Creed Humphrey sets stage for long-term greatness with KC Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 16: Creed Humphrey #52 of the Kansas City Chiefs runs onto the field during introductions against the Buffalo Bills at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on October 16, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 16: Creed Humphrey #52 of the Kansas City Chiefs runs onto the field during introductions against the Buffalo Bills at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on October 16, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images) /

The Kansas City Chiefs have set the stage for another long-term great player to emerge in the NFL given Creed Humphrey’s first two seasons.

At the present moment, Chiefs Kingdom is well aware of (and thankful for) the reality of watching multiple future Hall of Fame players in their prime. This is the golden era of Kansas City Chiefs football and the sustained run of success has dwarfed anything accomplished by previous generations—including that of Hank Stram and the team’s first Super Bowl run.

What will become important to the Chiefs going forward is their ability to draft and develop future greatness to match the present—a task that can prove difficult to do given that parity reigns in the NFL and asset-building enterprises like the annual first-year player draft are tilted toward the have-nots. That’s why the emerging greatness of Creed Humphrey should be a much bigger story than it is.

The need for Creed

The game of football is won and lost in the trenches, they say, and while the importance of quarterback speaks otherwise, for those teams with an elite signal caller, the ability to protect (or get after) the quarterback is what makes all the difference. Any Chiefs fan recalling the patchwork offensive line facing Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV has vivid memories of that painful lesson.

Back to Humphrey. The Chiefs had two selections in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft (yes, that’s a lot of twos) and they went with Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey after taking Missouri linebacker Nick Bolton (who was also among the leading Pro Bowl vote-getters at inside linebacker for a spell).

The need inside was clear for the Chiefs. Austin Reiter was an impressive stopgap, a nice story who went from waiver claim and NFL journeyman to starting in multiple Super Bowls for the game’s best quarterback in Patrick Mahomes. However, the Chiefs knew what greatness looked like at the position, having employed Rodney Hudson and then Mitch Morse during Andy Reid’s tenure. Mahomes deserved similar protection up front and they made it happen with the selection of Humphrey.

Signs of greatness

In his first season in K.C., Humphrey was an instant upgrade as he slid into the starting role from the first days of training camp.  It shouldn’t have surprised anyone given Reiter’s low ceiling and Humphrey’s pro-readiness. He had, after all, blocked for the likes of Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts at the college level.

In his first season, Humphrey provided the Chiefs with durability and dynamism up front. He played in over 1,100 snaps during his rookie campaign, a season that ran long into the postseason, and he allowed only a single sack and one other quarterback hit in that span of time. He committed six penalties and earned respect for being such a quick study and contributor for the Chiefs.

In his second season, Humphrey has taken his play to even greater heights, which is why drafting someone with such a ceiling was so important. While the Chiefs signed Joe Thuney as a big-ticket free agent to be the anchor up front, Humphrey’s development actually shifts that toward the center, giving the Chiefs’ offense an unparalleled interior when adding Trey Smith to the mix.

In 2022, Humphrey hasn’t allowed a single sack and he’s committed half as many penalties (3) as he did in 2021. He’s done so in the face of the league’s toughest schedule and even the NFL’s worst teams save their best efforts (or best players) for the moments they will face the Chiefs. While opponents have a year of tape on him, the truth is that Humphrey’s own technique has gotten better, his body stronger, his mind sharper.

Room for a new star

This year, the Chiefs will send a few players to their first-ever Pro Bowl (or at least on paper, if they are headed to the Super Bowl instead), including starting center Creed Humphrey. While there were calls for him to potentially represent the AFC at the position last season, his first year in the league, it felt a bit unrealistic for someone to earn league-wide respect so quickly. Corey Linsley and Ryan Kelly were instead selected and Humphrey was left out of the mix.

This year, the names at the position have completely changed, and this is what works so well in Humphrey’s favor. Not only are Linsley and Kelly out of Pro Bowl running entirely in 2023 (the NFL labels the Pro Bowl by the year in which it takes place, not the season it’s celebrating), but Humphrey is now the new starter. This is huge.

Here’s how Pro Bowl voting normally works with a few yearly exceptions: Players who are well-known and highly regarded around the league often stick around when they are voted in. One great example: Chiefs pass rusher Frank Clark made the last two Pro Bowls. That’s not to knock Clark, although the inclusions there are questionable. It is important, however, to acknowledge how the NFL’s version of an All-Star process works.

The ability of players to occupy a Pro Bowl position even if they are undeserving in a particular year means that it can be hard to dislodge someone who is well-known. If someone is already established as a conference’s best player—say, the AFC’s best center—then a worthy player can be left on the outside looking in. (Think how many Pro Bowls ignored Mitchell Schwartz entirely because left tackles are valued more than right tackles.)

Back to the Pro Bowl rotation here. Linsley, of the Chargers, is oft-injured and won’t be a legacy player. Kelly tanked when the Colts’ line tanked this year. Mitch Morse is the backup for Humphrey at this stage and he’s played at Pro Bowl levels in the past, but he’s also much older and his history of concussions won’t make him a mainstay at the position as well. Ethan Pocic of the Browns is enjoying a nice year, and Tyler Linderbaum of the Ravens looks like a future star. However, the former is likely more a product of playing between two Pro Bowlers at guard and the latter is a rookie (see Humphrey last season).

All of this comes back to the opportunity in front of Humphrey. By playing for the league’s most high-profile team in front of the most popular player in the sport, he’s going to be continually given an opportunity to showcase his greatness to the widest audience. He’s already claimed the best starting spot in his conference after just two seasons, and there’s no real competition to supplant him at this point. In short, he could be in that AFC center’s role for years to come.

The importance of a Pro Bowl

All of this comes down to an important realization: entire NFL careers are often summarized by mentions of how much hardware a player earned in his career. One or two sentences are intended to encapsulate what a player meant for an entire generation of football, of how much impact he made on the field year after year after year. And that’s why it’s key for Humphrey to earn as much hardware as he can.

Say what you want about the legitimacy of the Pro Bowl, but when it comes time to debate Humphrey’s status among the best players of his era, these are the things that will make the list. How many Pro Bowls did he make? How did his offenses fare? How successful was his team? The Chiefs as an organization are taking care of a lot of this, but Humphrey is also rewarding them up front by providing another player with a legitimate shot at all-time greatness given his early career trajectory.

Nothing is guaranteed in this game and Humphrey has a long, long way to go before earning a mention alongside the league’s best centers ever. But a player has to start somewhere in his first two years and the door seems wide open for Humphrey to potentially be that player that we appreciate the same way we reference Travis Kelce or Patrick Mahomes today.

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