for a first-round cornerback. But pressed about that aspect, head coach Andy Reid did not seem all that worried.
“He’s got enough size, and he’s played against big receivers and done a nice job,” said Reid. “We thought that his size was fine there.”
As a three-year starter at Washington, McDuffie compiled 94 tackles (71 solo), with eight passes defensed, including two interceptions. Self-described as a defensive back more than simply a cornerback, McDuffie uttered a name during his first media chat that most Chiefs fans would wind awfully familiar.
“I look at myself almost like a Tyrann Mathieu type of guy,” he said of the 5-foot-9 All-Pro, “someone who’s going to be able to go in and just play a bunch of different positions and just help out the team however I can. That’s a big thing for me moving forward, is just going in there with the mindset of, ‘However I can get on the field — however I can help out this team,’ I’m going to do everything that I can to do it, so I know that this organization has a great defensive mindset, so honestly, very excited to be part of this team.”
McDuffie had been modeling his football career off of the former Chief since the days he watched him as a college player.
“Growing up, shoot, watching Tyrann Mathieu at LSU — he was one of those dudes where he wasn’t the biggest,” continued McDuffie. “[Mathieu] wasn’t the fastest, but he was always going to make a play. And that’s something that I always try to do in my game — is just be that person that’s going to flash on the screen. You know? Just be that guy that’s always around the 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 practices, how he plays games — just the tenacity and heart that he gave is something that I can look at and try to model my game after.”
The Mathieu-like aspect of his game must have translated to the film.
“Trent’s a guy that can come in here Day 1,” said Veach. “He’s wired the right way, extreme knowledge of the game, three-year player, three-year starter, and it was certainly a position that we wanted to address.”
McDuffie joins a cornerback room that lost Charvarius Ward to the San Francisco 49ers this offseason — and thus, is definitely in need of 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 sounds like it could be the Chiefs’ expectation.
Considering the lack of previous communication with the Chiefs, it all came as a bit of a surprise to McDuffie. Still, 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 pretty much told me, of course, ‘Congratulations. Happy to have [you].’” recalled McDuffie. “We didn’t talk too much because — of course — the night was going crazy. But I’m excited to go meet him [Friday]. I’m excited to sit down, start learning this defense, start learning about how I can help the team. And I mean, moving forward, shoot. I’m ready to go tomorrow... I’m just ready to play football at this point.
“The draft’s finally done, I finally have the team, so I’m ready to just jump out there, get with the team and start building those bonds.”