This blog has now been in existence for three full NFL seasons. No matter what I put out here, over the course of each & every year, this very post is the one that stands out as my favorite to write. As I have said in previous years of this rendition, this post represents a way for me to recognize the player who I believe, after all of my countless hours of movement analysis is all said & done, is the most masterful mover currently playing on NFL Sundays.
Speaking of those previous years, I would be amiss if I didn’t at least recognize our previous winners of this so-very-prestigious award (along with their respective analysis write-ups attached for your reading pleasure).
2013 – LeSean McCoy (Running Back, Philadelphia Eagles)
2014 – Earl Thomas (Safety, Seattle Seahawks)
As you can see from those names listed above, the BTS Mover of the Year goes to the player who I feel possesses the most well-rounded & fully developed movement repertoire per their given position and who they are as an individual. They move in highly authentic & effective ways and find themselves most often in the most efficient biomechanical positions.
As I am constantly preaching to my peers across the League though, high movement proficiency is defined by more than efficient biomechanics. Thus, I also highly value the use of diverse/robust movement strategies, consistent behavioral characteristics, tremendous cognitive-perceptual decision-making, and overall game instinct as a big piece of my movement equation. When I label someone the Mover of the Year, they must be the definitive hallmark of movement mastery in sport; ownership, optimization, virtuosity, efficiency and effectiveness.
When I went through my All-Movement Team player-by-player this year, a few players continued to appear to be the frontrunners for the 2015 Mover of the Year:
- Adrian Peterson – The former League MVP (and undoubtedly the best RB to play within the last decade) made his first-ever All-Movement Team this year through his hyper-adaptive nervous system adjusting his movement behaviors to match the ever-changing environment around him
- Von Miller – The versatile veteran has achieved a high level of mastery within his craft on a number of different fronts and is the definition of a blend between violence & grace on a football field
- Earl Thomas – Last year’s champion still possesses some of the most well-rounded movement skills across positions…and of course, to become the champ, you gotta beat the champ
- Antonio Brown – So, SO, SOOO bloody good at his craft and his movement behaviors are a big piece of this (see below)
Each of these players is masterful in their own right and bring a different movement skill-set to the mix. And honestly, standing on their respective movement strengths, each player has a rare body of work and from a qualitative analysis standpoint, has highly optimized their movement strategies and biomechanical solutions specific to his positional demands and individual features (both strengths & weaknesses).
However, as I compared apples to oranges (remember they play different positions and have different movement requirements on a field), one player continually stood out even amongst this select group of proficient and masterful athletes. So when all things were finally weighed out and considered, the 2015 Mover of the Year really became a no-brainer. And the winner, and new champion is…Antonio Brown, WR of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
To those of you who follow me here at the blog or on any of my social media outlets, this selection will probably come as no shock whatsoever. It seems as though week-in and week-out, AB84 does something on a football field which leaves both the general football fan and a football movement specialist alike with their jaw dropped to their feet. I am not ashamed to admit that I have a crush on Antonio Brown’s movement behaviors and biomechanics.
I am saying this right now; Antonio Brown IS the most masterful moving football player I have watched, analyzed, and broken down since starting this blog (and maybe even much further & deeper than that too…more to come).
He is THAT good right now. Scary thing here is; we are talking about a player who is just 27 years old and is finishing just his sixth NFL season. This same player has been a First Team All-Pro in each of the past two seasons and to be clear, he is STILL getting better each and every week. The thing is; nowhere can this improvement be seen more than in who he continues to evolve into regarding the Biodynamic Structure of his movement solutions (i.e. the stability & adaptability of how his brain, behaviors, and biomechanics link to solve problems on a field).
Our top moving WR from 2014 is really as consistent as they come in this day & age of high performers in the League. But where does this consistency come from? Well, I know at least one Football Movement Specialist (ah hem; myself) who would say it’s his movement behaviors and biomechanics which serve as the foundation for this high performance and separate him from all others playing in the game today.
So, let’s that a bit deeper look into what makes the 2015 Mover of the Year tick:
Let this be a lesson for all of you “smaller” receivers out there: in this size-swooning, pass-heavy craze that the NFL is currently in, you don’t have to be a physical freak of nature in order to excel at the position. Is Brown a freak in some ways? Yes. But is he a freak in the same breath and in the same ways as guys like Julio Jones or Calvin Johnson (at the WR position), or guys like JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, or Adrian Peterson (at other positions)? No way, not even close.
We are talking about a guy who is just a touch over 5’10” and probably just a meal or two heavier than 180 pounds. To take the measurable values another step further, back in 2010 at the NFL Combine (oh you know how I love talking about that here on this site), he wasn’t the fastest in his class (at 4.48s-40 yard), nor the most vertically (33.5 inches) or horizontally (8 feet, 9 inches) explosive, the strongest (just 13 bench press reps…like that means anything anyway), or even the quickest at change of direction tasks (4.18 20yd-short shuttle). However, what the Central Michigan product (not talking about a powerhouse school here are we?!) DOES do is take advantage of that which God gifted him with and utilizes more of his specific motor potential than others do in the movement actions which are specific to use ON THE FIELD.
In last year’s All-Movement Team I said, Antonio Brown has “the most prettiest & most precise of route running you will see in the League today” and that thought hasn’t changed today. I believe AB84 is still without equal in this regards and I think the distance between him and the rest of the crowd has lengthened. This characteristic greatly contributed to his recognition as the Mover of the Year.
Obviously, being a receiver in today’s NFL is a lot about being in the right place at the right time and winning one-on-one match-ups. Well, AB84 frequently gets the other team’s best and routinely beats them in embarrassing ways (to the tune of 136 catches for 1,834 yards).
To shed light onto the precision of these behaviors, take a look at this short video from John Brenkus & the crew over at Sports Science. Granted, by removing one key contributing mechanism to the Biodynamic Structure of one’s movement solution we can always expect there to be significant changes to the other local characteristics of the Structure of the movement (both brain & behavioral inputs and biomechanical outputs), you can see that globally-speaking, Brown knows how to handle this & adjust for the variability to maintain a similar end result (this is the one of the marks of a masterful mover).
Diverse & Virtuous Cutting Movement Execution
When AB84 gets a ball in his hands, he is as dangerous as it comes across the League at any position. And unlike so many of the other most agile performers in the League, he is not pigeon-holed into just a few movement strategies with more predictable motor pattern biomechanics (i.e. some guys are just good lunge cutters or some can only crossover, etc).
Just by watching him over one game you can get the impression that Brown is out there ‘creating’ depending on what the problem of the situation is offering him (note: this is what we should look to develop in our offensive skill players rather than rote rehearsal of predetermined movement patterns). He’s always improvising; his brain & behavioral attunement to the affordances for action, whether he’s moving in tight spaces or open ones, is so diverse and virtuous that it almost allows him to be have a solution (or a combination of solutions) that can emerge based on his wide movement repertoire.
I have qualitatively assessed his level of movement proficiency in a wide variety of movement problem situations (such as opponents at different distances, moving at different speeds & angles, and his body moving with different preliminary actions, etc) and he is almost equally adept at and finalizing the movement solution into any number of movement patterns across a spectrum of varying levels of biomechanical positions.
Of course, as we have mentioned more times than I can count here at this blog, the ability to reaccelerate in change of direction tasks (whether it’s route running or in open environment situations) is largely dependent on and limited by, the player’s deceleration ability. Well, we have found yet another area that Brown has almost no equal in. And the diversity in movement solutions we highlighted above applies yet again in this area. Whether the problem (and it’s solution) calls for him to plant with a wide base of support and a low center of gravity or if he needs to execute within a narrower/tighter stance because of the action responses that are afforded, he can do just that…and modify his “optimal” solution based on the situation…and this allows him to adequately prepare the body for the subsequent directional change accordingly. Note: to display this level of deceleration mastery, he must be in a coiled position in his penultimate steps (steps leading up to the braking/plant step) and get the plant leg in a pre-active position PRIOR to it striking the ground.
Acceleration Technical Proficiency
When I talk about mastery in sport movement, I often talk about an authentic movement signature; a technical execution of frequently performed movement actions which is specific to the individual per who he/she is and problems they must move within (as opposed to adherence to some idealistic technical model that is supposed to apply to all). Well, when we look at AB84’s acceleration mechanics this movement signature fits much more within an authentic movement signature model than it does an idealistic technical one. And this is a good thing; this allows Brown to be able to own and control his acceleration mechanics and modify them accordingly to match the nuances of the problem.
Though he has a short stride which manifests into his fast turnover in the early steps of his mechanics, you can see that not only does he hit high movement velocities early in acceleration (remember he lines up both inside and outside and has to be equally able to accelerate under conditions of tight spaces or in open ones) but that he does so in a very proficient fashion. Namely, when his lead leg gets flexed in front of him, it rapidly attacks the ground back (and away) behind him in a violent, aggressive way. The corresponding body lean and associated force vector angles are made possible not only due to these kinematics (i.e. movement pattern and the biomechanics of the leg action) but also because of his very apparent stretch-shortening cycle utilization…all this means little energy leakage, high efficiency, and overall technical proficiency.
The nature of his acceleration technique (quicker turnover with earlier acceleration speeds attained) quickly morphs into high maximum speeds and mechanics in the midrange to top end that are smooth & efficient. Though he can get a little too much vertical bounce at times at higher speeds, some of this is due to the diversity of problems that he often still has to solve when he’s in those mechanics and at those speeds (likely developed because his equal playing time at both WR and being a returner; the nature of the demands of the problem are drastically different).
Because of this, his hip/knee flexion on the front-side is more of a ‘fluctuator’/variant of the motor pattern than it is an ‘attractor’/invariant aspect of it (meaning; one rep the knee will be high and the next it will be lower depending). However, this allows the pattern to be adapted and flexible to numerous situations.
Kinesthetic sense, awareness, and attunement
Maybe the most fascinating characteristic of what makes AB84 who he is on a field is how attuned his brain & behaviors have become to the affordances for action that he has this uncanny sense for perception that other players simply do not have. I believe this perception (and the linking between psychology and physiology) is more developed than it is inherited. I say this because when I break down his movement solutions and tendencies over time, it appears to be constantly evolving. In this area, I am speaking of his vision (quiet eye anyone?!), anticipation, reading/recognition of opponent behaviors, and decision-making to execute the appropriate solution in situations where it looks like there is no hope given the nature of the problem.
No matter what, one thing is clear to me: his ability to know & understand where his body is in the context of space and time AND in relation to this opponent(s) is so apparent and marvelous that it’s sad to me that it is a quality that is more subjective than it is objective (meaning, it’s less measurable and more noticeable than anything).
If you’ve gotten to this point and you don’t believe that Antonio Brown is currently the most masterful mover in the NFL, then the only thing I would implore you to do is to watch this guy do what he does for even just one game; compare him versus not only other receivers in the game but also the rest of the players on the field. If you aren’t convinced then, you are hopeless! Ha!
All kidding aside though, I believe that what we are watching in AB84 right now is the most masterful mover of the last decade. I, for one, am excited to continue to see where the limits of his potential reside and how his movement behaviors continue to evolve to achieve the upper limits of that potential constraint. If he continues on a similar progression as he has over the last number of years, it will be scary. Whether or not he is taking conscious steps towards this movement skill refinement, or if it’s happening as a by-product of his brain, behaviors, and biomechanics becoming more implicitly attuned to the execution of the right solution at the right time, either way I wish AB84 nothing but my best on his continued success, performance enhancement, and health & wellbeing.
Take a peek at these videos if you want to see AB84 doing his thing: