As I did last year, I will once again be selecting one play each week through the 2014 season where I felt as though special movement was displayed. In the post I will then breakdown some things that I felt contributed to the movement performance. In my normal fashion, I will also be very likely to make note of things that maybe could’ve been done differently, as well.
Game: Jets at Chargers
Play: Branden Oliver…not one play…but the whole damn game highlight reel!
What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?
Last week we had a first for the Beyond the Stats Movement Play of the Week when JJ Watt was finally able to put the defensive players of the League on the BTS Play of the Week map. This week, we actually have another first as you will see shortly.
Now, as I watched highlights this morning there were a number of standouts as usual. Both Tony Romo and Dez Bryant from the Cowboys laid down some spectacular plays as Dallas maintained their crazy-good streak. And both New England Patriots RBs had a number of very efficient & dynamic cuts on plays that on a typical week would be more than worthy for the top nod.
However, among the other notable candidates, there were also a number of plays from one particular player that I kept coming back to. Couple the fact that this guy is (was!) relatively unknown to even the most informed NFL viewer and more than deserving of getting some props for putting himself on the map in a big way, I decided to do something a little unorthodox this week and give a player the Movement Play of the Week based on his entire game highlight film for his coming out party!
Though I don’t plan to make this a trend, the player that I deemed worthy of this first-ever occurrence was San Diego Charger rookie running back, Branden Oliver. One look below at his highlight film from yesterday and I think you will see why I felt this exception could be made.
What happened movement-wise on the play?
Yeah, yeah…I know…this all seems like a cop-out for this week’s play of the week breakdown but start this analysis by watching this guy put himself on the map yesterday.
Now that you are done watching that film…say it with me in unison…. “WOW!!!” Feel better now? OK; yeah I thought it would.
Of course because I am not breaking down the movement on a singular play this week like I would on most, I will treat this more as one of my more typical movement analysis revolving around what I saw from the limited plays above by the new Charger #43, Branden Oliver.
I actually got a chance to watch Oliver play last season when he played against Kent State University while he was a member of the Buffalo Bulls (you may remember that the 5th pick in this year’s Draft, Khalil Mack, also was a member of this team). That day he piled up the yards but rather than being impressed by statistics, the thing I noted that day was his true NFL playmaking potential. Unfortunately, playing RB in the MAC isn’t always an immediate claim to fame and Oliver was overlooked a bit but signed as a rookie free agent to the Chargers after the Draft was complete.
One look at Oliver and it immediately prompts most to make the obvious comparison to a former Chargers RB who recently wore #43, Darren Sproles. Sproles, as you may recall, was awarded a Play of the Week award from me just a few weeks back now that he is a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. Crazy thing is; even though I am a huge fan of Sproles and his movement capabilities and am usually not one to make crazy or lofty predictions and comparisons, I DO believe that Mr. Oliver has the capability to bring a playmaking spark to San Diego for years to come in similar ways as Sproles.
Like Sproles, Oliver has the ability to be running on a linear line at high speeds, and then almost unexpectedly drop his hips through flexion rapidly, absorbing all that force from his approach to that point, and throw his outside foot far & away from him at a slicing angle to be able to drive back out sharply in the opposite direction.
Oliver is thick and heavily muscled throughout his lower body (I know, thanks Captain Obvious). Of course, this helps him tremendously in his powerful yet elusive running style with his naturally low center of gravity and rapid cutting actions. He’s only 5’7”-ish and probably 205-208lbs but is more than willing to take on the much larger opponents that the NFL has to offer.
Contrary to what the tape shows, Oliver doesn’t necessarily have burner top-end speed but does have the ability to separate from defenders due to his quick hiccup acceleration which is assisted by not only his explosiveness but his very crisp acceleration mechanics from all starting positions (whether he is at the line of scrimmage in a transitional movement or is re-acceleration after a cut/off-balance move). His stride is short but powerful with very quick ground contact times so his step rate is off the charts (as would usually be the case for an athlete his stature who can move explosively).
A few other major things stood out to me as strengths that will make him a fantastic playmaker in this Chargers offense if they use him correctly:
1. Balance. If you watched the tape, you will see this aspect of Branden’s athleticism on display numerous times. Now, people (i.e. scouts) will often knock shorter guys for the limitations they present in many aspects of today’s NFL but that stature can also assist one in maintaining a lower center of gravity and a wider base of support as well as being closer to the ground (with more hip and knee flexion) when getting knocked around. More balance equates to not only more efficient movement but also many more yards after contact and that is what playing RB today is all-about as it allows one to excel both in tight spaces near the line of scrimmage and out of the backfield/down the field, as well.
2. Vision. When Oliver was in the open field, his quick vision, perception, and tremendous anticipation allows for very responsive and decisive movement actions. You could see on the film from Sunday that he was almost setting guys up in the open field…making them go one way while he had full intentions of going the other as he then does so with a quick speed or crossover cut.
3. Wide-ranged movement repertoire. In a 2 minute highlight tape, I saw him throw down everything from a deep range of motion power cut, to a high angled crossover cut, to a coiled lunge cut. He can cut smoothly & subtly as well as sharply and violently. It’s usually guys like this that are so fun to watch. Because of the chaotic nature of today’s NFL environment for a RB, you have to be ready for anything and it’s impossible to succeed if you are a one trick movement pony. You have to be able to do it all in movement and though it’s only one game’s worth of highlights, I think Oliver has the well-rounded efficient movement strategies and the kinesiological instincts to excite in many ways.
Overall, I am very excited to see how Oliver continues to develop in the League and not only use his existing movement skills but continue to evolve his instincts for the bigger & more explosive opponents that Sundays present in front of him.