Tom Herman is a fan of the phrase “ball of clay,” and had he been the Texas Longhorns head coach in 2016 when Lil’Jordan Humphrey put pen to paper, that’s likely the expression he would have used to articulate the Southlake Carroll star’s raw upside.
A 6’4, 199-pound running back?
Athlete’s like that don’t grow on trees, yet it wasn’t until his final spring on the Forty Acres that Humphrey began to bloom into much more than a mere ball of clay. At this time last year, the former three-star-prospect-turned-pure-pass-catcher had just 39 career receptions for 446 yards and one score to his name, and his fit going forward remained unclear. On paper, the big-bodied Humphrey looked the part of a prototypical X receiver, but Texas already had an answer to that end in Collin Johnson. Rather than reserve Humphrey to the reps that remained behind Johnson, Texas slid Humphrey into a full-time role in the slot, where he shared reps with Reggie Hemphill-Mapps in 2017.
The move proved tremendously beneficial, as Humphrey’s big frame and running back background made the junior a walking mismatch — too big and physical for most defensive backs, too shifty and skilled in open space for most linebackers.
The end result of this makeshift role to simply find a way to get him onto the field was Humphrey cementing one of the most successful showings from any Longhorn receiver ever. 86 receptions for 1,176 yards later, Humphrey’s 2018 contributions respectively rank as the fifth- and third-most for a single season in school history.
But seemingly as soon as Humphrey emerged as a bona fide star in burnt orange, he said goodbye to Texas, electing to bypass his senior season and enter the 2019 NFL Draft.
The decision was one that was made against the guidance of the NFL Draft Advisory Board, which recommended that Humphrey return to Texas for his senior season, and his poor testing numbers at the NFL Combine and Texas Pro Day have only supported that suggestion. Namely, the now-6’4, 210-pound Humphrey clocked 40-yard dash times of 4.75 and 4.79, which marked the slowest time of any receiver testing in Indianapolis, causing concern as to whether or not Humphrey can consistently create separation at the next level.
“I like the talent but I hate the testing,” an AFC executive source told NFL.com. “I wasn’t sure he could get open before the combine and now I feel even less certain. He dropped a bunch of weight for the combine, which hurt him more than helped him.”
The concerns surrounding Humphrey’s sub-par speed are legitimate, and while those deficiencies were masked last season with Texas exploiting mismatches that simultaneously magnified Humphrey’s strengths, that’s a chore that won’t be so easy in the NFL. Generally speaking, defensive backs are bigger and more physical, while linebackers boast more speed that your typical Power 5 talent.
Texas found a niché role for Humphrey last season and it worked wonderfully, as evident by his historical stat line. But for an NFL team to expend a draft pick on the former Texas pass catcher, they’ll need to feel confident that they can do the same, or that Humphrey’s sub-par speed times are being overblown and overshadowing his actual ability on the field.
To that end, numbers never lie, but neither does the film.
Less than optimal speed aside, one doesn’t amass upwards of 1,110 receiving yards without excelling elsewhere and making the most of their strengths.
At 6’4 with a 33.5-inch vertical leap, Humphrey presents passers with a pure possession target who’s excellent at high-pointing the ball and winning one-on-one battles. When passes aren’t exactly on target, Humphrey displays exceptional body control and an ability to contort his body to put himself in position to make the catch. He can flash much of the same prior to the pass, as well, recognizing soft spots in coverage and understanding how to utilize his size to shield defenders, often swinging the odds of a 50-50 ball in his favor.
While it was Humphrey’s prowess as a pure possession receiver that largely paved the way for his 143-yard outing against West Virginia and his 159-yard showing against Texas Tech, which featured Humphrey plucking the game-winning grab away from a Red Raider defensive back, he’s equally as impressive in open space.
Courtesy of his noted background as a running back — Humphrey rushed for 3,209 yards and 43 touchdowns throughout his final two seasons at Southlake Carroll — Humphrey accounts for some struggles in the speed department with praiseworthy shiftiness and elusiveness in open space. There’s almost a slipperiness about Humphrey after the catch, which could surprise some given his size.
While that all makes Humphrey a nightmare for linebackers in open space — and even most defensive backs — he bolsters that ability with the ball in his hands by running with a physicality that refuses to allow him to go down on first contact far more often than not.
And all the while, Humphrey plays faster in pads than his testing numbers will note.
Despite what Humphrey put on film, though, it’s the testing numbers that could see him slip towards the back end of the draft. As is, the NFL Draft Advisory Board gave Humphrey a third to sixth round draft grade, and that was prior to the poor testing numbers.
Where does this leave the former Longhorns star?
Given that he’s likely destined to hear his name called during the third day of the draft, Humphrey could prove to be a steal two-to-three seasons from now, or the speed concerns he’s carrying into the draft could be why he struggles to survive at the highest level.