Here we are again! It’s time to recognize the players across the National Football League whose performance, like this blog’s namesake, goes well beyond the stats that they put up over the NFL season. Instead, this list is all about who the athlete is, from a movement performance standpoint, when we compare him versus his peers at his position in the NFL.
To my knowledge, this list remains the only one which uses the analysis (albeit subjective and qualitative) of a player’s movement proficiency to highlight the League’s best movers. The construction of this list comes from the combination of the countless hours of analysis I compile (you can thank my lack of personal life for that) both while studying my own players and then seeking out additional games to uncover every strength, weakness, and nuance of the best movers in the League.
Of course, with any subjective analysis comes a certain degree of bias. However, I do my best to analyze the player for who he is and how he moves rather than what I think and/or know of his off-the-field behaviors that I may not fully agree with (which just so happens to be the case with a couple of guys on this year’s rendition).
Before going any further, if you missed last year’s All-Movement team (Part 1; Offense & Part 2; Defense) and you would like to see who has held their level of movement skill on-par to make our list again, you can check them out there.
Part 1 (Offense):
Part 2 (Defense & Special Teams):
However, it’s time to move on from the past and get to 2016’s most masterful movers.
All-Movement Team; Offense
General Movement Qualities Evaluated: Elusiveness while moving in the pocket, Making plays with feet when plays break down
First Team: Aaron Rodgers (Packers)
Second Team: Russell Wilson (Seahawks)
Third Team: Cam Newton (Panthers)
When evaluating quarterbacks based on their movement, many often think of the most dynamic mover at the position who is playing at that given time with some expectation that every QB deemed to be a proficient mover must look like Michael Vick out there (however, this isn’t 2002 anymore). However, it’s the subtleties of a quarterback’s movement in the pocket that allow him to effectively do what he does by extending plays or making things happen as chaos enters the mix (in the form of very explosive defensive ends and blitzing backers).
To that point, in past years, I may have actually left this year’s top QB mover, MVP-candidate Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers off the list because he was overtaken by guys who seem to always be making plays with his legs (such as Cam Newton and Russell Wilson). However, this season, it seem as though Rodgers was required to make a who lot of something out of nothing more often and the only way to describe the nuances of his movement in the pocket (his sense & awareness, his quiet & quick feet always ready to project him into throwing action, etc) is to use the words “magical” and “efficient.” Thus, for that reason, though he may not win this year’s Most Valuable Player, he gets the next-best-prize and that’s to be awarded as the top mover at the quarterback position for 2016. I would be amiss if I wasn’t quite honest with you here; if there were a singular play that has ever decided a player’s spot on the All-Movement Team roster it was in week 16 of the 2016 season versus the Vikings when Rodgers escaped the pocket impressively outrunning a player I have trained extensively (Everson Griffen) and then made a move on the goal-line on another guy I’ve worked with (Xavier Rhodes) en route to a convincing victory to seal one of his rival’s fate.
General Movement Qualities Evaluated: Robust movement strategy use in diverse conditions, Stopping/cutting on a dime, Accelerative burst
First Team: David Johnson (Cardinals)
Second Team (Tie): Zeke Elliott (Cowboys) & Le’Veon Bell (Steelers)
Third Team: Devonta Freeman (Falcons), LeSean McCoy (Bills)
If you’ve read posts here at this blog in the past you are quick to realize my obsession with watching running backs move: no other position on the football field represents the same type of need & requirement to solve movement problems in the face of chaos as the RB position does (with the exception of punt returners that is but a return happens much less frequently). Additionally, RBs usually have a special place in my heart as you will often see: 1). A range of individual constraints still be able to be successful (as is this case in the list above). 2). A diverse movement skill-set representing the highest of perception-action coupling with more proficient biomechanics emerging (compared to other positions).
Note: though we can’t expect any of them to be compared to the greatest mover of all-time at the position, Barry Sanders (yes, I just wanted to get a cheap plug for some clicks on an older blog post).
That all being said this year’s recognition and rank were actually the most difficult one that I can remember. Honestly, each of the guys across the three teams could have actually been deemed the League’s top mover at some point in the season if we were to take a snapshot of just a few game stretches. Thus, that unique situation made this much tougher; however, it also meant that no matter who I put where an argument could be made for them holding down their spot.
Though last year’s top mover at the position is now off our list (Adrian Peterson), we find a few familiar players who are no stranger to our blog. Each of these guys has found themselves onto our plays of the week numerous times and it’s for good reason. However, when all is said and done, we find Arizona Cardinals RB, David Johnson, sitting firmly atop our All-Movement Team. Though he doesn’t possess the patience, vision, & quick-feet of 2nd Teamer, Le’Veon Bell, or the homerun hitting run ability and sharp cutting angles of the other 2nd Teamer, Zeke Elliott, Johnson represents the best of all worlds and for my money, has the most rounded movement skill-set at the RB position.
Of course, it helps that I almost offered a premonition of this occurring when I saw Johnson perform back in Training Camp in August (https://footballbeyondthestats.wordpress.com/2016/08/11/training-camp-16-player-movement-evaluation-david-johnson/), I also saw DJ31 continue to improve all season long and actually add little nuances to his movement strategies with each passing game. Additionally, though all of the guys on this list are more than one-trick ponies and can be used in the passing game (indicative of today’s NFL), Johnson was simply so much on another level in this regard (getting close enough to smell a 1,000 yard season in rushing AND receiving) that in most seasons he should be a shoe-in for the NFL MVP because of that.
General Movement Qualities Evaluated: Crisp/precise route running, Dynamics in the open field, Linear football speed (ability & mechanics)
First Team: Antonio Brown (Steelers)
Second Team: Odell Beckham, Jr (Giants)
Third Team: Stefan Diggs (Vikings), Doug Baldwin (Seahawks), Julio Jones (Falcons) & Golden Tate (Lions)
They say, to be the champ, you gotta beat the champ. Well, the champ simply wasn’t beat this year. Though he found himself again as an All-Pro, Pro Bowler, and 1st Team All-Movement Team member (the first to be awarded that recognition three consecutive years in a row!), it’s weird to say that last year’s Mover of the Year didn’t quite appear to be his normal, dynamic self as I have analyzed in the past. Yes; we now live in a world where you’re the best at what you do and you get called out…but that’s what you get when you raise the standard like he has. In fact, though he did produce statistically, it also wasn’t to the same level as we had grown accustomed to in 2014 and 2015. However, I would love to still have 106 catches for 1,284 and 12 TD and have it be considered a down year from some Movement Coach running his mouth on a random blog.
That all said though, let me give credit where credit is due: Antonio Brown is still the most proficient mover at the WR position based on some of his other worldly movement characteristics. Yes; there are some guys like Odell who it could possibly be argued to have more explosive & dynamic playmaking ability after the catch or Stefan Diggs who it could possibly be argued to have more crisp deceleration and consistent plant ability than Brown. However, these are big “could be” and “possibly be” statements because Brown is still pretty dang good but my hyper-critical self was still left looking for more every week as I watched him play…especially after I made the statement last year that “Antonio Brown is the most masterful moving football player I have watched, analyzed, and broken down since starting the blog.”
Nonetheless, AB84’s superior combination of virtuous movement solutions, efficient biomechanics, and overall kinesthetic sense & awareness that are displayed most consistently across this position, is still enough to keep him on top of the movement totem pole for another year. A word of advice for 84 though; stay off of ‘Dancing with the Stars’ in 2017 and do what’s necessary to raise the states and wow this movement eye yet again (and if you need any help in doing that look me up!).
General Movement Qualities Evaluated: Wide receiver-like route running, Athleticism to make plays happen after the catch, Proficiency to be an effective blocker
First Team: Travis Kelce (Chiefs)
Second Team: Jason Witten (Cowboys)
Third Team: Jordan Reed (Redskins), Delanie Walker (Titans)
At the tight end position, I am always looking for the movement qualities that are most conducive to success at the position from an all-around standpoint. Yes; it is fun to watch some of these TEs especially in college football who are more like glorified WRs dynamically outrun defenders vertically down the field but it’s even better to watch a guy who has mastered more of his craft and the nuances that go with it. In today’s NFL, this means you have to at least be a respectable enough factor as a blocker both in the run game as well as when chipping in pass protection.
I believe it can be said that no tight end better exhibits this well-rounded nature to his game than Kansas City’s Travis Kelce. Quite simply, Kelce often finds himself in highly efficient biomechanical positions in each of those aspects of the game, as well, even with his large frame and staggering anthropometrics. In the passing game, of course, he can stretch the field vertically (which is shown in his high yards per catch #’s) but it’s his improved ability to run routes with more precision that probably took him over the edge this year and leapfrogged him above his TE peers (including last year’s top TE mover, Delanie Walker). Though he’s had highly productive receiving seasons in the past, when comparing Kelce’s deceleration, plant, and breaks this year versus previous seasons, it seems as though he’s gotten much more attuned to the using his body in time & space while performing under the interpersonal opponent demands that most attempt to counteract his behaviors with.