It’s that time of the year again: NFL award time! And you’ve found what I believe to be the most unique award compilation that you will come across this post-season.
If you’re new here, let me enlighten you as to why and how this list is compiled. First of all, I believe the players who possess the most attuned and adaptable of movement skill toolboxes should be recognized for the work that it goes into crafting those dynamics. As you will notice, there are times that those skills translate into the player being a NFL statistical leader at their position, and other times it does not (hence the blog’s name, ‘Beyond the Stats’). Because of this, our list is based on hours upon hours of my movement analysis during film study to determine the players who I feel are deserving of being considered the game’s best movers at each position.
If you want to look back at last year’s All-Movement team (Part 1; Offense & Part 2; Defense) you can check them out below. This will also give you a further idea on who’s movement skill has evolved and who’s may have dropped off from one year to the next.
Part 1 (Offense):
Part 2 (Defense & Special Teams):
However, that’s about enough of living in the past; let’s find out who were the most masterful movers in the NFL over the course of the 2017 season.
All-Movement Team; OFFENSE
General Movement Qualities Evaluated: Elusiveness while moving in the pocket, Making plays with feet when plays break down
First Team: Russell Wilson (Seahawks)
Second Team (Tie): Case Keenum (Vikings), Cam Newton (Panthers)
Third Team (Tie): Matt Ryan (Falcons), Tom Brady (Patriots)
When I wrote last year’s All-Movement Team description I shouted from the rooftops how good last year’s First Team QB, Green Bay Packer Aaron Rodgers, was particularly when it comes to the ability to move accordingly based on what the contextual problem at-hand offers a performer. In fact, this subjective take was the subject of an article written by Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune which pitted Rodgers versus an athlete I have worked with extensively in the past, Everson Griffen (Vikings). However, due to being injured early in a week 6 loss versus the Vikings this season, Rodgers just didn’t have as much time under center as we would like to see in order to evaluate where his current movement toolbox resides. Thus, a new performer would be sure to step up to that top spot.
However, just how “new” to our First Team would this performer be? Honestly, this season it really ended up being mainly a two horse race for this top spot between two players who are former First Team performers; Russell Wilson of the Seahawks (2015 & 2014) and Cam Newton of the Panthers (2013). At the end of the day, for the THIRD time ever, the do-it-all Seattle QB would end up reigning supreme again though an incredible 60+ yard run from Cam when facing a number of players of mine from the Vikings in the 13th game of the season almost put him over the edge. Wilson though, almost constantly carrying his team in every way that he can, just makes plays that others cannot (whether he’s in the pocket or outside of it). With a movement skill-set that is built like a RB when looking to run the football in space, it is now backed up with an enhanced link between perception and action, between eyes & other senses and his feet & arm to allow him to always be in positions to make extraordinary plays no matter where he is on the field.
Rounding out our Teams we start with an unlikely performer at the beginning of the season in current Vikings QB, Case Keenum, as well as two of the very best signal callers in the game, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan. Very few players showed the type of magician-like escape-ability that the former journeyman QB Keenum has; because of this, he has extended plays that others have not and is deserving of mention on our blog. The two perennial Pro Bowlers and last year’s Super Bowl starting QBs in Brady and Ryan won’t typically blow anyone away with their movement skills outside of the pocket but inside the pocket, they are simply masterful. With the ways that they take in constantly-changing information and understand their individualized affordances for action to remain in a position to make the necessary throws while doing so under a vast array of conditions (pressure, weather, etc), this list would not be complete without these two guys.
General Movement Qualities Evaluated: Robust movement strategy use in diverse conditions, Stopping/cutting on a dime, Accelerative burst
First Team: Devonta Freeman (Falcons)
Second Team (Tie): Le’Veon Bell (Steelers), Alvin Kamara (Saints)
Third Team (Tie): LeSean McCoy (Bills) Todd Gurley (Rams)
With last year’s All-Movement First Team member and eventual Mover of the Year, David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals, unfortunately visiting the Injured Reserve for the year after the very first game of the season, it was time for a new back to step up and take the crown. Luckily, each level of the 2016 All-Movement Team was stacked with individuals fully capable of doing just that. Coupled with some newcomers who made a solid run at our annual team, this group is packed full of individuals displaying highly dexterous movement skill sets and the ability to execute under numerous contextual demands.
Over the past few years, one performer always seemed to get nudged out in the final tallies to find a different player was wearing that aforementioned crown. Making the Third Team last year and the Second Team in 2015, Devonta Freeman of the Atlanta Falcons is the RB that I feel has become the most well-rounded of all the members in our group this year. This is not taking anything away from a former All-Movement Team members like Le’Veon Bell (2016 Second Team) with his authentically-unique movement style which is made possible with vision and patience, or 2013 Mover of the Year, LeSean McCoy (2016 Third Team), who has a movement skill-set truly showcased by his extraordinary adaptability. It’s also giving credit where credit is due with newcomers to our team such as the dazzling rookie, Alvin Kamara, who’s playmaking ability and elusive style showed itself as the Saints moved him all around the field as a match-up nightmare to take the NFL by storm from the start. Additionally, it gives adequate recognition to the NFL MVP candidate of the group, Todd Gurley, whose explosive burst and linear speed is beyond in another category even across this plethora of special movers.
At the end of the day though it would be Freeman who would come out of this class on top and it’s for good reason. Long recognized by yours truly as the most technically proficient decelerator in the game, he has the capability to stop on a dime more proficiently than the rest of the group and this quality sets everything else up in his ability to change direction and re-accelerate with style and pizzazz. This year, for whatever reason, this unique technical execution now seems even more skillful as it is backed up by more attuned perception which allows him to not only time actions more precisely in response to opponents but also do so with enhanced level to level problem-solving in mind. Though it’s completely subjective to say, Freeman also has the widest, most diverse of toolboxes of the group; so much so that he has equal access for an abundance of cutting solutions at any moment in time.
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: Julio Jones (Falcons)
Third Team (Tie): Doug Baldwin (Seahawks), Golden Tate (Lions)
The king is still here…and when it comes to the quantification of his movement skill set, he is without equal at his position. It turns out that even a late season (week 15) calf tear couldn’t slow his roll and keep others from surpassing him (just like it went down in many statistical categories among the NFL receiving leaders). The WR group usually consists of more than a few guys that we could marvel at with their movement, but AB84 is on another level. In fact, he’s so good that if I could somehow find a way to write his name in the First, Second and Third Team slots I almost would. Last year I critiqued Brown in saying that I felt as though he had a down year movement-wise after coming off a 2015 campaign where he was awarded our Mover of the Year and where I claimed he was the most masterful I’ve seen doing it since starting this blog. Built off of a supreme, out-of-this world type of functional fit between he and both routine and novel tasks within his environment, AB84 is back where he belongs and so for the FOURTH YEAR IN A ROW he reigns supreme on the top of our list.
Like I said, don’t get me wrong though, the rest of this group is impressively skillful. All three of these guys, Jones on the Second, and Baldwin and Tate on the Third, have found themselves on our list in the past and this year is no different. Julio Jones’s unique kinesthetic sense & awareness is a movement trait which is only honed through hours of beating on one’s craft. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he also hit the sperm lottery and is built upon a unique blend of physical qualities that few others in the history of the NFL have ever possessed. Two technicians and former teammates round out our Team. Though both are having a bit of a down year statistically, this doesn’t matter much to us here (just look at the name of the blog!) as you would be hard pressed to find any two guys (at least outside of Brown) as proficient within the movement actions contained in their route running and as crafty after the catch as these guys.
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: Evan Engram (Giants)
Second Team: Travis Kelce (KC)
Third Team: Delanie Walker (Titans)
I will admit; I am going to be look like a bit of a hypocrite here. Last year, the first words uttered out of my mouth regarding evaluating the level of mastery displayed by individuals playing the tight end position were oriented around their ability to display an all-around skill-set to equally execute in both the pass and the run game. Well, this year I am violating my own rule as a rookie TE came onto the scene whose dynamic movement skills in the pass game were just too much to ignore. At 6’3” and only 240lb, Evan Engram runs routes with the movement capabilities of most big WR due in part to tremendous linear speed (ran 4.42 at the NFL Combine just last year) highlighted by explosive acceleration over short distances. Additionally, his ability to get in and out of breaks rapidly allows him to not only become a mismatch versus the backers and safeties that often find themselves lined up against him, but it also can even show itself as a quality which allows him to get separation from more cover-oriented DBs when lined up on the outside. Just a rookie; the sky is the limit for Engram and I think we can predict that should be on our Team for years to come.
Not to be too outdone (though they are essentially placing 2nd and 3rd after all), the next two individuals to round out this list are guys who have become mainstays on our Team. In fact, these guys were the recipients of First Team honors over the previous two seasons (Travis Kelce in 2016, Delanie Walker in 2015). Though neither of these guys honestly took major steps back in 2017 (Kelce earned a Play of the Week early in the season), if we are gauging this off of all-around game, an argument could be made for either of these guys to get the nod. Thus, it was more of a case that Engram just happened to offer that much more unique of skill-set. That said, Kelce runs routes with precision and Walker remains as crafty in space as anyone is once a ball is in his hands.
All-Movement Team: DEFENSE
General Movement Qualities Evaluated: First-step explosive burst, Ability to move rapidly to change direction to move laterally when tracking down ball carriers
First Team: Everson Griffen (Vikings)
Second Team (Tie): Aaron Donald (Rams), DeMarcus Lawrence (Cowboys)
Third Team (Tie): Khalil Mack (Raiders), Cameron Jordan (Saints)
At first glance, some will look at Everson sitting at the top spot of this list and immediately cry “bias” to me…however, if you were to do that, it would immediately show that you haven’t watched 97 for the Vikings over the course of any game this season. Of course, I can see why people will initially claim this; knowing that my work partnership with Everson has been somewhat publicized over the years (as we have known each year since the offseason following his rookie year…which seems like forever ago!). However, everyone who personally knows me understands that I am MUCH more critical on how my player’s are performing than anyone on the outside world could be (besides the Twitter haters that is).
In fact, it could be said that Everson probably should have been sitting on top of this list before this year (he was on the Third Team a couple of times). Instead, from the start, I have personally maintained the highest of quality standard for Everson’s movement skill and behaviors (as I do for any player who I work with). So, in this way, Ev has been at a significant disadvantage over the years versus other players because I see both the good and the bad of his craft with a fine toothed comb…from every angle, at every speed, countless times! Due to his diligence and commitment to that craft, this year saw a whole lot of good from 97’s movement toolbox. Honestly, since week 8 and a game against the Browns in London where Ev began to deal with some plantar fascia issues, the access of certain moves/skill (or at least the full control of them) started to become limited. But, even then, the abundance of solutions that he had available started to show through as just a few weeks later he recorded a multiple sack day vs. the Lions and finished the regular season with 13 sacks and a whole lot of disruption week to week.
Though an interior defensive lineman doesn’t get nearly the opportunities to show the level of mastery within their movement craft as edge defenders do, Aaron Donald has continued his reign over the entire NFL and his movement mastery is a big part of this. When we talk about a player displaying diversity and dexterity in their movement solutions on the defensive side of the ball, Donald is at the top of this list. Receiving his first ever recognition here at BTS is the Cowboy weekly pass rushing force to be reckoned with, DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence is as creative as they come in his pursuit to bring QBs down; he moves with authenticity and is displays a variety of ways to solve the problems that OL present.
Falling down our list slightly from last year but still worthy of All-Movement recognition is Khalil Mack. Last year’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year and our First Team performer here, we still see Mack out-adapting all competitors (both in regards to the literal competition he faces each week as well as the talented crew he beat out to make this list). If there’s a movement problem in the environment, he likely has a solution to match it. Wrapping up our Team at the front of the defense is Cameron Jordan of the Saints. While the veteran is considered among the most well-rounded DE’s in the league, it’s mostly due to his understanding of where he is in time and space and what he can do from that position when he’s there.
General Movement Qualities Evaluated: First step explosiveness in all directions, Ability to rapidly cover ground laterally
First Team: Bobby Wagner (Seahawks)
Second Team: Ryan Shazier (Steelers)
Third Team: Luke Kuechly (Panthers)
From the NFL football movement I analyzed throughout most of the year, this was really a two horse race between last year’s top mover at the position, Bobby Wagner, and a guy that has really flashed periodically since entering the league, Ryan Shazier. Of course, our eventual Second Team performer unfortunately suffered a tragic spinal injury in week 13 of this season. However, prior to that point, he really appeared to be coming into his own from a movement skill standpoint and was truly giving Wagner a run for his movement money.
Though hampered by a nagging hamstring issue towards the end of the season, Wagner could be found through at least the first ¾ of the season making a real push towards an NFL Defensive POY that seems to have eluded his stellar career up to this point. Attacking problems 360 degrees around him equally as effectively and efficiently, Wagner’s aggressive but attuned style wastes little motion step to step, snap to snap. In contrasting styles, relying more on his unique physical gifts than his sensory-perceptual awareness, Ryan Shazier is as athletically dynamic as it comes at the position. At 6’1” and 230lb, he’s always been a freak of nature running around on the field. As I said above, it seemed as though he was really starting to display those unique athletic gifts in the nuanced solutions required of the position when things got scary that Monday night versus the Bengals. Now facing an uphill road ahead, I want to extend all of my hopes and prayers for Shazier and his recovery as he pushes forward.
Our Third Team player, Luke Kuechly, is the model of football IQ. A former First Team performer in the past (2014), he finds himself as a runner-up to the runner-up for the third consecutive year. Coming off of a 2016 season that he ended off-of-the-field with concussion issues, Kuechly’s body of movement work is built off of intention and decision making. Don’t get me wrong, he has both physical gifts and biomechanically-sound execution, but it’s the link between his perception and his cognition that most sets him up for success. It’s because of this that his name must be included in any conversation about movement skill, expertise, and mastery at the linebacker position.
General Movement Qualities Evaluated: Accelerative burst, Deceleration/Cutting ability to be able to stop quickly to reaccelerate while tracking ball carriers
First Team: Chandler Jones (Cardinals)
Second Team: Von Miller (Broncos)
Third Team: Reuben Foster (49ers), Lavonte David (Buccaneers)
In today’s NFL, OLB are asked to perform a wide variety of tactical tasks to help their teams win. Because of this, there is huge inter-individual variability in responsibilities put on the players at the position from team to team. Furthermore, this makes the evaluation of movement skills here that much more difficult. It’s truly like comparing apples to oranges between the players. It comes down to flavor and preference and even though I try to be as unbiased as possible, I am human so some of that is bound to be at play at all times. That all said when the smoke cleared on this year’s analysis we find ourselves with a new champion mover at the OLB position for the first time in the last three years. That’s right, much to even my surprise, the mighty blend of violence and grace that is known as Von Miller’s movement toolbox has fallen..at least slightly…and at least for now.
Honestly, last year, Von Miller came awfully close to upending eventual Mover of the Year, David Johnson, as being recognized with the most masterful movement in the whole league. This year though, he seemed to me, at least at times, to lack some of that typical ability to completely take over games with his movement skill that was his hallmark for years. That’s not to say that Miller’s skill-set isn’t still top notch, it still is. However, from what I saw from Chandler Jones this year, he could not be denied. Having a career year statistically, Jones appears to be leaner with more explosive pop every time his foot hits the ground. Though he doesn’t corner around the edge like the guy he unseated (Miller), he has an array of moves at the top of his rush which gives him diversity and dexterity in the problem that the Cardinals most often ask him to solve; beating an OT and sacking the QB.
Asked to do completely different things but playing “theoretically” the same position, we find two guys who are unbelievably effective and efficient, Lavonte David and Reuben Foster. Reminding me of the distinction that we made above when discussing Bobby Wagner and Ryan Shazier, the OLB equivalent stands here with David being the perceptually attuned veteran who more often than not finds himself in precise positions and Foster the young dude out there balling with supreme physical prowess for a football field. Both stacked with class leading instincts especially when running in space to track down offensive opponents with or without a ball in their hands, these guys would have easily found themselves on the top of the list if I included the edge defending pass rushing OLBs in another category.
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: AJ Bouye (Jaguars)
Second Team: Darius Slay (Lions)
Third Team (Tie): Patrick Peterson (Cardinals), Marshon Lattimore (Saints)
As I mentioned last year at the onset of our discussion on the top moving corners in the league, I feel it bears repeating again: we can never separate perception and action in the coordination of movement skill & execution! This, of course, applies in regards to the demands of every position in any open task sport. However, maybe no position embodies this reality of sport motor behavior more than playing corner in the NFL. Meaning, how you are required to move will stem from who it is that you are forced to cover day each week and how you combine the 3B’s of movement skill (Behaviors/sensory-perceptual attention, Brain/cognitive decision making, Biomechanics/technical execution) in order to carry out those task solutions.
Making the jump from the Second Team in 2016 to the top of the CB heap in 2017 is new Jaguar A.J. Bouye. Though this group is stacked with individuals who consistently show out from a movement and sport skill standpoint, Bouye is the cream of the crop. Last year I selected Bronco corner Chris Harris over Bouye because I felt as though he was more polished, diverse, and dexterous than this year’s king. However, Bouye seems to have taken the necessary jumps in skill to bring the best overall package to the mix. Honestly, every time I watch film of him, I find myself rewinding the same play over and over again as I watch the extremely functional perception-action coupling he displays. His senses and his feet are so closely connected and it shows with the way that he jumps on routes and darts to bring down any skill player with a ball in this hands. Additionally, when carrying out certain movement patterns that allow him to execute in those respective tasks like planting & breaking on a receiver or preparing to tackle in space, we will almost always see him in efficient biomechanical positions and executing with little wasted motion or time.
The rest of our All-Movement Team across the Second and Third units is loaded with movement talent who displays proficiency and executes with slightly different but authentic strategies. Darius Slay is a guy who is underrated at the position and is sometimes unjustly left off the list when discussing the top corners in the game. However, talk about stepping up to challenges, Slay routinely follows the opposing team’s top pass catcher (as do the other two guys on these teams) and he matches his solutions to meet the unique needs of what the WR brings to the table. This, ladies and gentleman, is the definition of dexterity in movement and few across any position have been as good as Slay with this movement quality. Of course, no one in the position has the sort of God-given athleticism that Patrick Peterson possesses. This is not to say that he hasn’t worked diligently to develop the nuances of his craft, but he just brings something to the table that others cannot. Almost a mainstay on one of our units of our Team from the start five years ago (being a First Teamer in 2015), Peterson has consistently gotten more skillful especially in regards to an increase in perceptual attunement and overall football IQ. Finally, a guy that I really couldn’t leave off the list is rookie Marshon Lattimore of the Saints. This youngster is truly impressive especially at a position where guys really don’t hit their strides until racking up repetitions and exposure to defending against the game’s best WR, Lattimore has stood under this fire and taken the best shot from the best WR on each team. Though he’s given up some catches as he has learned, the authenticity of his movement solutions are often characterized by instinct, trust in his skills, quickness in his steps, and low, slicing movement patterns.
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: Earl Thomas (Seahawks)
Second Team: Kevin Byard (Titans)
Third Team (Tie): Harrison Smith (Vikings), Lamarcus Joyner (Rams)
Last year seems like such a distant memory now. If you remember back though, I had awarded Giants safety Landon Collins as the new face of masterfully moving individuals at the position while also acknowledging he was last year’s ‘Most Improved Mover.’ With every Seahawks game I watched, my 2014 Mover of the Year, Earl Thomas, seemed to make me doubt that decision to put anyone ahead of him even more. Even though Earl ended up on our Second Team last year, it was definitely an off year for the former three-time, First Team mover.
Fully back and reloaded in 2017, when it comes to the whole host of movement problems to be solved by a safety at the highest levels of the game, I feel as that Earl is without equal. Though it could be argued that when it comes to playing the position, with what one is asked to do within the tactical and technical aspects of the game, our Third Team performer, Harrison Smith, may be the very best safety in the game (meaning, not the best mover…but the best with what he’s expected to do and what he does). However, with some of the extraordinary highlight plays that no one else is capable of making at the position, this is where Earl stands out and he does so with such finely attuned perceptual skill, zero hesitation in the decisions he makes, and an all-out reckless abandon like he’s being shot out of a canon wherever he goes on the field.
Beyond Earl, and including Harrison, this group is stacked throughout. Our Second Team performer is a young guy that just keeps balling out and making more splash plays than anyone at the position across the league. The first full season starter for the Titans, Kevin Byard, has a movement toolbox that is built on a diversity of abundant movement solutions which led to him grabbing more interceptions in dynamic fashion than the rest of the group. Byard could be a guy who pushes his movement skill to the next level in years to come and in the process pushes Thomas for that top spot. On our Third Team, Lamarcus Joyner is a guy that would not turn heads when looking at his pre-draft measurables back when he came out in 2014, but all the guy does is solve problems in front of him and in turn, present problems to opposing offenses. Though he’s only around 190lb, this dude plays fast on tape and is as aggressive as they come. In fact, it appears as though some of his movement skill is modeled towards Thomas-like tendencies. He also has tremendous dexterity in his game having the capacity to step in at CB for the Rams when needed. Finally, as mentioned above, within the movement skills of the game’s all-around best safety in Harrison Smith, we see behaviors built on true affordances for action; he understands the plays that he can make and he simply goes and makes them. Additionally, he does so with authentic movement patterns that wouldn’t fit within the confines of many biomechanist’s presentation examples but are effective and optimal for who he is and what he aims to do.
All-Movement Team: SPECIAL TEAMS
General Movement Qualities Evaluated: Top end speed (mechanics & ability), Curvilinear running ability (mechanics & speed), Open-field decision-making
First Team: Pharoh Cooper (Rams)
Second Team: Dion Lewis (Patriots)
In today’s NFL, we don’t get to see the movement skills of kick returners showcased nearly as much as we once did. Year to year, the NFL has seemed to all but do away with kickoff returns in hopes of making the game safer. However, I would argue, that seeing a player who has a knack for being a proficient kick returner is one of the most intriguing stories to study on a football field due to the vast number of movement skills that they must be in possession of and find a way to employ them at the right time and place. Speaking of movement dexterity, we find our First Team performer (and Second Team Punt Returner), Pharoh Cooper of the Rams. With Cooper, we are not talking about a guy with blazing fast linear speed nor are we even talking about a guy who possesses movement patterns that fit under some idealized biomechanical ideal. Instead, when you watch Cooper, you will witness a player with authenticity in each of his movement patterns and the solutions which drive them. Meaning, he makes the most out of whom he is, exploits his strengths, and covers gaps in his style because of his understanding of his own particular affordances for action.
General Movement Qualities Evaluated: Stopping in multiple biomechanical positions, Movement strategy use in chaotic conditions, Rapid acceleration
First Team: Jamal Agnew (Lions)
Second Team: Pharoh Cooper (Rams)
Like I just mentioned with my investigation of those returning kicks, I also love uncovering the way the game’s best punt returners solve the diverse problems that they are faced with. Not only do these problems vary widely, but they are also taking place in the most extreme of unpredictable, chaotic situations. Though our sport is filled with these types of crazy, dynamic sub-systems in problems taking place all over the field, nothing is quite like when a punt is in the air and 11 guys are purpose-driven with a singular intention of tackling one specific performer who is a sitting duck waiting to respond with the best that his movement toolbox has to offer. In my opinion, the player who accomplished that goal better than all others in 2017 was Jamal Agnew of the Detroit Lions. The fifth round pick from just this year was truly dynamic scoring two punt return touchdowns and providing a dynamic spark for his new team by playing numerous roles beyond returning punts and covering WRs. This versatility was driven by tremendous immediate pedal to the floor type of acceleration but it didn’t stop there as though Agnew was brought in as a CB, he appears to have a more than solid grasp at the offensive agility maneuvers in the open field that are necessary if one is to gain chunk yardage each time you touch the ball.