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It’s a Mistake to Count on D.J. Humphries

The Arizona Cardinals were foolish to ignore the left tackle position this past off season.

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NFL: Preseason-Arizona Cardinals at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Cardinal left tackle D.J. Humphries will make $9.625 million in 2019 (all of which is guaranteed). That saddles the former 24th overall pick in as the 16th highest paid left tackle in pro football.

Which is appropriate only in the sense that Humphries himself has never completed a 16 game season.

In fact, over the course of his first four seasons in the NFL, Humphries has averaged a mere 6.75 games played per season.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that number is skewed slightly, as Humphries was deemed a healthy scratch his entire rookie year by then head coach Bruce Arians. However, even if you subtract his rookie campaign, Humphries season average in games played still doesn’t reach double digits (9).

In bringing attention to Humphries’ inability to stay healthy, I’m not even including the fact that when he has been active on game day, he’s been incredibly average specifically in pass protection.

Sure, he was the highest graded Cardinal offensive linemen last year (68.8) via Pro Football Focus (PFF). But touting your play on the 2018 Cardinal offensive line is the equivalent to being the healthiest part of an ice cream sundae.

So in reality, D.J. Humphries is Arizona’s fruit topping.

It’s ironic that when the Cardinals drafted Humphries in the first round back in 2015, you could argue the team had never been more secure at both tackle positions. Jared Veldheer, at left tackle, had just completed his first season in the desert and looked every bit like the cornerstone player the Cardinals had lacked upfront since Lomas Brown (96-98).

And say what you want about then starting right tackle Bobby Massie, but the former fourth round pick out of Ole Miss missed only two games over the course of the 2014-15 seasons.

Oh by the way, the Cardinals made the playoffs each of those two seasons.

Since D.J. Humphries was inserted into the Cardinals’ starting lineup in 2016, the team has yet to return to the post season. However, they have returned toward the bottom third of the NFL in “most pressures allowed by an offensive line” (via PFF).

In the meantime, Massie has netted himself two separate multiyear contracts from the Chicago Bears, has played in 46 out of a possible 48 games, and was the starting right tackle on the NFC North’s championship team last year.

You think the Cardinals wouldn’t mind a do-over with Bobby Massie?

I think they might.

History hasn’t been nearly as kind to Veldheer, who saw his play diminish only following a series of injuries that began in 2016. Still, the recently retired left tackle provided Arizona (albeit briefly) with its most consistent play at the position in nearly 20 years.

Which brings us back to Humphries, who the Cardinals can only dream produce the kind of consistency once provided by Veldheer and Massie. Instead, they’re committing themselves, at least for 2019, to a player that routinely frequents the injury report.

During the 2018 season, Humphries lingering knee injury consistently left the team in the dark leading up to game day. There were multiple instances last season in which Humphries would practice during the week, leading coaches to believe he would play, only to see him end up on the inactive list 90 minutes before kickoff.

This of course culminated on December 5th, when Arizona placed Humphries on injured reserve, thus ending his 2018 season. That made it 3-for-3 on season ending injuries (resulting in IR) for Humphries dating back to 2016.

This prompted the majority of the “birdgang” fan base as well as national media to speculate on the future of Humphries in the desert. The team had previously opted to pick up his fifth year option, however could still wiggle out of their commitment assuming Humphries could complete a physical prior to March 13th.

However, in somewhat of a surprise, the team not only stuck by Humphries but chose not to bring in any serious competition for the starting left tackle spot.

Laughable.

The Cardinals passed on a slew of quality options during free agency including Daryl Williams, Trent Brown and Ja’Wuan James. In an even more egregious display, the team all but punted on addressing the position during last April’s draft even when in prime position to do so atop round two.

As you know by now, the Cardinals stood pat at pick 33, selecting Washington CB Byron Murphy. In doing so, the team lost out on the likes of Florida’s Jawaan Taylor, Ole Miss’s Greg Little and perhaps most importantly Oklahoma’s Cody Ford. Ford is, of course, current Cardinal quarterback Kyler Murray’s former blindside protector at Oklahoma. The two are reportedly “very close” to the point in which Murray himself lobbied for the team to draft Ford during his opening press conference the morning of round two.

Ford is already the early favorite to secure Buffalo’s starting right tackle gig, thanks to his already evident physical style of play on display during the team’s minicamp (in which he worked exclusively with the first team offense).

Here is yet another reminder that D.J. Humphries was deemed a liability to even dress on game day during his rookie campaign. That does not appear to be the upcoming fate for the former All-American Sooner taken a measly five picks after Byron Murphy.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals are once again running the usual “Humphries Hype Train” that makes its way to our computers and mobile devices every spring. Sound bites, articles and social media posts all designed to create a narrative that this is the season Humphries puts it all together.

That’s the fantasy but here is the reality.

Humphries remains a liability for a team that is on its second rookie quarterback in as many seasons. Josh Rosen seemingly lost confidence with each passing start thanks to (among many things) horrific pass protection. D.J. Humphries was a major part of that due to his inability to stay on the field. As of late May, new head coach Kliff Kingsburry was still uncertain as to when Humphries would be “fully” cleared from his continual knee right injury.

Yet here we are, just a few weeks out from the start of training camp and the only real “competition” the team has brought in at left tackle is second year Browns UDFA castoff Desmond Harrison. In my opinion, Harrison is more of a contingency plan if (when) Humphries does miss more time.

Which leaves the team once again banking on D.J. Humphries and that all too elusive “breakout” season that will seemingly never come. So instead, the Cardinals will be forced to lean on the elusiveness of something much more valuable: Kyler Murray.

Good luck, Kyler.

Do better, Cardinals.