Kyle Terada/USA Today

2016 in review: Humphries, John

Second-year Arizona Cardinals' right tackle D.J. Humphries enjoyed a breakout season after failing to earn a single rep during his rookie campaign.

What a difference a year makes.

In the case of 2015 Arizona Cardinals' first round draft choice D.J. Humphries, it's hard to imagine two seasons contrasting more than his 2015 rookie campaign and 2016, his first season as a starter.

After being drafted in the first round out of Florida in 2015 as a potential left tackle of the future, Humphries failed miserably to live up to expectations, drawing public criticism from head coach Bruce Arians throughout his first year in the NFL.

Humphries was the rare rookie who never saw a down of playing time, and no, he wasn't sidelined with an injury. 

The Cardinals didn't believe their new 6-foot-5, 285-pound tackle was even close to being ready to compete in the NFL, and when you're a rookie on an Arians-coached team, that's not going to bode well.

Humphries wound up spending more of the year in Arians' doghouse than he did on Arizona's sidelines, as he was inactive for all 16 Cardinals' games as a rookie.

By the end of his first season, though, Humphries began to reverse his personal narrative, as the Gators' product drew praise from the coaching staff for adjusting his attitude, mentality and ability to compete at practices. As a result, Humphries entered the offseason with the opportunity to compete for a starting job, and a year after practically being left off the depth chart, he seized it.

Humphries, John in 2016

Though he struggled against some of the NFL's premier pass rushers during the preseason, Humphries quickly came into his own as the starter at right tackle in 2016, proving why the Cardinals had so much faith in him when they were on the clock for the first time in 2015.

Humphries is more athletic than most tackle prospects, and he was able to take advantage of this in the run game, where his initial quickness at the snap was one of this best assets this season. When Humphries squared up defenders on running plays, especially on edge plays, he was able to drive his feet on contact and maintain leverage, becoming an asset for running back David Johnson.

As a pass blocker, Humphries still struggled a bit against elite rushers, as the combination of size and strength sometimes got him off balance and had him playing on his heels as opposed to on his toes. Still, he managed fairly well as a pass blocker for most of the year, until a concussion forced him to miss a few games at the end of the season.

As for Ulrick John, a reserve offensive lineman signed in the middle of the season, the Cardinals were impressed by his ability to adapt to the scheme and play both guard and tackle. John is a physical presence who doesn't possess the same type of athleticism as a player like Humphries, but he's still a mauler who used a wide, sturdy frame to his advantage in the run game. 

John's greatest issues came as a pass blocker, as he didn't demonstrate the necessary foot speed to counter edge rushers. Too often, John was slow to react to an edge rusher's first step, and this constantly put quarterback Carson Palmer in harm's way.

Humphries, John in 2017

With two years left on his rookie contract, the Cardinals are seriously considering moving Humphries to the left side of the offensive line and switching veteran Jared Veldheer over to right tackle. While Veldheer has been vocal about his preference to play on the left side, it's quite obvious that Humphries is eventually going to be the superior player and Arizona wants him to return to his natural position before he's accustomed to playing on the right side.

In a matter of 365 days, Humphries went from becoming a potential first round bust to an obvious asset for Arizona, which again proves how demanding Arians is of his rookies. Nevertheless, Arians has a strong track record of player development, and Humphries is now better prepared for the future thanks to the way the Cardinals handled him in 2015.

In John's case, the Cardinals have him under contract for the 2017 season and he should have an excellent opportunity to win a reserve job on the offensive line. If Arizona parts ways with reserve Earl Watford, the odds-on favorites to become primary backups next season are John and career reserve John Wetzel because they were the most effective of the Cardinals' injury replacements this season. 

John doesn't have the type of skill set needed to become a consistent starter, but with all of the injury issues the Cardinals faced in 2016, they'll need competent reserves next year and John certainly fits the bill. 


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