2016 All-Movement Team: Defense & Special Teams

Picking up where we left off yesterday, we now come to our 2016 All-Movement Team for Defense and Special Teams. As you will see below, we see some all too familiar faces as well as some potential upsets with some players getting leapfrogged because of some of their highly proficient peers.

Defensive Line/End

General Movement Qualities Evaluated: First-step explosive burst, Ability to move rapidly change direction to move laterally to track down ball carriers

First Team: Khalil Mack (Raiders)

mack

Second Team: Cameron Wake (Dolphins)

Wake.jpg

Third Team: Michael Bennett (Seahawks), Everson Griffen (Vikings), Aaron Donald (Rams), Danielle Hunter (Vikings)

I remember tweeting early in this season something along the lines of “what has happened to Khalil Mack?” My tweet had a negative connotation of course because through the first three-ish games to the season he had not shown up nearly to the degree as some NFL (and apparently Movement Coach) pundits had expected. Well, fast forward a few months and another dozen games and I think I got my answer as to exactly where Mack was.

Playing a position (well, of course he could be also be listed on this team as an OLB) which is absolutely bombarded with athletic prowess and movers who have diverse toolboxes, Khalil Mack quite simply stands out. Across both this defensive/special teams as well as yesterday’s offensive All-Movement Teams, no player at his position was as big of a shoe-in for All-Movement Team recognition as Mack. He’s that good. And of course, keep in mind that he is only in his third year in the League.

When you watch Mack you see a guy who not only has a never-ending gas pedal but a wicked first step under various circumstances (whether it’s from his stance or it’s going in any direction out of a stop). However, let’s call a spade a spade here…both 2nd Teamer, Cameron Wake, and 3rd Teamer, Everson Griffen, have a more explosive get-off from their stance and both are million miles an hour type of guys. The quality that separates and leap-frogs Mack over his counterparts is the adaptability and use of the other moves that he can find in his very young and ever-growing toolbox. It definitely helps that Mack has a naturally low COG which allows him to be in more biomechanically-sound positions more frequently than not, as well.

Inside Linebacker

General Movement Qualities Evaluated: First step explosiveness in all directions, Ability to rapidly cover ground laterally

First Team: Bobby Wagner (Seahawks)

Wagner.jpg

Second Team: CJ Mosely (Ravens)

mosley

Third Team: Luke Kuechly (Panthers)

On a team full of superstar movers and superstar football talents Bobby Wagner is quietly stellar in both regards and week in and week out is as consistently good of a football mover as you will find across the League. Asked to do a little of everything from his inside backer spot, he roams sideline to sideline and yet drops and covers as well as anyone at the position due to his crisp, efficient biomechanics and fluid hips which leads to wicked short distance acceleration burst. I’ve often heard my offensive skill players across the League brag on Kuechly’s football IQ but when watching Wagner it has become apparent that he is nearing Kuechly level in this regard where he is so often in the right place, at the right time, and in the right position that it leaves one almost speculating if he has the other team’s playbook or not. Though he’s been a tackling machine for his vaunted Seattle defense over each of his four years in the league, he stepped up another level this year and is now the League’s top tackler.

Even though Wagner was nipping on Kuechly’s heels for the top spot on our list a few years ago, I am confident in saying that there is no mover at the position I would take who is more well-rounded and masterful than #54. Cut from a totally different movement signature mold we find our 2nd and 3rd team performers who make as much of an impact for their respective teams as Wagner does and each are truly impressive in their own right. It is a case of apples versus oranges though in the biomechanical positions we see each of the three get into (this inter-individual variability is not only okay but it’s also expected and desired).

Outside Linebackers

General Movement Qualities Evaluated: Accelerative burst, Deceleration/Cutting ability to be able to stop quickly to reaccelerate while tracking ball carriers

First Team: Von Miller (Broncos)

Miller 2.jpg

Second Team: KJ Wright (Seahawks)

Wright.jpg

Honorable Mention: Vic Beasley (Falcons)

Like his premiere pass rushing counterpart and fellow All-Movement 1st Teamer, Khalil Mack, Von Miller also walked away with his status on our list among his peers for the second straight season. When I turn on a Denver Bronco game, even with a defense stacked full of proficient and dynamic movers, my eyes fixate and don’t deviate from #58. It’s inevitable….if you wait long enough, you are going to see something special that NO ONE ELSE who is playing in the League today is capable of doing on a football field. He is that unique…that incredible…that one-off.

I have often bragged about Von Miller’s balance between violence and grace (so much that we could make comparisons to the late and great, Derrick Thomas) and his low, coiled slicing positions that he would get into as he beats highly incapable (at least to counteract Miller) right tackles just grasping for nothing but air and feeling nothing more than a whiff of air or possibly a quick stab to the chest. However, for the first half of this season, it appeared that Miller had actually grabbed even more control in a wider range of adaptable movement solutions than he had. In fact, early in this season, I was so enamored with Miller’s movement mastery that I thought it was a shoe-in for us to have our second defensive recipient of the Mover of the Year award (you will have to wait and see who gets it this year!). Though his movement performance fell-off just slightly as the season progressed (as is often the case in the NFL because of numerous factors and often uncontrollable circumstances).

Cornerbacks

General Movement Qualities Evaluated: Mastery of body position & control (especially during cover situations), Movement speed in multiple planes, Athleticism while ball in the air (leaping ability, tracking, kinesthetic awareness, etc)

First Team: Chris Harris (Broncos)

Denver Broncos v New England Patriots

Second Team: AJ Bouye (Texans)

Bouye.jpg

Third Team: Marcus Peters (Chiefs), Patrick Peterson (Cardinals)

Year-in and year-out the cornerback position is one of the most difficult positions to analyze from a movement standpoint. This is due to a number of reasons. First of all, of course, we can’t ever separate perception and action in the coordination of movement skill & execution. Thus, at cornerback, how you move will all stem from who it is that you are forced to cover day each week. Thus, those CB’s who travel and follow the opponent’s best WR obviously get a little harder draw because they are often up against a very superior athlete. Secondly, much of one’s movement requirements & demands while playing CB depend on the tactical strategy of the defense as well as the secondary calls. Of course, every defensive position has this predicament, but corners just have to deal with it more than everyone else.

That all said I try to compare equally and as objectively as possible while taking all of those things mentioned into consideration. After it was all said and done, this year’s top cornerback mover is Chris Harris of the Denver Broncos. Though his counterpart on the opposite side, Aqib Talib, is a proficient mover in his own right (in fact, Talib made an All-Movement Team back in 2013), the former undrafted Harris is the new standout and not only earned this nod as the top mover but ironically also was voted to the Pro Bowl and got All-Pro honors to boot (hmmm…so it turns out movement on a football field sets someone up for success, huh?!).

You are probably noticing a trend in this year’s defensive members of the All-Movement Team…they all happen to be the most well-rounded and polished players at their position and really, Harris is no exception to this as he is a shutdown type of guy in the pass game and has no problem and has no problem going up and hitting someone as needed in run support. In this way, he actually reminds me a whole lot of a guy I have spent a lot of time studying in my former athlete, Antoine Winfield (though physically built much differently). Though he doesn’t possess the all-around athleticism as a guy like Patrick Peterson, Harris’s reaction ability and movement time after reaction is second to none at the position when he must plant and break in any direction out of any number of body positions (this includes his exceptional recovery speed).

Though some people across the League will be saying who is this 2nd Team guy (in AJ Bouye), Houston Texan opponents from this year know exactly who he is and fans of some team next year are about to, as well (as he is set to likely break the bank after this truly breakout season). Bouye is a fearless mover and will trust his eyes and allow his feet to follow. Cut from that same mold as Bouye is the ultimate risk taker in our 3rd Team CB in Marcus Peters who has instinct beyond the belief and trust in his abilities (even if sometimes he doesn’t read the boundaries of those abilities all that well and gets beat occasionally). Finally on our 3rd Team we find the most dynamic athlete at the position in the aforementioned Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals who is a former 1st Team performer on our All-Movement Team way back in 2013.

Safeties

General Movement Qualities Evaluated: 360 degree movement ability (acceleration, stopping, changing direction), Movement speed to snipe guys from anywhere in the field in both aspects of the game, Athleticism while ball in the air (leaping ability, tracking, kinesthetic awareness, etc)

First Team: Landon Collins (Giants)

collins

Second Team: Earl Thomas (Seahawks)

thomas

Third Team: Harrison Smith (Vikings), Eric Weddle (Ravens)

I’m not going to lie…I sat and stared at this one for awhile before I typed the names out. And that was after a whole lot of film analysis and debriefing in my own mind all season long. In fact, it may have even pained me more than it should have to write “Second Team: Earl Thomas”…and I may have typed and deleted it over a dozen times. Anyone who has read Football Beyond the Stats or followed any of my tweets in the past knows my affection for the Seahawks Safety. For that last three years prior, Earl Thomas has been the ONLY mainstay in the entire League who has found the way onto our list as the League’s best movers each year having also earned the Mover of the Year distinction in 2014.

https://footballbeyondthestats.wordpress.com/2015/01/14/2014-bts-mover-of-the-year-earl-thomas/

On the other hand, I couldn’t NOT give the top nod to Landon Collins. As mentioned above, this selection wasn’t without its reservations regarding Earl Thomas being relegated to 2nd place, but also because I had been less than impressed by Collins prior to this season. However, I will give credit where credit is due: anytime a Giant game was on, and with each passing week, it seemed as though Collins continued to: see the field more clearly with finely attuned visual scanning, make more decisive movement selections more quickly, display more proficient biomechanics, and overall make more dynamic plays in the process. Looking as though he has leaned up a bit (probably 10-12 pounds in fact), he is moving more explosively and is now the standout safety that the Giants selected high a few years back.

Don’t get me wrong though: Landon Collins doesn’t have the same shot-out-of-a-cannon acceleration burst or playmaking ability as Earl, nor the staggering range of 3rd teamer Harrison Smith, nor the consistency of Eric Weddle, but he did have the best of all of those worlds combined in 2016. Thus, this safety race was an awful lot like the running back position; the top spot should go to the most well-rounded of mover and not necessarily the one with the most extreme of traits.

Special Teams

Kick Returner

General Movement Qualities Evaluated: Top end speed (mechanics & ability), Curvilinear running ability (mechanics & speed), Open-field decision-making

First Team: Tyler Lockett (Seahawks)

Lockett.jpg

Second Team: Cordarrelle Patterson (Vikings)

Another repeat performer from 2015, Tyler Lockett is still the guy when it comes to returning kicks. Unfortunately, the second year player found himself on the wrong end of a horrific injury at the moment after week 16 injury where he broke his tibia and fibula. We can only hope that he returns to form next season and recovers fully. Though, like most prolific kick returners (including 2nd Teamer Cordarrelle Patterson), Lockett is dynamic and has blistering speed in the midrange to the top end varieties, it actually seemed as though his short distance acceleration improved and in this Movement Coach’s humble opinion, Lockett has the most masterful of agility ability in a wide variety of contexts (such as open field or tight spaces) as anyone returning kicks.

Punt Returner

General Movement Qualities Evaluated: Stopping in multiple biomechanical positions, Movement strategy use in chaotic conditions, Rapid acceleration

First Team: Tyreek Hill (Chiefs)

Tyreek Hill, Tourek Williams, Jason Verrett

Second Team: Marcus Sherels (Vikings)

No longer a stranger to the entire NFL let alone our blog here, we find the more dynamic and proficient mover at punt returner since Dexter McCluster (another Kansas City Chief) back in 2013. Hill is good…real, real good. Though a former world class track athlete, the danger he provides isn’t only through his special linear speed ability. Instead, he has learned how to take that speed and put it to use on a football field hitting angles and running away from guys that others in the League can’t dream of. However, it’s his overall biodynamic structure of his movement skill (sensory, perception, cognition, and biomechanics) that allows him to do the extraordinary things we’ve seen from him this season. Often times, track athletes are only straight-line type of guys but Hill has as finely tuned perceptual ability and cognitive decision-making as anyone at the position (with Sherels right there with him on the decision-making front) which is surprising for a rookie who we would think would still be trying to figure out his way around the movement problems present in the ever-changing environment of the NFL. That all said though, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this is possibly the first year that a punt returner could actually be one of the top contenders for our Mover of the Year award (a feat that not returner nor rookie has yet to accomplish).

 

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