Watching Trent McDuffie play, and listening to him speak, it’s easy to draw a couple of conclusions: He looks like a Patriot — and man, does he ever sound like a Patriot.
The talented Washington cornerback, who recently took a predraft trip to Foxborough, seems like the type of player who could fit snugly in New England’s defense in a variety of spots, be it on the boundary, in the slot, or as a hybrid.
Though he’s likely to start his pro career as a perimeter cornerback, he frankly isn’t concerned where he is deployed — as long as he’s deployed.
“I keep telling all these teams, ‘I want to play football. I’m a football player. You can put me at corner, you can put me at nickel, you can put me at free safety. I want to play special teams,’ ” McDuffie said at the NFL Combine. “I’m like, ‘Hey, if you need somebody on offense, put me over there.’
“I’m just trying to compete and be the best player I can for whatever team picks me.”
That’s music to Bill Belichick’s ears.
But wait. There’s more.
“I love studying film,” said McDuffie. “I love watching guys all over the league, past, present. I spend a lot of energy and create an organized plan to watch as many games as I can.
“Beginning of the season, I watch last season’s film. Going through the season, I try to get through every game and all the games from last season. So I start at 5:30, end at about 10 o’clock at night. I watch at least four games a day. I feel that has helped me so much.”
Belichick and the Patriots staff put a huge emphasis on situational football. Being prepared for every scenario so it’s second nature is an important part of the process in New England. McDuffie believes his film preparation has been a key element to his development in awareness and readiness.
“First off, you like to look at where they are going to line up on the field,” he said. “I’m a big situational football guy. So, what am I going to get on mixed downs? Third downs? Third-and-shorts? Third-and-longs? All that will help me determine what the receiver is going to do, what kind of routes they like to throw.
“Then it also comes down to the timing of the quarterback and the receiver. A big part is defending that timing. Being physical when you need to be physical and understanding when [receivers] are going to take the vertical.
“Just knowing all of that through the film watching helped me a lot.”
Because of the dearth of top-notch, NFL-ready corners in this year’s draft, the Patriots would need to get lucky to have McDuffie fall to them at No. 21 overall.
It could happen, however, if there’s a run at another position (most likely receiver or edge rusher) or if the Patriots trade up.
McDuffie met with the Patriots at the combine and has had frequent chats with former college teammate Myles Bryant about life in New England.
“It was cool, getting to know Bill Belichick,” said McDuffie. “He is a DB dude. You could see all their DBs, their defense. [Bryant] has had an amazing experience being there. He’s learned so much football knowledge.
“Just talking to them was really cool, just being able to sit there and being in the presence of the Patriots and all of these defensive-minded players.”
McDuffie has solid size — 5 feet 11 inches, 193 pounds — and strength to go along with exceptional anticipation and athleticism.
He plays with confidence and calmness. He’s very smooth in transition to his backpedal, allowing him to stay on pass catchers’ hips without decelerating.
McDuffie, who didn’t allow a touchdown in coverage the last two seasons, has explosive closing speed and active hands.
A shifty punt returner as well, McDuffie could take on a number of roles and make an immediate impact as a rookie.
He said he emphasizes his football IQ when he meets with teams.
“Also, I play like I’m a linebacker,” he said. “I’m a defender. I can tackle. I love to tackle. I love to be in the mix. I love to be in the box.
“I used to tell our coaches all the time, ‘Man, put me at safety. Let me just go run the alley. Let me take on these linemen.’
“I love to compete. At the end of the day, I want to win. That’s why I play football. To win games. That’s what I’m going to try to do in the NFL and help these organizations get to the Super Bowl.”
Top defensive backs
The top players available in the April 28-30 NFL Draft, with name (position), college, height, weight, and projected round.
Kyle Hamilton (S), Notre Dame, 6-4, 220, 1
Perhaps the best safety prospect in the last five years, Hamilton is a game changer. Blessed with enviable physical traits (he has length, long arms, and closing speed) and superb smarts (he reads and reacts like a veteran), Hamilton makes plays from sideline to sideline. He has tremendous range in coverage and can also fill the box in the run game. Hamilton did miss the final five games of the season with a knee injury.
Ahmad Gardner (CB), Cincinnati, 6-3, 190, 1
Better known by the nickname “Sauce,” Gardner possesses the ideal combination of size, speed, and strength. Poised to be the Bearcats’ first first-round pick since 1971, Gardner will be an immediate starter as a perimeter corner. His bump-and-run style and ability to be sticky throughout the route will allow him to thrive with clubs that employ a lot of man-to-man coverages. “Sauce Island” will not be a fun place for receivers to visit.
Trent McDuffie (CB), Washington, 5-11, 193, 1
The best hitter to come from Saint John Bosco High in Bellflower, Calif., since Nomar Garciaparra. McDuffie is smart, studious, and savvy. He will thrive as a boundary man-to-man corner but can also slip inside as a slot man or into the box in run support. An excellent communicator, his teammates feed off his confidence. Critics will point to his stats (just two interceptions) but that’s deceiving, as quarterbacks often avoided throwing his way.
Daxton Hill (S), Michigan, 6-0, 191, 1
One of the best pure athletes in the class, Hill has incredible range on the back end, allowing him to close quickly and lower the boom on ball carriers. Has enough quicks that some teams may consider him at corner — likely as a slot defender. Can sometimes get lost in the wash when helping out in run support, though he’ll likely add muscle soon, and that should solve that.
Derek Stingley Jr. (CB), LSU, 6-0, 190, 1
Darryl Stingley’s grandson is a speed demon, the latest evidence being his 4.3-ish 40-yard dash at LSU’s pro day. Health is a concern with Stingley, who played in just 10 games the last two seasons after starting 15 as a freshman, when he led the SEC in picks (6) and passes defensed (21). Is very light on his feet and is physical enough to play man-to-man on either side. He has covered some of the best receivers in the country.
Lewis Cine (S), Georgia, 6-0, 199, 1-2
One of the hardest hitters, regardless of position, available in this draft, Cine specializes in landing tone-setting shots. Cine was the 2017 Gatorade Massachusetts Defensive Player of the Year at Everett High. He moved to Dallas for his senior season, where he was tutored, in part, by Deion Sanders at Trinity Christian. An excellent overall athlete, Cine could play multiple roles at the next level (think Patrick Chung).
Jalen Pitre (S), Baylor, 5-11, 198, 2
Played linebacker for three seasons before switching to safety for his final two seasons in Waco. A very active and aware player who finds the ball quickly and will bully and punish ball carriers just because, well, he can. An effective blitzer, he’ll come off the edge or slip into between cracks in the interior to affect the quarterback. Pitre is a takeaway machine; he had three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and two interceptions last season. He’s a special teams monster.
Andrew Booth Jr. (CB), Clemson, 6-0, 194, 1-2
He and Mario Goodrich formed one of the best corner tandems in the country. Excelled as a zone corner who flashed exceptional closing speed and ball skills. Has the muscle and toughness to land solid blows. Booth is a gambler by nature, so naturally he gets burned from time to time when trying to jump routes. Good NFL quarterbacks will make him pay for that.
Kaiir Elam (CB), Florida, 6-1, 191, 2-3
The son of former NFLer Abe Elam, Kaiir is an excellent athlete who played corner and receiver in high school. Has the versatility to play in the slot and in man and zone schemes and specializes in jolting opponents at the line of scrimmage. Desirable mix of size, speed, and toughness for the position. Had six interceptions and 26 passes defensed in 35 career games.
Gregory Junior (CB), Ouachita Baptist, 6-0, 203, 3-4
Took the Kyle Dugger route — outstanding Division 2 career and a nice Senior Bowl week — to get on NFL scouts’ radars. Displayed the strength to reroute receivers and the mirror skills to stick with them throughout their routes. Has great body control and balance. Could be a special teams contributor right away while polishing his cover skills.
Best of the rest
Cornerbacks: Cam Taylor-Britt, Nebraska (5-11, 196); Roger McCreary, Auburn (5-11, 190); Kyler Gordon, Washington (5-11, 194); Coby Bryant, Cincinnati (6-1, 193); Zyon McCollum, Sam Houston State (6-2, 199); Marcus Jones, Houston (5-8, 174); Jalyn Armour-Davis, Alabama (6-0, 197); Josh Jobe, Alabama (5-11, 182); Tariq Woolen, Texas-San Antonio (6-4, 205); Mario Goodrich, Clemson (6-0, 176).
Safeties: Jaquan Brisker, Penn State (6-1, 206); Bryan Cook, Cincinnati (6-1, 206); Nick Cross, Maryland (6-0, 212); Kerby Joseph, Illinois (6-1, 203); Verone McKinley III, Oregon (5-10, 192); Smoke Monday, Auburn (6-2, 207); Yusuf Corker, Kentucky (6-0, 203).