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Sparkling 2015 Class Brings Rookies Hope

D.J. Humphries, Markus Golden, David Johnson excelling in second years


Cardinals left tackle D.J. Humphries (right) celebrates a touchdown by running back David Johnson.

As David Johnson piled up his physics-defying runs on Sunday, D.J. Humphries was often nearby with a block and a smile.

When linebacker Markus Golden returned a fumble deep into Washington territory, Humphries joyfully accosted him near the 20 before making his way to the offensive huddle.

Due to the positions they play, the Cardinals' other early draft picks from 2015 are going to find the spotlight more often, but the Cardinals' second-year left tackle is ecstatic with his slice of the shine.

"That was one of the things that cut me deepest about last year," Humphries said. "Those guys are ballin', and the first-rounder is on the sideline in sweats. It definitely feels good to be a part of that 1-2-and-3 (round picks) contributing. … I was really pissed last year when I wasn't a part of it."

Almost two years into their careers, the Cardinals' first three selections from last season look stellar. Humphries is progressing nicely at left tackle, Golden (second round) has seven sacks off the edge, and Johnson (third round) leads the NFL in total yards.

The other selections still with the team are fourth-rounder Rodney Gunter, who is in the defensive line rotation, and fifth-rounder J.J. Nelson, who had the critical 42-yard touchdown grab against Washington.

"It's still being evaluated, but it's a heck of a class so far," coach Bruce Arians said. "And I think this one we just had last year is going to be a heck of a one in time."

That's the elephant in the room, as there has been a contrast between the unmitigated success of the 2015 class and the heretofore disappointment of the current rookies.

Like with Humphries last year, the top pick, defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, has made a negligible impact. Unlike last year, that's been the case with the entire group, as only third-round pick Brandon Williams has started a game and he lost that gig after two weeks.

The second-year players are preaching patience, knowing first-hand the steep learning curve upon NFL entrance.

"Some guys that come in, it takes them a little longer," Golden said. "Third year, if you're not doing anything by then, then OK, but first and second year, you have to at least give guys a chance to go out there and show what they can do. It's hard in the NFL your first year."

Rookie center Evan Boehm, the Cardinals' fourth-round choice, never pushed A.Q. Shipley for the starting job in training camp, and he only sees the field on special teams or as a fullback in short-yardage situations.

Boehm is doing everything he can to contribute this season, while also keeping an eye toward the future. His locker sits next to Humphries' at the team's training facility, and they have discussed their similar rookie paths.

"Sometimes we'll sit and talk about what he did last year compared to what I'm doing, and what I need to do differently to be where he's at next year," Boehm said. "To see his perseverance, and to see the way he attacks it every day, it gives me motivation to say I can go out and do what he does."

There is a kinship among players drafted the same year. When safety Tyrann Mathieu, linebacker Kevin Minter or running back Andre Ellington makes a big play, Golden said he watches linebacker Alex Okafor get pumped for his Class of 2013 brethren.

"That's how everybody is," Golden said. "You want to see the guys you come in with have success. Just like me. If I see 'Hump' out there doing good, I'm really excited. Same with David."

There is also a feeling of empathy permeating from the second-year players as they watch the wayward rookies attempt to find their footing. Time will tell which ones succeed and which ones fail, but Humphries wants them to persevere.

"It sucks they're kind of caught in that, 'You're drafted and you're expected to do this,' when in reality, these are young men," Humphries said. "They played college ball for three years. There's a lot of stuff that we don't understand coming out of college, but nobody cares that we don't understand it.

"It's not like anybody should feel sorry for us, but that's just the nature of the beast of the business that we're in. It just sucks hearing younger guys are getting caught in that, especially knowing what I've been through with it. They've got to know to stay patient and keep working. The process is the process. Your path is different than everybody else's."

Images of Alexandria, who was chosen as the Cardinals' Pro Bowl cheerleader representative on Sunday

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