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Florida offensive tackle D.J. Humphries quickly rising up draft boards

NFL scouts are enamored with the size, potential and athleticism of Florida tackle D.J. Humphries. AP Photo/John Raoux

Not many players embody the unpredictable swings of the NFL draft more than offensive tackle D.J. Humphries, who's been labeled a stay-in-school cautionary tale and an ascending first-round pick, all within a few months.

The NFL Draft Advisory Board told the junior to remain at Florida, where he never made an All-SEC team. The board branded him a third-rounder or worse. Now, many analysts have Humphries pegged as a first-rounder.

That's because Humphries, respectfully, didn't trust the advisory board.

He trusted his feet - and his gut.

Humphries' NFL combine performance helps explain those instincts. The 6-foot-5 Humphries bulked up from his college weight of 285 to a robust 307 and shuffled like a Zumba instructor inside Lucas Oil Stadium, prompting two NFL personnel officials to label him an "impressive athlete."

Another showcase awaits Humphries at Florida's pro day on Tuesday.

"Everyone expected me to be light and weak," Humphries said. "I turned a lot of heads."

Turning general managers into first-round believers is the next mission.

In a tackle class lacking clear-cut top-five picks, Humphries has upside to tempt a few teams on April 30. But Humphries isn't an easy evaluation, because even he admits his inability to maintain weight affected his play.

Best foot forward

Saying Humphries moves like a wide receiver isn't that far-fetched.

Before becoming a prized offensive tackle recruit out of Mallard Creek High in Charlotte, North Carolina, Humphries worked the receiver route tree with his dad, a former Arena League receiver also named D.J. Thinking his son would make a good tight end, the elder Humphries taught the youngster how to get out of breaks, work a slant rout and complete a ladder drill.

"Things would get heated in those workouts where we wouldn't even talk to each other on the way home," the elder Humphries said. "I definitely pushed him."

Years later, after reading the NFL letter advising him to stay in school, the younger Humphries thought of those route trees. He thought about the footwork.

Then, he devised a plan. The elder Humphries wondered if his son might angle for top billing in the 2016 draft, but the younger Humphries believed he would test well in workouts after adding weight.

First, he had to improve his diet. He needed muscle weight. Student refund checks didn't accommodate trips to Whole Foods, and the training table wasn't always tempting. Gators teammate Max Garcia noticed Humphries guzzled protein shakes on campus but couldn't maintain bulk. Preseason gains vanished every October.

"With classes and meetings, sometimes, you don't have time to eat," said Garcia, a guard/center prospect in this year's draft. "I'm proud of D.J. He's shown dedication. You could always see the talent."

Humphries surpassed 300 pounds with help from EXOS draft training in Pensacola, Florida, and catalyzed by a 5,000-calorie-a-day diet packed with lean proteins.

"I gained 25, and my gut still got smaller," Humphries said.

Agent Jon Perzley regularly received smartphone picture updates of Humphries standing on the scale. "At 293, then 296, then higher and higher," Perzley said. "He was incredibly diligent."

Now, at least one respected analyst, NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah, lists Humphries as his top tackle. Many observers expect him to be selected in the late first round, or early second round at worst.

Humphries doesn't question the advisory board's process. But he disagreed with its assessment.

"My job was to prove them wrong," Humphries said.

'So that's what he can be'

Not everyone is convinced. One NFC talent evaluator said Humphries is physically impressive but "should be better than he is," citing inconsistency and trouble handling speed rushes. Missouri defensive end Shane Ray, a likely top-10 pick, recorded two sacks against Florida last season.

Humphries, who weighed about 265 as a freshman, missed a combined seven games because of knee and ankle sprains.

To knock Humphries for those factors is to miss his natural ability, said Gators offensive line coach Mike Summers, who has 35 years of experience working with tackles.

When scouts consult Summers, he senses they like Humphries but are still trying to figure him out. He turns on game film and explains nuances - body positioning, "creating movement with his finish" and pre-snap adjustments.

"The more people dig into his football instincts, athletic ability and passion, they say, 'So that's what he can be. OK, I see it,'" Summers said.

The elder Humphries wondered if teams would unpack the weight issue and overlook his son's talent. Then, the father realized the positive. The fact his son was able to start three games as a skinny freshman should be celebrated.

"To play in the SEC at that weight, you have to be pretty nasty," the elder Humphries said. "He hasn't come anywhere near where he can play."

Perzley is hearing at least one team compares Humphries' athleticism to Dallas Cowboys tackle Tyron Smith. "Not a bad comp," Perzley said.

'Hump' day

Family and friends call Humphries "Little D," "Hump" or "Gatorade," a nod to his frequent trips to the cooler in youth football.

His personality is just as flavorful, said Summers, who recalls Humphries challenging him to 40-yard dashes after every practice. "He feels like there is no one that can challenge him, and he'll say that jokingly, but I think he means it, too," Summers said.

Humphries' grandmother, Elizabeth Means, reminded him "everything you do is a blessing." She died when Humphries was in high school. Humphries considered her his "rock." Humphries recently lost a mentor in Mo Collins, a former Oakland Raiders lineman who died of kidney failure in October. Collins taught Humphries the tackle position in his teenage years. Collins reminded to finish blocks with power and pump intensity into every down.

"D.J. brought the juice in practice," Garcia said. "You could always tell he was there."

The photo of Humphries on his Gators bio shows him with a stern look on his face. Humphries admits that it's his default expression when walking alone, and he says people are surprised to discover his jovial side.

Meantime, he's still trying to show people the real D.J. Humphries.

"Millions of people would love to be in my shoes," Humphries said. "I'm serious about what I'm doing."