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Cardinals draft D.J. Humphries with future in mind

TEMPE, Ariz. -- After the first 23 picks of the NFL draft, the future of the Arizona Cardinals' offensive line was waiting.

The Cardinals didn’t expect D.J. Humphries to be available by the time they went on the clock during the first round of Thursday’s NFL draft in Chicago. To them, he was the 13th-best player in the draft. They expected him to be in the middle of a celebration somewhere on Michigan Avenue.

The Cardinals believe Humphries could be the missing link on an offensive line that Arizona general manager Steve Keim thinks can be one of the best fronts in football.

Humphries wasn’t the expected pick, especially with Randy Gregory -- the embattled yet talented pass-rusher from Nebraska -- still available and Arizona’s struggles rushing the quarterback well known. But Humphries makes sense, even if he loses his battle to be Arizona’s right tackle next season.

For now, he’ll be in an open competition with incumbent right tackle Bobby Massie.

“Competition breeds success,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.

Massie is accustomed to fighting for his job and again will be in a battle for his future. But with one year left on his rookie contract, Arizona needed to start building for the future. And the solution stands 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds in Humphries.

Arians didn’t let the magnitude of the moment overwhelm Humphries. He did not name the outright starter. Chances are, however, Humphries will be the starting right guard against the New Orleans Saints in Week 1. He’s mobile, has good feet, is athletic and can bend -- all traits that Keim raved about after picking Humphries.

“When you look at him on tape and you see the things that he does, you see that he has the ability to grow even more,” Keim said. “We felt like if he came back for his senior year, he could potentially even be a top-five pick.”

In essence, Arizona got a top prospect a year early.

Humphries might be young -- he won’t turn 22 until December -- but he embraced the idea of moving to the right side despite playing 16 of his last 17 games at Florida at left tackle.

“No problems with it at all,” he said. “If you can play left, you can play right. If you can play right, you can play left. So, I’m ready for whatever position they need me to play.”

Massie allows the Cardinals the ability to let Humphries mature. If he plays in 2015, Arizona will have to deal with the roller coaster a rookie tackle can take a team on. If he doesn't, Arizona will have a 2016 top-five pick with a year of experience already on its roster.