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What are the Titans getting in free agent WR Adam Humphries?

Marcus Mariota’s newest target is a route running wizard with a sure pair of hands in the middle of the field.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Titans and former Buccaneers receiver Adam Humphries agreed to agree to — it is just the legal tampering period after all so contracts can’t be signed just yet — a four year contract worth a total of $36M. How much of that number is guaranteed remains to be seen, but it looks on its surface to be a pretty solid deal for both sides. Humphries’ $9M per year average salary will likely fall just outside the top 25 at the receiver position after free agents Golden Tate and Tyrell Williams agree to new contracts. In 2018, Humphries finished 18th in total receptions, 29th in receiving yards, and 31st in receiving touchdowns among wide receivers and at just 25 years old, he’s still an ascending talent just entering his prime, so I’d say this contract isn’t completely out of line with his value (a rarity for a day one signing in free agency).

A former teammate of DeAndre Hopkins, Martavis Bryant, Mike Williams, and Sammy Watkins at Clemson, Humphries went undrafted in 2015 after spending much of his college career operating in the shadows of his mega-talented colleagues. He totaled just 127 catches, 1,097 yards, and 3 touchdowns in his four years as a Tiger and failed to receive an invite to the combine. His testing numbers from Clemson’s pro day were nothing special (4.53-second 40, 6.96-second 3-cone, 4.32-second short shuttle, 32.5-inch vertical, and a 122-inch broad jump at 5’-10” and 194 pounds) so it wasn’t terribly surprising that he didn’t hear his name called on draft day.

However, he was given a chance to come to rookie mini-camp in Tampa Bay (where Titans GM Jon Robinson was then serving as Bucs Director of Player Personnel) and impressed enough to earn a spot at training camp and then eventually made the 53-man roster as a depth wide receiver and return specialist. His NFL debut came against the Titans as he contributed two catches for 14 yards in the midst of a blowout loss for the Bucs.

By his second season, Humphries had carved out a starting role and has seen his impact increase every single year as a pro.

2015: 27 catches on 40 targets for 260 yards and 1 touchdown

2016: 55 catches on 83 targets for 622 yards and 2 touchdowns

2017: 61 catches on 83 targets for 631 yards and 1 touchdown

2018: 76 catches on 105 targets for 816 yards and 5 touchdowns

His 2018 production would have led the Titans in receptions and touchdowns and checked in just behind Corey Davis in yards. Obviously, the volume of the surrounding offense had a lot to do with that — the Bucs passed 625 times compared to the Titans 437 times — but Humphries also produced those numbers on a team with a lot more talented targets around him in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate. The fact that he was able to force his way into the lineup with that group and then earn a 16.8% target share is pretty impressive in itself.

Advanced stats liked Humphries quite a bit in 2018. Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement placed him 26th out of 84 qualifying receivers while Sharp Football’s Target & Output Adjusted Receiving Success metric had him as the 19th best wide receiver target out of 182 players.

Humphries had a clearly defined role during his time in Tampa Bay. He lined up as a slot receiver on 83.8% of his offensive snaps in 2018 and he does the majority of his damage within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage between the numbers. Humphries had just one target deeper than 20 yards in the air downfield out of 105 total targets last season. That’s obviously not what the Titans are paying for here. What the Titans are paying for is a major upgrade in slot production. In 2018, Humphries finished top five in receptions and yards from the slot, keeping elite company with Adam Thielen and JuJu Smith-Schuster as the only other players to finish top five in both categories.

I would suspect that the Titans will keep his role largely the same here. He will almost certainly spend most of his time in the slot and see plenty of bubble screens and option routes. Humphries is more dynamic than you might expect with the ball in his hands. He’s got a suddenness to his game that shows up in his route running, run after catch, and in his duties as Tampa’s primary punt returner.

These bubble screens to Humphries were a big part of Tampa Bay’s offense over the past couple seasons. He shows great instincts when it comes to reading and setting up his blocks on these plays and as you can see below, he’s got some real burst when he puts his foot in the ground and gets up field.

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The Bucs also worked tunnel screens into their offense with Humphries. Here you can see some of the contact balance that makes him dangerous with the ball in his hands. He’s not going to run defenders over or juke them in space, but he’s slippery and has a good feel for where to go to maximize the gain on the play.

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Humphries did some of his best work on third downs where he shows a knack for finding the line to gain. Here, he takes a short pass on 3rd and long and finds a way to slither through the defense to pick up the first down. He converted 15 times on 3rd and 4th down in 2018.

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His best asset is an ability to get open in the middle of the field, consistently showing nuance and a good understanding of leverage in his route running. Here, he gives a subtle jab step outside at the top of his stem to gain inside leverage and then uses his body to shield off the defender and make the catch.

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Humphries doesn’t have great speed, but he’s fast enough to maintain separation after he breaks open.

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His quick feet make him a tough cover in the slot where he is regularly working with a two-way go.

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The biggest weakness that I’ve seen with his game is his play strength when he’s confronted with physical man coverage. Here’s an example. Bigger corners and safeties can lock him up from time to time when they can get their hands on him.

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Being in the slot helps mitigate that issue though. Humphries rarely sees press coverage there and the free releases allow him to do what he does best, gain leverage and get open. Once he completes those steps Humphries shows outstanding hands, dropping just 1 of 81 catchable targets from the slot in 2018. He’s fearless over the middle and shows excellent concentration in contested catch situations.

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That toughness and concentration will likely quickly endear Humphries to Titans fans. Multiple plays like this one show up on his tape as he holds on to tough catches over the middle despite massive hits. This one came on a 3rd and 7 and resulted in a big first down conversion.

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Humphries can dish out some punishment as well when he gets the opportunity. I know that some roll their eyes when I talk about receivers blocking, but a group of receivers that are capable and willing blockers can have a profound effect on both the running game and screen game. A wide receiver like Corey Davis who takes blocking seriously can change a ho-hum 10 yard gain into a 60 yard touchdown.

The Titans now have another very willing and capable blocker in Humphries which is particularly useful in the slot. Here, he goes above and beyond on a chip, completely devastating Dee Ford before releasing down field into his route.

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Reports indicate that the Bucs did offer Humphries a contract, but given their depth at receiver, obviously they weren’t willing to go to the level that he was able to find on the open market. Ultimately, the Titans beat out the Patriots to secure his signature.

It’s not surprising that the Patriots were chasing Humphries. He fits the mold of so many of the most successful Pats receivers of this two-decade run of dominance. It started with Deion Branch and continues today with Julian Edelman, but a shifty slot receiver has always been a constant in their system. With Edelman slated to become a free agent in 2020, it’s quite possible that Bill Belichick viewed Humphries as the reigning Super Bowl MVP’s heir apparent. It’s never a bad thing to find yourself competing with the Patriots for the services of a slot receiver. That typically means you’re fishing in the right hole.

Despite my best efforts — seriously, I did not want to be this guy — I’ve struggled to come up with a comp for Humphries better than Edelman. Edelman has a little thicker build at age 32, but both move with a similar herky-jerky style and exhibit exceptional toughness over the middle of the field. Both are surprisingly good after the catch due to balance and vision. Obviously, Edelman is the high end of what Humphries could become, but at just 25 years old, the former Buc is light-years ahead of where Edelman was at the same age.

“In a creative offense, Humphries has top-30 receiver upside. He does a bit of everything: He’ll help exploit the seams in a defense, he’ll make tough catches over the middle and he’s a willing blocker. He won’t take the top off a defense, but he’s good at creating separation. The Titans are better with him, though $9 million per season isn’t team friendly. Given the Bucs’ depth at receiver and lack of cap space, it makes sense why they let Humphries walk.”

— Thomas Bassinger, Tampa Bay Times (@tometrics)

Humphries also checks all the boxes for leadership, work ethic, and “football character”. His ability to uncover in the middle of the field should lead to an increase in easy access throws for Marcus Mariota.

I would expect the Titans to enter 2019 with Corey Davis, Delanie Walker, and Adam Humphries as their top three targets in some order. Jon Robinson is probably not adding another veteran receiver and it makes sense that he wouldn’t. With Corey Davis set to make $6.9M in 2019 and $8.0M in 2020 before a potentially expensive fifth year option in 2021 and Humphries now checking in at $9.0M per year, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to sign another expensive free agent to come in and take a 50% snap share and only get maybe three or four targets per game at the most. Instead, I would expect the Titans to target an outside receiver in the draft to come in and compete with Taywan Taylor and Tajae Sharpe for that third wide receiver spot.

While the contract numbers look big on the surface, the Titans don’t have a ton locked up beyond that first season according to Albert Breer’s report.

That means that the Titans can get out from under this deal pretty quickly if things don’t work out for Humphries in Nashville. I don’t expect that to be the case though. Humphries fits a clear need for the Titans and is about as risk free from a durability and character standpoint as you can get. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do to help Mariota get over the hump this fall.