Scouting the 2015 Draft: D.J. Humphries

One of John Elway's first draft decisions was to take offensive right tackle Orlando Franklin 46th overall in 2011. One of the key stated reasons, repeated several times, was that Franklin brought nastiness to his run blocking. It was contagious, and it helped the whole line. His later-developing skills in pass blocking were often missed. It was a testament to how effective his run-mauling was.

That’s one of the factors for whichever team takes on Florida's D.J. Humphries next month. Humphries has shown himself to be one of the toughest tackles in this year’s draft. He measured in at 6'5" and 307 lb. at the combine - those are pretty standard measurements for tackles. Most years, someone will argue whether arm length matters. If you think it does, his is 33 5/8 inches.

Humphries is a contradiction as a draft choice. Unlike Franklin, the NFL Draft Advisory Board watched his film and told him to return to school for a year. Humphries decided to try and beat the house odds by coming out anyway:

It was a "gut feeling-type thing," he said.

"I took it as a challenge, almost," Humphries continued. "They were telling me I should come back so I'm going to show them why I should come out."

I’d like to see him succeed, so I applaud his courage in the decision. At the same time, I would have suggested that he remain in school. Here’s why:

Nearly every college tackle is a ‘leaner’ at times. It’s part of a player's development to deal with lunging and failing to drive up under the chest plate. Part of that is failing to get the hands up inside. It costs the player in both pass and run blocking. The training for the common spread systems don’t prepare offensive linemen very well for NFL pass protection.

As you’d expect, the above are among his weaknesses. I hold that he’d have been better off fixing it in school before coming out in the draft. It’s always true that an injury can ruin a career, although insurance policies for such situations are available.

D.J.’s hand angle is often up high, near the top of the defender's shoulders. That’s where the defender can use his arms against him. D.J. suffers that syndrome. Rip moves become simple. When he is run-blocking, he sometimes leaves his hips up high. It makes it easier to knock him off balance. In his favor, he has a natural leg bend which can be coached up. That might solve the problem. He needs to use it to drive through the defender on run blocking. He already has the ability. He hasn’t learned to use it consistently yet.

I do like his work on the second level. He finds and mirrors linebackers in space, effectively taking them out of plays. As a zone blocking tackle, he’s a solid find. He used to weigh in the 280s. He’s up where he needs to be, but feels that he can add weight without losing footspeed. He also plays his base well, keeping his feet nicely apart in both run and pass blocking. It gives him a good anchor. All of these are to the good.

His biggest weakness is his hand usage. The tendency to let his leverage raise up makes a mess of his hand techniques. It changes the basic angles of the techniques. His hands often just slide off the defender. Humphries is a slapper, more than a mauler. He doesn’t have his grip solidified on the defender. His punch needs a lot of work.

There are a lot of links between the various martial arts and football. Humphries could be working with one of the low-hipped, Okinawan styles of martial arts. Shotokan karate would be perfect. They work extensively on the lowering of the hips. They also drive their punches in ways that would help D.J. immediately. There are dozens of ways to perform a simple front punch. They each suit different body types. Shotokan also uses techniques that entrap the opponent's arms. That allows the offensive lineman to pull the defender past him, off-balance. It makes for nice pancake plays.

Watching his film, I agree with the advisory board. D.J. would have benefited greatly with another year’s coaching. He might be able to start right away, but would be better off taking a full year to train. That’s more common than not.

I saw an article the other day that suggested that NFL scouts and coaches are becoming more interested in fifth-to-seventh-rounders and CFA players who are coached up into becoming starters. The odds are as good that in three years you’ll have a quality player if you draft for potential, goes the thinking. Rather than expecting the players to be ready out of the gate, which is rare, they’ve begun taking it into account.

Humphries shows many signs that he can be molded into a very fine player. It will take a little time, but the tools are all there. I think that he’d be an excellent swing backup. In time, he might move to left tackle. The full stretch zone is perfect for his athletic skills.

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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