Broncos WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey had to earn Sean Payton’s trust

Lil’Jordan Humphrey hasn’t always been in this position.

The Broncos receiver enters Week 2 not only promoted to the active roster from the practice squad, but as a player coach Sean Payton trusts.

Payton earlier this week gave Humphrey one of his most complimentary tags, saying “you know exactly what you’re getting” when it comes to the 25-year-old wide receiver.

It would be easy to assume Payton’s always thought that about Humphrey. After all, New Orleans drafted him out of Texas in 2019 and Payton loaded up on several former Saints players during his first offseason as the Broncos’ head coach for a reason.

Humphrey, though, had several bumps in the road over his first three years.

It’s why he doesn’t take Payton’s trust in him now for granted.

“I take a lot of pride in it, especially since, being with him early on in my career, that wasn’t the case,” Humphrey said. “I had to earn that with him. I earned that rapport with him.”

From 2019-21, Humphrey appeared in 18 games (six starts) and in 2021 caught 13 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns.

Along the way, though, he found himself in the doghouse with Payton on multiple occasions.

“For sure, he’ll let you know,” Humphrey said. “Or you just won’t be in. I messed up a couple of times early in my career and I kind of knew he didn’t think I was that guy. I had to earn that rapport with him.”

Humphrey says most of the trouble came from missed assignments. He can remember specific plays, though he doesn’t see a reason to dredge them back up now.

“I still remember, he probably forgot all about it,” Humphrey said with a smile.

In Week 1 against Las Vegas, Humphrey’s progress showed. He played the second-most snaps among Denver wide receivers, trailing only Courtland Sutton, and caught a first-half touchdown by expertly maneuvering along the back line of the end zone and providing quarterback Russell Wilson a big target.

“‘LJ’s been in games,” Payton said Friday. “If it was college or high school and you asked if he’s lettered, he’s lettered a lot in an NFL season.”

The Broncos will get reinforcements at wide receiver this weekend with top receiver Jerry Jeudy’s return, a development Humphrey said he’s excited about.

“He brings a different aspect to the offense, for sure,” Humphrey said. “He’s quick, can run, can run with the ball. Everything. He’s another explosive part to the offense and all it’s going to do is enhance our progress.”

Even still, expect Humphrey to have a substantial role himself. More than six weeks after Tim Patrick was lost for the season to a torn Achilles in training camp, it’s Humphrey who’s emerged as the closest thing to his replacement. He’s 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds and the offensive staff trusts him to play the same kind of big slot work Patrick was set to have, which features operating in the middle of the field and doing the dirty work in the run game.

It’s a role Humphrey wasn’t sure he was going to have when he was released on roster cutdown day and then brought back on the practice squad.

Then he played 45 of Denver’s 64 offensive snaps against the Raiders.

“The goal always is to work your way up and be on the active,” Humphrey said. “But I didn’t know what was going to happen. I just knew I was going to work and whatever happens happens.

“Be ready, stay prepared.”

A lesson he learned in New Orleans and now is putting into practice in Denver.

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