Two weeks in the preseason, no player on the New England Patriots’ roster has caught more passes than Lil’Jordan Humphrey. After grabbing six passes against the New York Giants last week, he added five more versus the Carolina Panthers on Friday night.
In total, he took those receptions for 133 yards — second behind Tre Nixon’s 137 — as well as one team-lead-tying touchdown. Humphrey’s production and ability to contribute on both offense and special teams can best be described as promising, and at the very least will force the Patriots to make some tough decision come the roster cutdown deadline.
The 24-year-old, after all, seems determined not to go down without putting up a fight.
“He’s made some plays for us since he’s been here,” said head coach Bill Belichick on Friday. “He’s a big kid that is tough and has very good hands and is kind of a big receiver, tight end-ish type of guy, has a good feel, very good instincts in the passing game, handles himself well in the middle of the field with linebackers under him, over him, in between him.
“Kind of does the right thing there and helps the quarterback out and is a big target. He gets some tough yards after the catch. Did a decent job blocking on some of the perimeter plays. He showed up in the kicking game.”
Humphrey’s five grabs for 71 yards against the Panthers were certainly noteworthy, but his biggest play might just have come on special teams. Midway through the fourth quarter, he sprinted down the field on a Jake Bailey punt and was able to bat the football back into the field of play before it touched the end zone turf.
Brenden Schooler downed the ball at the 4-yard line, giving New England’s defense some good starting field position. None of that would have been possible without Humphrey’s effort on the play.
“L.J. is a beast,” quarterback Mac Jones said after the game versus Carolina. “When he got signed here, I remember I texted him and asked him if he wanted to come catch, and he immediately responded and found a way to make it out to where we were and came to our throwing session.”
Humphrey originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2019. He spent his first three seasons with the New Orleans Saints, regularly moving between the club’s practice squad and active roster. In total, he appeared in a combined 20 regular season and playoff games, catching 17 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns.
However, the Saints did not re-sign him in restricted free agency earlier this year. He eventually joined the Patriots three months later.
“He’s a grinder. He’s a big dude. He’s great on special teams, too,” said Jones. “We have great receivers, and it’s great to see them all get a chance to catch the ball and run. He’s a big-body type receiver, and that’s a good addition for us.”
Despite his first name, Humphrey is anything but little: listed at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, he does indeed resemble a tight end, as Belichick mentioned.
In fact, the Patriots did use him in an in-line role on occasion. Whether or not that will be enough for him to make the team as a depth option at both positions remains to be seen; New England, after all, is five deep when it comes to wide receiver roster locks, while Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith stand unquestioned atop the tight end depth chart.
Regardless of his outlook, Humphrey has show this summer that he deserves a spot on an NFL team. Maybe that team will just end up being the Patriots after all.
“He’s come in, really worked hard and made a very positive impression here,” Belichick said. “We’re glad we have him.”