With training camp already underway, the New England Patriots have fully set their sights onto the upcoming 2022 season.
The team currently has 84 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early September and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots build on their 10-7 record.
Today, the series continues with fourth-year wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey.
Name: Lil’Jordan Humphrey
Position: Wide receiver
Jersey number: 83
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6-foot-4, 225 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 UFA)
What is his experience? Humphrey entered the NFL after a three-year career at the University of Texas. In total, he appeared in 36 games as a Longhorn and showed some steady growth. He was at his best during his 2018 junior season, catching 86 passes for 1,176 yards and nine scores. Despite his success, however, he went unselected in the 2019 draft. The New Orleans Saints picked him up a short time later, and he spent his first two seasons in the league jumping between the club’s practice squad and active roster.
Nonetheless, the team kept holding onto and giving him opportunities to contribute. As a result, Humphrey appeared in a combined 20 regular season and playoff games between the 2019 and 2021 seasons; he caught 17 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns. While Humphrey was expected to return to the team earlier this offseason as a restricted free agent, the offer was eventually rescinded and he entered the open market — allowing him to join the Patriots three months later.
What did his 2021 season look like? Coming off the most productive season of his professional career — one that saw him catch four passes for 60 yards and a touchdown — the Saints re-signed Humphrey to a one-year reserve/futures contract in January. This arrangement allowed him to compete for a spot on the team’s roster yet again. This time, as opposed to his first two seasons in the league, he was able to make it: Humphrey remained on the active squad past the roster cutdown deadline in late August.
With the exception of a two-week stint on the Covid-19 reserve list in early November, the former rookie free agent spent the entirety of the season on New Orleans’ 53-man team. Along the way, he saw action in 10 games and was on the field for a combined 216 of a possible 1,091 offensive snaps (19.8%). Despite only serving as the Saints’ WR5 in terms of playing time, Humphrey was able to set new career-highs in every major receiving category: he finished the year with 13 catches for 249 yards and two touchdowns.
Additionally, the Saints also employed Humphrey in the kicking game on occasion. Seeing some irregular action on all four coverage or return units, he was on the field for 44 snaps in the game’s third phase (of 469; 9.4%). Even though he did not register any statistics and was, in effect, a depth option with the kickoff and punt teams, his 2021 campaign as a whole was still a positive one for Humphrey: he was more prominently featured than at any point since leaving college and built some momentum heading into Year 4.
What is his projected role? Whereas New Orleans employed Humphrey both on the perimeter and in the slot during his three years there, the Patriots apparently have a different role in mind. They have used him primarily as a big-bodied slot receiver since his arrival in mid-June. On thing has not changed between his stint with the Saints and his new club: the 24-year-old still projects to be used as a depth option rather than a starter-level pass catcher.
Does he have positional versatility? As noted above, Humphrey has some experience both as an outside receiver and inside the formation. His versatility does not extend much farther, though, at least when it comes to his time in the NFL. Back in college, after all, Humphrey also received a few handoffs and even attempted some passes: between his sophomore and junior campaigns at Texas, he carried the football 12 times for 66 yards and two touchdowns; he additionally went 4-for-7 as a passer for 45 yards and another score.
What is his special teams value? Humphrey did see plenty of action on special teams during his time as a Longhorn, and both the Saints and the Patriots have given him some kicking game reps as well. During New England’s preseason opener last week, for example, he saw action on three units: Humphrey played on the kickoff and punt return units as well as the punt coverage squad. He registered no statistics between his eight snaps.
What is his salary cap situation? The Patriots signed Humphrey to a pretty straight-forward contract when they picked him up two months ago. He signed a one-year deal with the team at a total value of $965,000. The deal itself consists entirely of his base salary, which means that there are no guarantees or bonuses of any kind embedded into the pact. He still qualifies for Top-51 status at the moment, but would not create any dead cap in case of a release.
How safe is his roster spot? The Patriots are set at the top of their wide receiver position, with DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor and Tyquan Thornton all either locks or near-locks to make the team. Accordingly, no more than one spot is open — if even that. While Humphrey caught six passes for 62 yards and a touchdown in the preseason opener, he likely will have a hard time making it onto the team even when compared to the other depth receivers such as Tre Nixon.
One-sentence projection: Even though Humphrey will eventually get released during final cutdowns, he will return via the practice squad.