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2020 NFC West: LTs

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Cleveland Browns v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Background: GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 15: Offensive tackle D.J. Humphries #74 of the Arizona Cardinals spikes the football after running back Kenyan Drake #41 scored a one yard rushing touchdown against the Cleveland Browns during the second half of the NFL game at State Farm Stadium on December 15, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Browns 38-24.

To say that this is a big year for the Cardinals’ LT D.J. Humphries is an understatement.

In the NFC West, Humphries has the opportunity to supplant three Pro Bowl veteran LTs as the bell cow in the division.

Here is Se-For’s competition, as outlined in this tweet from Steve Palazzolo:

All three of D.J. Humphries fellow LTs in the NFC West graded out as the #2 (Andrew Whitworth—-Rams), #4 (Trent Williams—-49ers) and #8 (Duane Brown—-Seahawks) best pass-blocking tackles in the NFL in years 2016-2018.

When D.J. Humphries looks at this tweet, what he can say is. “well, that was then—-and this is now.”

It’s in this spirit that the Cardinals decided to make the 26 year old Humphries the highest paid LT in the division when they inked him to a 3 year $45M contract, with $29M in guaranteed money. D.J.’s lucrative contract extension was celebrated in this tweet from D.J.’s alma mater, the University of Florida:

One stat that D.J. takes great pride in was only giving up 2 sacks last season.

The 2019 season was a breakthrough for the Cardinals’ 2015 1st Round pick, because it was the first time in 5 years that D.J. started and played in all 16 games.

Over his first 4 years, due to not playing a single snap his rookie season and winding up on the IR the next three seasons by virtue of multiple injuries, D.J., started only 27 of a possible 64 regular season games—-and 66 if you count the playoffs.

As Cardinals’ fans well know, D.J. assimilation into the organization as a rookie back in 2015 was a slow and painful one—-as he was publicly branded with the derogatory nickname of “Knee Deep” by head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin.

Sometimes a public shaming of player can ruin and/or stigmatize his career.

This is where D.J. Humphries deserves a world of credit. Not only was D.J. Humphries able to climb out of the stigma, he, now playing under his third head coach in Kliff Kingsbury and third offensive line coach in Sean Kugler, has emerged as an engaging, popular, and self-confident leader.

In competing with the All-Pro LTs in the division, what Humphries has on his side—-assuming he can now stay healthy—-are his age and his athletic physique.

It is very reasonable to wonder at this point just how much Andrew Whitworth (38), Trent Williams (31) and Duane Brown (34) have left in the tank.

Andrew Whitworth, despite contemplating retirement for the second year in a row, signed a 3 year $30M contract with $12.5M in guaranteed money. The way the contract is structured, the Rams can opt out easily after this season. Whitworth is coming off his worst season, grade-wise, in years, down from 86.5 in 2018 to 72.8 in 2019. Plus, he was one of the leaders in the NFL in penalties (14).

Trent Williams, when healthy and focused, is one of the most dominant LTs in the NFL—-he will make $12.5M in the last year of his contract this season (but—-the 49ers are expected to sign him to a lucrative extension—-which is risky because Williams, now in his 30s, did not play for the Redskins at all last season due to his year-long holdout (having some bearing on the firing of HC Jay Gruden and team president Bruce Allen)—-and in 2018, like Andrew Whitworth last year, Trent Williams had his worst season grade-wise, down from 82.6 in 2017 to 75.6 in 2018—-plus, he incurred 12 penalties in 13 games).

Duane Brown has two years remaining on his contract with the Seahawks in which he is scheduled to make a combined $25.6M, but only $7M of it remains guaranteed. Like Whitworth and Williams he is coming off one of his worst seasons grade-wise, down from 83.7 in 2018 to 74.1 in 2019.

Last season, D.J. Humphries’s 64.5 overall grade was the lowest of the NFC West tackles, largely because of his sub-par run blocking grade of 52.3 and his 13 penalties. His pass blocking grade was a commendable 76.3.

Therefore, it stands to reason that if D.J. can improve his run blocking grade and cut down on his penalties, while maintaining his consistently good pass blocking grades, then, performance-wise, he could very well surge toward the top of the division.

The good: last year D.J.’s pass blocking was right on a par with Whitworth’s and Brown’s and Williams’ in 2018.

Sacks Allowed 2019:

Whitworth—-1

Brown—-2

Humphries—-2

QB Hits allowed 2019:

Humphries—-1

Brown—-2

Whitworth—-3

Total QB pressures (16 games played):

Whitworth—-29

Humphries—-30

Brown (13 games)—-21

Williams (13 games in 2018)—-30

These 2019 QB pressure stats are very encouraging for D.J. Humphries especially when one considers that he was learning and playing in a new system, under a rookie head coach and protecting a rookie QB.

Like D.J. said when he signed his contract extension, “Giving up two sacks is giving up two sacks and on any level that number speaks for itself.”

“Se-For” has a special camaraderie with Kyler Murray and an enormous sense of appreciation for his fellow offensive linemen and his line coaches Sean Kugler and Brian Natkin.

D.J. recently raved about his Black Lives Matter talks with his fellow linemen saying that “the world would be a better place if it was like the team’s offensive line room.” And because there is “a mix of cultures” in the rom, “it would be so much kumbaya,” joking that the world would be “chunkier” and “heftier,” as well!

Here is a good showing of how much pride D.J. takes in the offense and in what he considers to be one of the most improved offensive lines in the NFL:

There is much to like about D.J.’s personality. He is passionate, engaging and at times, hilarious in his own inimitable way. His bildungsroman (coming of age story) before our very eyes is heart-warming, especially considering all he had had to fight through to get to this point in his career.

And—-so—-in celebration of D.J.’s emergence, I thought we should save D.J.’s best and most encouraging stats of 2109 for last:

Sacks allowed versus:

Clay Matthews: 0

Donte Fowler: 0

Nick Bosa: 0

Arik Armstead: 0

Dee Ford: 0

Jadaveon Clowney: 0

L.J. Collier: 0

Ezekiel Ansah: 0

Result:

In his first year in the K-Raid, “Se-For” completed a stunning “0-fer” (sacks given up) in the NFC West!