Las Vegas Raiders receiver Jakobi Meyers clapped his hands together, then emphatically pointed across the line of scrimmage, looking a bit like a grade-schooler tattling on his friend at recess.
This was late in the third quarter of the Kansas City Chiefs’ victory over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday, and Meyers wanted to be sure to let his QB, Aidan O’Connell, know the Chiefs’ best blitzer was about to come downhill.
And that meant all 5-foot-11 and 193 pounds of Trent McDuffie were on the way.
This is a thing now, though. McDuffie, KC’s second-year cornerback, has been so good at flying off the edge lately that it’s become something opponents not only prepare for but also worry about.
“He’s showing he can basically do everything,” Chiefs linebacker Leo Chenal said. “We’re glad to have him on our team on the outside, because when you can have good blitzers from every single level, that’s pretty dangerous.”
In his limited blitz opportunities, McDuffie certainly is making a huge impact.
Pro Football Focus (PFF) has McDuffie graded as the top “pass-rush” cornerback in the NFL. And yes, it’s a smaller sample for McDuffie than other players, yet his 92.3 score in that metric places him in the top 10 among all defenders.
Other metrics indicate how good he’s been as well. In his 44 times rushing the passer, according to PFF, McDuffie has two sacks, two batted passes and five quarterback hurries. He’s also tied for the team lead with six QB hits.
“He’s a smaller dude, too,” Chiefs safety Bryan Cook. “So getting his body in the right position at the right time is definitely a beautiful thing to see.”
So what has made McDuffie successful in this role, even at a less-than-imposing stature?
Chiefs linebacker Drue Tranquill says it starts with McDuffie’s all-around skill set. Because he’s so good in coverage and has a high football IQ, McDuffie allows defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to get extra creative with how he uses him.
“He’s obviously got a ton of great physical traits,” Tranquill said of McDuffie. “He’s fast, he’s twitchy, he’s quick, explosive.”
Chenal has noticed McDuffie has an impressive ability to keep up his speed, too. It’s not always natural for players to be able to accelerate through a change in direction around the corner, Chenal said, but McDuffie does that often.
“Once he gets inside that bubble of (the) quarterback, he’s really aggressive — to almost a second burst — to be able to make a play on it,” Chenal said.
Cook says he often uses the word “savvy” to describe McDuffie as a pass-rusher; in other words, McDuffie isn’t just running at the QB with his head down, but instead reacting to what’s in front of him each play.
Sunday’s game provided some examples of that. On the third-quarter blitz that Meyers diagnosed pre-snap, Cook noted that McDuffie worked to slither his way around Ameer Abdullah when the running back attempted to block him.
“He’s definitely been doing a good job as far as knowing the angle of using his body,” Cook said. “He’s a smaller dude, too. So getting his body in the right position at the right time is definitely a beautiful thing to see.”
Later, in the fourth quarter, McDuffie chose to go airborne when free on the blitz, knocking down O’Connell’s intended third-down pass.
Which brings up another point: Cook says McDuffie has been fearless when coming through the line of scrimmage.
“At the end of the day, he’s putting his body on the line. I think that’s a big thing, especially for a lot of smaller guys like himself,” Cook said. “It’s a little different throwing your body if you’re being bigger. But his situation, he’s a smaller guy technically speaking, but he doesn’t play small at all.”
McDuffie has been particularly productive over the past four games. On 20 pass-rushing snaps in that time, he’s logged nine pressures according to PFF, while also contributing two sacks against the Philadelphia Eagles.
It’s just part of his overall contribution. For the season, McDuffie leads the NFL with five forced fumbles and also ranks fifth among qualified cornerbacks in PFF defensive grade.
“He’s an all-around player,” Chenal said, “and he’s showing it this year.”