Last week I introduced you to something I want to do for the blog each year by naming an All-Movement Team. Today I will bring you the remainder of the Team which will include the Defensive side of the ball as well as the Returners. As a reminder, the All-Movement Team isn’t based at all on statistical measures. Instead it will be based on player’s individual strengths and weaknesses as it pertains to the movement patterns commonly found for their respective position and an analysis of that movement in comparison to his peers.
Defensive Tackle (1)
1. Gerald McCoy (Buccaneers)
McCoy’s greatest movement strength comes from his ability to keep his hips controlled and in positions in which allow him to carry out any movement strategy that he may need depending on what the opposition is presenting to him in their tactical strategy and considerations. Because of this tremendous base of support which requires high degrees of balance, stability, and isometric strength he is able to move easily in a lateral fashion down the line to make plays anywhere on the field for a DT. He creates separation from offensive lineman usually through great use of his arms and the rapid punching action to drive guys off quickly. McCoy will sometimes play with a higher center of mass than most do at the position but because of these active hands he is able to get away with it in most cases.
Honorable Mention-Justin Smith (49ers), Dontari Poe (Chiefs)
Defensive Ends (1)
1. J.J. Watt (Texans)
A true freak of nature at the defensive end position, there are very few defenders in the league who have had as much impact on what the opponent’s offense is able to do as much as JJ Watt. Watt’s biggest movement attribute consists in his acceleration mechanics and the angles that he is able to get off the line. Even when he does get out of position or lose body control, he is able to quickly regain sound biomechanics to produce force to the ground efficiently. For a big dude, he has a great postural control in dynamic movement and this allows defensive strategy to be dictated around knowing that 99 is going to be wreaking havoc with every step taken on the field. From a strength quality standpoint, his rate of force development is his greater asset to allow him to do what he does (which is often the case for defensive ends as they will never get close to developing maximizing force in movement patterns but can produce any functional force quickly).
Honorable Mention-Robert Quinn (Rams), Mario Williams (Bills)
Inside Linebacker (2)
I will be the first to admit that prior to the Panthers visit to play the Vikings at the Metrodome in Week 5 of the ’13 season, I hadn’t given enough respect to Kuechly for not only his movement proficiency but also the level of his play as a whole. However, after seeing him run all over the field on that October day against a good number of my guys I had a new found reference point as to the cream of the crop of movement at a position notorious from bringing out some of the best of the best movers on the defensive side of the ball. Only a rookie last year (he won the Defensive ROY), the 6’3/235lb LB has prototypical size but more importantly eye-flashing explosiveness and the rare ability to stop on a dime from going any direction at high speed, and then immediately re-orient his body to move in an opposite direction at very sharp directional angles due to his . I constantly talk about to my defensive players about the ability to coil & uncoil/load & explode, and Kuechly represents the epitome of that movement action.
2. Patrick Willis/Navarro Bowman (49ers)
Each time I watch the 49ers, I can’t help but marvel by the San Francisco Linebacking tandem which has anchored the best LB-corps in the league. So much so that after Kuechly at #1, I couldn’t make the executive decision which guy to leave in the mix and which one to relegate to only mentionable distinction. The thing is; the two guys are built almost identically (Willis at 6’1 and 240 and Bowman at 6’0, 242) and are cut from the same movement cloth, as well. So much so that if you take their names and numbers off of their backs it would be hard to pick out which one is which when watching for movement characteristics on-film. Both can flat-out move with especially exceptional 1st-3rd step acceleration that makes them jump off of film in the first series of watching them. If either happens to get out of position tactically, they both also possess the make-up speed that so rare at the NFL level.
Honorable Mention-Sean Lee (Cowboys), Kiko Alonso (Bills), Bobby Wagner (Seahawks)
Outside Linebackers (2)
1. Lavonte David (Buccaneers)
Like the #1 LB playing in the Inside, Lavonte David represents the new breed of moving LB on the outside. Though at a little over 230lb he is looked at as a little undersized, he has been able to prove detractors wrong relatively quickly at the NFL-level mostly based on his tremendous movement proficiency. And because of this age while playing at a very instinctual position, his movement will continue to become even more efficient and flashy as he gets even more attune to where he is supposed to be tactically (i.e. his assignments) and how to process/read opposition more fully. Still, David has the type of movement proficiency in all planes that at first glance makes him look like a very big safety that just happens to be wearing a number in the fifties. His initial step in any direction is especially explosive.
2. Clay Matthews (Packers)
#52 in green and gold has to be on any list due to the sheer uniqueness of his physical prowess. His athleticism and explosiveness in any movement plane is almost from another planet. However, the one knock from a movement mastery standpoint on the Claymaker would be his injury history especially around his hamstring. I highlighted this elephant in the room in my breakdown of him during Training Camp and unfortunately, it didn’t get better as he missed a number of games this past season due to this issue yet again (as well as an unrelated injury ending his season). Of course, movement efficiency for any player should be evaluated with an emphasis not only on performance characteristics but also any time injury can be potentially traced back to a movement fault. In addition, the mechanism behind any frequently injured hamstring is going to be hamstring imbalance/weakness and/or movement behavior that results in it being pulled or strained. If you want to see my more complete analysis of Matthews from Training Camp, take a peek here:
Honorable Mention-Aldon Smith (49ers), Tamba Hali (Chiefs), Terrell Suggs (Ravens)
1. Patrick Peterson (Cardinals)
Though Richard Sherman is the best all-around corner in the league when taking everything into account; it’s a different story when it comes to the best movers at the position. Patrick Peterson is doing his best to uphold the #21 on his jersey to the all-everything stature of another famous #21, Deion Sanders. Quite simply; Peterson is one of the NFL’s best all-around athletes and movers. The scary thing is, at 23 years old, I believe he can still get much better if he takes the right focus and aims in his preparation. Right now Peterson is one of the best instinctual movers at any position…which is a very good thing and often puts him a step ahead of his competition before movement has even begun to take place. The crazy thing is that he can still develop some degree of technical mastery in cornerback-specific movement patterns to take full advantage of his crazy athletic prowess. The sky is the limit for this #21.
2. Aqib Talib (Patriots)
Very rarely mentioned as one of the top cornerbacks in the league (very unfairly, in my humble opinion), Talib does most definitely possess world-class movement ability at the position. He not only has the mid-range and top-end speed to stay on the hips of even the game’s fastest wide-outs, but he also has the short distance acceleration and fluent directional-change abilities to adequately handle team’s very shifty slot receivers. This diversity at the position comes in a package that is prototypically-sized in this day and age of larger CBs in the NFL. He has fantastic control of his base of support and center of mass when he goes from one movement strategy in one particular plane of motion to another (such as from a backpedal to bail and run or in lateral redirection and acceleration action).
Honorable Mention-Joe Haden (Browns), Alteraun Verner (Titans)
1. Earl Thomas (Seahawks)
When I talk to any of my guys in the league who have played against Earl Thomas and the consensus quickly comes in: Thomas moves like no other safety right now playing the game. Though there are a lot of good ones out there, Earl Thomas is special. He has speed & range like a corner, is as physical as many linebackers, and places his body in short directional changes like an offensive player. During multi-directional movement and in a variety of situations, he is able to do the right thing from almost any biomechanical position; Thomas is as efficient of a mover as they come in the league at any position.
2. Troy Polamalu (Steelers)
Some may look at this selection and think it was a misprint especially as #42 has most definitely lost a step from his old form. Avid Steelers fans will have noticed this based purely on the amount of bigger plays that Polamalu began to give up this season. However, he still makes far more than he gives up and when he makes these plays you can still see flashes of movement brilliance. That all said, his overall position-specific mastery still ranks slightly above the new breed of safeties listed below (though those kids are catching up quickly; literally).
Honorable Mention-Jarius Byrd (Bills), Eric Berry (Chiefs), Tyran Mathieau (Cardinals)
Kick Returner (1)
1. Cordarrelle Patterson (Vikings)
At Vikings Training Camp back in August I ran a series of player evaluations. One of these included a breakdown of the new, very raw Vikings wide-out and return man (see it here! https://footballbeyondthestats.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/training-camp-13-player-movement-evaluation-cordarrelle-patterson/). At that point, I criticized him in a few ways but also praised him as well. Like any exceptional return man, Patterson truly thrives in the most chaotic, fight-or-flight type situations and has the ability to hit full speed in a just a few steps. He started to come on as a receiver later in the season as he began to understand the Vikings playbook to a greater degree but his true movement proficiency could really be seen on display during kick returns where teams quickly elected to kick away from him or pooch it short to keep it out of his hands in every way, shape, and form. Only a rookie, Patterson is gonna be a good one for years to come especially as his technical movement mastery begins to match is God-given motor potential characteristics.
Honorable Mention-Trindon Holiday (Broncos), Jacoby Jones (Ravens), Devin Hester (Bears)
Punt Returner (1)
1. Dexter McCluster (Chiefs)
McCluster won my Play of the Week award for Week 4 and this was for good reason. In that play, McCluster put on arguably the best single movement display I witnessed all season in a series of 10 seconds. And this wasn’t a one and done type thing. Every time he gets the ball he is able to show off all of his well-rounded movement proficiency in even the most extreme of situations (nothing is more cognitively and physically demanding than returning punts in the NFL). McCluster has the ability to put himself at some of the most extreme cutting leverage angles (take a peek at his steep shin angle from the ankle to the knee) as anyone in the league today and is one of the most efficient lunge cutters you will find at any level.
Honorable Mention-Trindon Holliday (Broncos), Travis Benjamin (Browns)