At first glance, it seems absurd that the Patriots would play Lil'Jordan Humphrey -- a guy who didn't even make the initial 53-man roster -- more than Kendrick Bourne in any game, let alone two games in a row to start the season.
But then, you see blocks like the one he made on a Damien Harris run during New England's game-sealing drive against the Steelers last Sunday, and you realize it's not about Humphrey's playing time isn't a slight against Bourne at all.
The fourth-year pro has simply been earning his way onto the field regardless of what anyone else is doing, according to none other than Bill Belichick himself.
"No doubt," the coach said when asked if Humphrey was carving out a role on offense. "I think [that's] some of the toughness that we were talking about. Made a big catch there on that second-and-long that got us into a third-and-short there in the last drive where Mac ended up scrambling.
"He's had a lot of tough yards in preseason. Made some tough catches over the middle. Fought for some extra yardage, run after the catch with the ball, blocked, played in the kicking game. He's had big plays for us."
Humphrey was, of course, one of the stars of training camp, finishing among the Patriots' leading preseason receivers and making at least one "wow" play on special teams that had people thinking of him as more than a purely training camp body. In fact, he was working with special teams star Matthew Slater at the start of yesterday's practice on punt coverage drills, showing how important he will remain to that phase of the game.
Now, with the Patriots doggedly trying to establish their running game early in the season, he's taking a similar route to the one N'Keal Harry did in 2021 when he was pushing for playing time: blocking in the run game.
On the "1st and Foxborough" podcast, Evan Lazar of Patriots.com said Humphrey's presence in three-receiver sets made the offense more dynamic and athletic in the run game especially.
"On that 18-yard run late in the game by Damien Harris, Terrell Edmunds comes down from his deep safety spot and tries to meet Harris in the hole, and here comes Lil'Jordan Humphrey, just clocks him out of there, kicks him right out and pins him inside," Lazar said. "Those are the little things where maybe Lil'Jordan Humphrey gets to that spot in time…and maybe [Hunter Henry] doesn't get there."
Humphrey also had an 11-yard catch and could've had an even bigger day had Mac Jones seen him streaking wide open on a coverage bust down the middle of the field for a possible touchdown.
Though he might seem like a minor piece to the puzzle, the former undrafted free agent out of Texas has repeatedly shown he can help the Patriots whenever they put him on the field.
"He's an interesting guy," Belichick said. "Doesn't really fit a mold for a certain position. But he's a good football player."