Year in and year out, the Mover of the Year blog post ends up being my favorite one to write. Many people may think it’s relatively easy to select the recipient of the award but in reality it gets relatively nerve-wrecking because it’s something that to me I just have to get right! Because of that, I analyze and breakdown countless hours of film to come to this point: watching plays at various speeds and from various camera angles looking at the most minute of characteristics in order to determine who the most masterful mover in the League is for that given year.
Through our four years of existence at the blog, we have seen some exceptional performers show their movement skill prowess for the whole world to see…luckily, we have been there to break them down and analyze these behaviors.
2013 – LeSean McCoy (Running Back, Philadelphia Eagles)
2014 – Earl Thomas (Safety, Seattle Seahawks)
2015 – Antonio Brown (Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers)
Just a quick reminder, as with most here at this blog, our Mover of the Year doesn’t have a whole lot of do with statistics…we keep that for all the other year-end awards and recognitions for players that you will see scattered across the internet. Instead, the 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. The recipient displays proficiency within all three B’s of movement coordination, control, and execution: behaviors (sensory-perceptual), brain (cognitive processes & decision-making), and biomechanics (efficient & effective motor output). Additionally, when someone is awarded our Mover of the Year, they are everything that movement mastery is in sport; ownership, optimization, virtuosity, efficiency and effectiveness.
To help us narrow it down while also highlighting a few of the game’s best, a number of players were truly considered to be my frontrunners for the 2016 Mover of the Year as the season progressed:
- Khalil Mack – Now a two time 1st Team All-Movement Team member, this diverse young superstar for an up & coming team continues to add tools to his toolbox
- Von Miller – Always so close…but yet seems so far away…of being named the most masterful mover in the League on our site, Miller remains the definition of a perfect mixture of violence & grace on a football field
- David Johnson – The new cream of the running back crop, the League’s top dual purpose threat has found his way onto our blog being featured numerous times since entering the League in 2015
- Antonio Brown – Last year’s Mover of the Year who I felt was as masterful of mover as I have broken down in my time of analyzing movement behaviors on film since the start of this blog
- Tyreek Hill – The resident rookie on this list of standout movers, it’s arguable that down the stretch of this season no mover was seeing the field, making decisions, and displaying as dynamic of output ability as Hill was as he gave a final push for the Mover of the Year award
Honestly, when looking at this list, I really couldn’t go wrong: I like each of these players and their respective movement skill-set. In fact, I could watch each one do their thing on a football field for hours and continue to marvel at their authentic movement signatures and the level of mastery of each of their movement toolboxes as it pertains to their positional demands and individual constraints. Each is highly adaptable and highly optimized and brings a little different something to the table. But at the end of the day, there can only be one 2016 Mover of the Year.
And the winner…and new champion is…David Johnson, RB of the Arizona Cardinals.
The New Champ
To put the cherry on top of the season that our Mover of the Year for 2016 just gave us, let’s watch a highlight video of DJ and hopefully attempt to recognize how special his performance (and his movement) really was.
Before going any further, let’s rewind a bit…
Back in August, before the NFL season even began, I realized the emergent starting RB for the Cardinals was on the verge of true superstardom as you can see by clicking the link below from August 11th.
It’s not like I am some sort of prophet or anything here because when it was all said and done even I wouldn’t have predicted that we would be sitting here with Johnson standing firmly atop the movement throne and that he would be coming off of a season where each week he seemed to “wow” all viewers while knocking on the door of a 1,000/1,000 season (rushing/receiving) in a Marshall Faulk type of fashion (though his movement behaviors are much different than #28’s). Though we don’t spend much time reflecting on statistics here at our blog (as just because a player racks up stats doesn’t necessarily make them a stellar mover), Johnson’s numbers are simply staggering…
Rushing: 293 attempts for 1,239 yards and 16 TD
Receiving: 80 catches for 879 and 4 TD
Let me remind you that this is a running back putting up those receiving numbers, ladies and gentlemen…and a workhorse bell-cow running back at that!
Over the first eight weeks of the season Johnson seemed like a man possessed to go prove me and my preseason statements right (man how I love anyone who does that!). Through those weeks DJ31 had all but wrapped up the Mover of the Year award having thrown down the top movement performance of the week in three of those eight; a feat never accomplished here in the four seasons of this blog’s existence. You can take a peek at those plays to refresh your memory here now…
Thing is, at this point, I have written so much about David Johnson this season that I have almost run out of superlatives (now I know how NFL game broadcasters feel). In fact, we can almost use the above four blog posts as our Mover of the Year analysis (and we are going to).
However, I do want to say a few additional things (I know, go figure, right?!).
First, I want to make something abundantly clear: would the version of David Johnson that I witnessed back in the summer and wrote about on August 11th have won the Mover the Year award…especially over the special candidates that were in this annual, hotly-contested race? No, he would not have! So, that speaks to something: the current version of DJ31 is an evolved one. Though I was highly complementary of Johnson’s physical prowess and some aspects of his movement skill back in August, one of the hallmarks of mastery in movement (at least to me) is having a wide and open movement toolbox and at that time, Johnson had only shown brief flashes of this especially in the coordination and control of agility movement actions. In those agility situations, he gravitated to a comfortable (but highly specialized & adaptable) lunge cutting action in most cases and seemed to almost shy away from other movement strategies at times (for whatever reason we can only speculate). So in order to win the Mover of the Year, he had to become a player who got even more attuned to the common problems found within his position and continued to refine the most accurate solution responses in his movement arsenal in order to solve those problems.
Second, on this same note and token, it is VERY evident (at least to someone who has studied him extensively) that when he senses & perceives certain aspects of the ever-changing task within the organic environment that is on NFL Sunday field, he now has a whole lot more at his disposal. Do me a solid here and go re-watch each of the videos linked above (the season highlight video as well as each of the three plays of the week).
If you pay close attention to any of the above, you will see a player who is now more well-versed at using his sensory/perceptual system to gather information about the quickly emerging problem (the explicit nature of his eyes and visual gaze have become particularly evident). Additionally, you will also see a player who combines movement patterns together and can find himself in nearly any position (or sequences of positions) and he has a way to execute and carry out an effective movement solution.
On this note, we also see the inclusion cutting actions extending beyond a lunge cut and we start to see variations of this (at different step lengths and depths) as well as different cutting actions entirely in the form of both speed cuts and power cuts taking place at various speeds, to various depths/ranges of motions, and at various angles (both his body’s slicing & projection angles as well as his angle of deceleration & re-acceleration). For a big dude, his crossover is starting to become surprisingly efficient, as well (taking place with little reaching and a good hip coil & knee flexion…both features that RBs with higher COG often lack).
Now, as a Movement Coach, this enhanced skill acquisition brings me to a fascinating spot and line of questioning. Namely, did Johnson consciously attempt to add these movement strategies & solutions (such as through practice activities and tasks) or were they were learned implicitly in some way (through the dynamical complex system that is the NFL environment)? Furthermore, how much (if at all) was Johnson trying to improve in this fashion? Was he aware that this evolution of his movement skills was taking place or any of the aspects of the structure of the skills (such as changes in perception or cognition)? The answers to these questions are beyond me…though this would be a truly fascinating case study to really know the truth and attempt to determine how much of this evolution of the biodynamic structure of his movement skill was gained through each of the respective fashions.
No matter which way you cut it, David Johnson just had a season for the ages. He won’t win the NFL MVP (though his name should be being talked about for it more than it has regardless of his team’s record)…he may not win the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award (though I don’t know how he doesn’t?!)…but he was special in 2016 and IS the most masterful mover of this year; bar none, straight-up! Kuods, DJ31…may you have a quick & speedy recovery from your week 17 injury and find your movement groove early & often in 2017!
Finally, I have a little surprise for y’all! Because one year-end award for movement recognition just isn’t enough (not counting our All-Movement Team that is), I have decided to add a few more year-end awards to recognize the game’s most masterful movers in the League each year: the ‘Most Improved Mover’ and the ‘Most Impressive Rookie Mover.’ Both of the awards will be judged and selected based on the same criteria as the Mover of the Year (and the All-Movement Team for that matter).
Most Improved Mover
Landon Collins, Safety, New York Giants
As mentioned in this week’s All-Movement Team blog, at least prior to this season, Landon Collins never really impressed me all that much. However, as I looked across that All-Movement Team and as I watched players all season long, no player improved his movement skills and capabilities as much as the New York Giant now All-Pro safety.
Most Impressive Rookie Mover
Tyreek Hill, Punt Returner, Kansas City Chiefs
When talking about Tyreek Hill I hesitate to ever even write punt returner next to his name. Like a college player being recruited who doesn’t have a fit for a position per se and instead the team just lists him as “athlete”….we should almost do the same with Tyreek Hill. Proven to have been statistically productive for the Chiefs in multiple facets of the game this season, Hill is a big play bomb ready to go off no matter where he gets the ball and no matter what the situation may hold. Being named our Most Impressive Rookie Mover in the League didn’t come all that easy though as he had stiff competition with Dallas Cowboy RB Zeke Elliott nipping on his heels. A dynamic and impressive mover from the time he stepped onto a Sunday afternoon football field, Elliott’s movement looked so jaw dropping during a number of games that he could have been worthy of our Mover of the Year at certain times this season.