“Man, all I can remember is that phone going off — because during that whole draft night, I didn’t know what was gonna happen,” said McDuffie at his Super Bowl LVII media availability on Tuesday. “I didn’t know if I was going first round [or] second. I was just like, ‘Man, let me let that phone ring on whatever day’ — like, ‘I just want to go to a team.’”
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach was on the other end of the line.
“Seeing that it was Kansas City, it was like a whoa moment for me because not only do you know that, yeah, this is such a great organization, but you [also] understand that you’re able to come into a place with a lot of vets who know a lot of stuff who have been very successful, and the head coach — that I think is one of the best coaches that ever coached the game. So it was a super exciting time for me. Shoot, you can even ask my family; they were super happy that I was going here.”
Veach would later confirm that Kansas City had McDuffie as one of their 18 “first-round targets,” McDuffie recalled talking to both Veach and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo on draft night.
“Oh man,” said McDuffie. “The one thing I remember is them just saying, ‘Are you ready?’ It’s me in that moment? It was like, ‘Ah, I’m glad you asked me that — because, yeah, I am ready [for] whenever you need me to come and play.’”
Veach and Spagnuolo said they needed the cornerback immediately — although a Week 1 hamstring injury (which ironically occurred in Glendale), would cost him six games. Now he is back in Glendale.
“It’s kind of weird,” said McDuffie. “It’s kind of funny how God’s timing is. We started here and [now we’re] finishing here. You know, going into the season, that was kind of the talk: you know, let’s start in Arizona. Let’s finish in Arizona.”
McDuffie is one of three rookie cornerbacks with extensive playing time for the Chiefs this season. While McDuffie was taken on Day 1 of the draft, fourth-rounder Joshua Williams and seventh-rounder Jaylen Watson were selected on Day 3.
But once the season starts, it does not matter where you are selected. The Chiefs believed in their rookies so much that at midseason, they moved cornerback Rashad Fenton to the Atlanta Falcons.
“If you would’ve asked me this in the beginning of season, I would have been like, ‘Yeah, it’s probably crazy that a bunch of these rookies are starting and playing right now,’” said McDuffie. “Watching these guys and getting to know them more, I feel like everybody is very mature — and just has this responsibility on themselves to do well.”
The team called on all three of the rookie cornerbacks in the most significant moment of the season: when cornerback L’Jarius Sneed went down with a concussion early in the AFC Championship. The Chiefs got the job done, advancing to Super Bowl LVII with a 23-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
“I’m not really surprised — sitting here now — that all these rookies were able to do so much for this team,” said McDuffie. “Because, man, they have been working day in and day out tirelessly to perfect their craft. So I’m just proud to be in this position.”
Pro Football Focus gave McDuffie the third-best coverage grade among rookie cornerbacks, and he finished the season in the top 20 among all cornerbacks. Asked about what he has taught McDuffie this year, veteran safety Juan Thornhill could only smile.
“I’m gonna be honest with you,” started Thornhill. “He didn’t really ask me too many questions, So that shows that he’s really smart. [But] there’s moments that I actually like [to] talk to him about [technique]. The other day, I was talking about technique because he’s a cornerback and I’m a safety. I play a lot of off-man. I was talking to him by like press-man because I watched him: he’s really good at it.”
The minute he saw him on the practice field, Thornhill could see McDuffie was going to be a star.
“I knew he was gonna be a really good football player,” said Thornhill. “The guy’s really smart; he’s a technician. I was just watching him drill, watching him move — and the guy, he’s just really good. He knows how to work with his hands, his feet. He’s very smart when it comes to learning the playbook. So I knew he was gonna be a really good player for us.”
And Kansas City is fortunate to have him as it turns its attention to one of its toughest tests of the season: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, who can beat you on the ground and through the air.
Hurts has star wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith at his disposal.
“Both those guys do a really good job at attacking the ball,” noted McDuffie. “That’s something that I’ve realized with a lot of the receivers in the NFL. Of course, the quarterbacks do a great job at getting the ball where it needs to go — but, man, these receivers go up and get it and they’re tenacious with it. They both can run very well with the ball in their hands.
“As a DB looking at that, we understand that our techniques gotta be even greater — and when the ball’s in the air, we have to have that certain hunger, really, to go up and fight for that ball. This is the Super Bowl. At the end of the day, we know for a fact everybody’s gonna put their life on the line.”
In an alternate universe — had the Chiefs not traded up — McDuffie might have gone to Buffalo. Perhaps he would not have been playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday.
But this is not an alternate universe. We’ll go back to the question posed by Veach and Spagnuolo on draft night: will McDuffie be ready?
“That one question just I’ll forever remember,” he said.