Making the cut: Arizona Cardinals' offensive tackle D.J. Humphries

The Arizona Cardinals are counting on D.J. Humphries, a player who lacks any NFL experience, to step in and start at right tackle.

"Making the Cut"

As the Arizona Cardinals begin their quest to cut the team's roster size from 90 to 53 by the end of the preseason, we're taking a look at the key players at each position group and determining their odds of making the final cut.

Player: D.J. Humphries

Age: 22

Experience: 2nd NFL season (Did not play as a rookie)

Contract status: 2016-$2,025,480, 2017-$2,430,576, 2018-$2,835,672

2015 season quick review: Even with the Cardinals' offensive line in good shape heading into the 2015 season, the Cardinals used their first round draft pick on Florida Gators' offensive tackle D.J. Humphries. Humphries' body type is ideal for an NFL tackle, as the 6-foot-5, 315-pound has the frame and athletic build to hold off defensive tackles and maintain leverage against edge rushers. Though Humphries has a number of physical gifts, he struggled mightily upon arriving in Arizona and earned the rather harsh nickname of "Knee Deep" from head coach Bruce Arians. As a result, Humphries became the rare first round draft pick to take a "redshirt year," as the Cardinals opted to keep him on the sidelines the entire season. Humphries' rookie season was disastrous at times, but in the later stages of the year, Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin did make note of the tackle's potential and improving work ethic.

Projected roster status: While Humphries didn't play at all during his rookie season, it's far too early for a franchise to simply give up on a first round draft pick. Entering his second season, Humphries will be on the roster, and we anticipate the Cardinals' will keep him active throughout the regular season.

Projected depth chart status: Arizona had plenty of opportunities through free agency and the draft to replace departed starter Bobby Massie, but the team appears committed to sticking with the unproven Humphries as the starter at right tackle. Right now, Humphries appears to be holding down the No. 1 spot on the depth chart, and unless he struggles through a second consecutive fall camp, the Gators' project should enter the season as the starter.  

Position group analysis: The Cardinals addressed their depth at offensive guard this season with the addition of Evan Mathis and the draft selection of Harvard lineman Cole Toner, but the team does not appear as strong at offensive tackle. Jared Veldheer returns at left tackle and has quietly developed into one of the Cardinals' most dependable linemen over the last two seasons, but Humphries is a legitimate question mark. Toner has the potential to develop as a depth option at tackle because that's the position he started at regularly at Harvard, but during rookie camp in May, the Cardinals had Toner focusing on playing guard. None of the team's other tackles listed on the 90-man roster have in-game NFL experience, so Arizona is certainly taking a gamble in hoping Humphries will take a huge step forward this season.

Moving forward: While the Cardinals are reluctant to anoint any young players as unquestioned starters, the starting right tackle spot is undoubtedly Humphries' to lose entering fall camp. Because general manager Steve Keim used a coveted first round draft choice on Humphries in 2015, the team would greatly benefit from his emergence this season. One year on the bench doesn't define a player's career, and if Humphries were a quarterback, no one would have thought twice about the rookie sitting out an entire year to learn the nuances of his position behind a veteran. Still, Humphries isn't a quarterback, he's an offensive tackle with a lot to prove. But based on Humphries' college tape, there's plenty of talent to work with and develop. 

Key skill: Footwork

Arizona doesn't need Humphries to develop into an All-World right tackle during his first season on the field. What the Cardinals do need is a consistent presence who doesn't try to do too much against the best group of edge rushers in the world. From Humphries' earliest days as a football player, he's been touted as an athletic freak of nature and in high school, Humphries was regarded as one of the top recruits in the entire country.

Part of ensuring Humphries' consistency is sound technique and footwork, which are skills some of the most talented athletes never learned at lower levels of the sport. A player like Humphries could often get by with natural athleticism and power, but in the NFL, the defensive players Humphries will match up against are just as physically gifted. 

In the image below, we'll take a look at a pre-snap alignment featuring Humphries during his days as a left tackle at Florida in a contest that pitted the Gators against Florida State.

On the first two drives of this game, Humphries had excelled with his footwork and consistently drove the defensive end aligned up over him backward off the ball. Humphries was Florida's best run blocker on the team's first two series, but on this passing play, his footwork lapses and he leaves an open lane to the quarterback through the B-gap. 

At the snap, Humphries widens out too far, perhaps anticipating an outside rush from the Seminoles' defensive end. While good offensive tackles understand the importance of giving ground at the line of scrimmage to prepare themselves to deliver a blow with their hands and re-establish leverage, Humphries was too careless with his steps on this play and allowed his feet to widen out too quickly. As a result, the Seminoles pass rusher doesn't even need to rip or swim to find an inside track to the quarterback, and he's presented with a clear opportunity to disrupt the pocket.

Fortunately for Humphries, the Seminoles only brought four rushers on this play, and the Gators' left guard is able to provide aid on the inside. There's always the chance that Humphries knew he would have help from the guard here, but still, he's leaning too much in his stance and his footwork at the snap wasn't clean. These are the kind of mistakes Humphries can't afford to make at the professional level, because he'll be facing much more complex stunts and consistently more talented pass rushers. 

One of the advantages Humphries will have this season is playing next to Mathis, the Cardinals' new right guard. Mathis is considered one of the most knowledgeable linemen in the NFL, and if he can pass along lessons to an athletically gifted player like Humphries, the Cardinals stand to benefit from the pairing on the right side of the offensive line. 

Overall value: Simply put, the Arizona Cardinals lost value in year one of Humphries' career. Though there's a lot to be said for the learning experience of practicing and studying every day at the NFL level, first round draft picks are expected to provide on-field contributions during their rookie seasons. While the Cardinals' organizational philosophy is one of patience with young players, most of the successful franchises in the NFL are able to extract immediate value from early draft selections. Considering Arizona felt compelled to trade away former seventh overall pick Jonathan Cooper, the Keim regime would love to see Humphries develop into an upper-echelon starter in the NFL and avoid wasting another first round selection on an offensive lineman who never panned out. Though the Cardinals won't need to pay Humphries the type of money the best NFL tackles command for at least three more seasons, the franchise certainly hopes that by that point, Humphries will have the on-field production to merit consideration for a long-term extension. Because the Cardinals have clearly committed to giving Humphries' an extended look this season, we believe it's a sign within the organization the team feels Humphries can live up to his potential and provide the team with value. 

 


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