The Kansas City Chiefs have drafted and developed good centers in their storied history. In the 1960s, E.J. Holub was named to the AFL All-Star team five times and was twice an AFL All-Pro. In the 1990s, Tim Grunhard went from being a second-round pick to an 11-year starter. More recently, Mitch Morse and Rodney Hudson earned themselves big paydays for other teams after starting their careers in Kansas City.
But none of those players excelled as quickly as the team’s second-round pick in 2021: Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey.
Humphrey started every game of his rookie season. Pro Football Focus named him a first-team All-Pro and he finished third in the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year voting.
He also earned the respect of solidified All-Pros like his teammate Chris Jones, who was asked about Humphrey following Monday’s training camp practice at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph.
“He should’ve been an All-Pro last year,” the defensive tackle told reporters emphatically. “He was snubbed from that — [and they] snubbed him from his first Pro Bowl.”
2021’s first-team All-Pro center was Jason Kelce of the Philadelphia Eagles, followed by the Los Angeles Chargers’ Corey Linsley on the second team. On the AFC’s Pro Bowl team, Linsley and the Indianapolis Colts’ Ryan Kelly were chosen as the centers.
That may change in 2022 — but if it does, it won’t be because Humphrey was focused on those things.
“Yeah, I appreciate that from Chris,” Humphrey expressed to reporters on Monday. “Getting that praise from guys as good as him is pretty cool. To be honest, I don’t really try to think about those things during the season. I try to just focus on what I can do for the team — and how I can improve my game.”
Humphrey already faces the pressure to live up to his rookie year. But as his head coach Andy Reid pointed out on Monday, he also has to stay ahead of his opponents — who are now more familiar with ways to attack him.
“I’ll tell you: Creed’s challenge is this year,” said Reid. “He was a newcomer last year. Now, all these coaches have had a chance to study him for an offseason — and they’ll try to throw him some different pitches in there. So how he handles that will be important. He played well last year — and was one of the best — but these coaches get creative. They’re going to challenge you. The work that he’s put in — and he’s putting in now — is so important.”
In training camp, the Kansas City defense has been working on plenty of the creative blitzes and exotic pressures for which it is known, so those off-speed pitches and change-ups are already being thrown Humphrey’s way.
Then there is the direct competition with the Chiefs’ defensive line. In the trenches, both sides are putting up strong repetitions in practice, working hard to make both lines better. Jones, for one, knows a good offensive line when he sees one.
“Those front five guys are relentless,” said Jones. “They’re doing a very good job of protecting Pat — and that’s what we need. We compete every day, challenge each other. It’s good when you have that type of talent on the offensive line, because it makes guys around them better — especially the defensive line.”
In drills — like the one-on-one pass sets that are shared widely on social media — it’s not about how loudly your shoulder pads clang together. It’s not about burying your opponent in the ground, either. It’s about getting better at the little things — something Humphrey has embraced.
“It’s definitely competition first,” he noted of the drills, “but it’s also a good time where you can settle down, work on different techniques that you want to use to get better at. The way I approach it is [this]: obviously, you want to win the rep — but you want to be able to work on different moves going against different guys who have different moves, who may rush differently than the other guy you went against. Really, for me, it’s about settling down, making sure you’re working on those moves the right way and then just competing after that.”
With the expectations that have been set for him, Humphrey may have to live up to them by actually being selected to the Pro Bowl or All-Pro teams. It won’t be easy, but if he can be kept on his toes against practice competition like Jones (and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s schemes), he should be well-prepared.