It’s time for football fans and movement skill coaches alike to rejoice! Why? Well, this past weekend marked the last Sunday until February without a NFL football game on the docket. Even though in 2017 I waited until the very last week of the NFL preseason to post up the annual rendition of my ‘Movers to Watch’, this year, I just couldn’t wait that long to get rolling on this season and get myself into my normal weekly practice of analyzing sport movement behavior with the finest tooth of combs.
The ‘Movers to Watch’ list is essentially a starting point of players which, along with previous All-Movement Team members, represent certain guys whose movement skills I am especially intrigued to pay close attention to from the start of the season and with each passing week. In 2017, four players who made my ‘Movers to Watch’ list found themselves with movement skill accolades at the end of the season;
- Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons (1st Team All-Movement)
- Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants (1st Team All-Movement)
- Ryan Shazier, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers (2nd Team All-Movement)
- Reuben Foster, LB, San Francisco 49ers (3rd Team All-Movement)
Thus, don’t be surprised if a few of these gentlemen listed below show out as predicted and end up making an appearance on the next All-Movement Team come January.
William Jackson III, CB, Cincinnati Bengals
As I did my comprehensive film study on Antonio Brown in preparation for awarding him his 2nd ‘Mover of the Year’ in 2017, I literally analyzed every single play of AB’s 2017 from multiple angles and at various speeds. Even though AB84 consistently draws the opponent’s best cover guy, there was only one player who truly stood out in the problems he presented to the player I called “the most masterful mover I’ve analyzed during the time of this blog’s existence,” and it wasn’t Jalen Ramsey, Xavier Rhodes, or any of the other big name corners who are in the league today. Instead, it was William Jackson III from the Bengals. According to my count, I don’t believe Jackson even allowed Brown to record a reception as Jackson matched AB84 with sometimes unorthodox movement solutions to match blow-for-blow during every route ran as Jackson displayed a tremendous comfort even under the pressure of playing the game’s most masterful WR (Note: one of the truest tests of movement skill is possessing stable movement solutions when the problem of a top opponent presents itself). Because of this, Jackson is on the very top of my list of guys that I cannot wait to watch and see how his movement skill matures and evolves with increased exposure to playing versus top receivers, week-in and week-out.
Odell Beckham Jr, WR, New York Giants
I know, I know; this was a rather easy one to put on the list! A former All-Movement Team performer, Beckham, when healthy, is sure to be pushing the top guys at the position each and every year. However, OBJ is coming off of a very serious ankle injury that has the potential to negatively affect his movement patterns and the holistic, integrated movement solutions he organizes (meaning, how he perceives problems and makes decisions to act in accordance to them). Though he should be fully healed and back to 100%, it will be interesting to see how the injury may have impacted his movement skill-set and how quickly he can get re-attuned to the chaos around him in his updated self (anytime a player gets injured the movement system will change). Speaking of chaos, though OBJ has dealt with his fair share of off-the-field ridiculousness in the past and his performance hasn’t always seemed to falter all that much (relatively speaking to his peers that is), this previous off-season’s antics as well as his lingering contractual situation could easily act as a psychological constraint onto the otherwise stellar, authentic movement skill-set that he possesses.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
I remember the sight very well; I was actually sitting right above the end zone of US Bank Stadium and directly in-line with Dalvin Cook’s left leg as his foot planted and the knee buckled in an ACL shearing fashion during a week 4 outing versus the Lions. Just four games into his rookie campaign, Cook was off to a tremendous start on the season and seemed to be getting more comfortable with every carry and reception. Blessed with exceptional burst and linear speed at the position, Cook wasn’t really in possession of the most diverse of movement toolboxes especially as it pertains to agility/cutting tasks, I was saddened to see an injury like that enter the mix for such a promising young player. However, the curse of the injury may end up being a blessing, that is, if Cook was able to focus a solid year on developing more efficient movement behaviors as he rehabilitated his left knee. After seeing over a handful of Vikings camp practices in the past two weeks, I can say that Cook’s explosive burst, especially in his short-distance acceleration to mid-range speed, is reawakened, alive, and well. Obviously, the Vikings are intelligently slow-cooking it (pun intended) with Cook’s exposure to certain football demands, but it will be interesting to see how things shake out as the chaos increases with expanded complexity in the problems he is sure to face on-field in the coming weeks (where opposing players can do more than tag off or thud).
Tarik Cohen, RB, Chicago Bears
The “Human Joystick” that is known as Tarik Cohen is a guy that absolutely needed to be on this list. Not only was he the recipient of a couple of ‘Movement Plays of the Week’ recognitions last season as a rookie, but his unique movement style is authentic and without compare versus others across the league. Though pretty inconsistent across performances last season, I would expect him to become a focal point of a new Bears offense while his movement toolbox continues to evolve and become even more adaptable (it certainly is very diverse already). That whole adaptability will remain his calling card as he attempts to really understand the nuances of the movement problems that an NFL change-of-pace back faces.
Kevin Byard, S, Tennessee Titans
A 2nd Team All-Movement performer last season, I am expecting Byard to take a jump this season and push our three-time 1st Team performer (and former Mover of the Year), Earl Thomas, for the top spot in 2018. Like Thomas, Byard has a knack for making plays on the football all due to a wide breadth of movement solutions which is, in my opinion, the most useful and needed quality a NFL safety can possess (due to the wide variety of problems one is sure to face each snap). If he can keep playing with the reckless abandon that was his MO in 2017, things will continue to flow to him so he’s able to further add control to his game in functional fashions.
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Taking over for the departed Alex Smith who’s gone to Washington, there is plenty of buzz around new Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes to be the guy who will lead an offensive juggernaut to the next level. This same guy could very well show and shine in ways that we’ve seen from three-time All-Movement First-Team QB Russell Wilson. As many followers of this blog are aware, I don’t get the opportunity to watch much college football during the year because I’m too busy with the NFL season. Thus, I admit that prior to him entering a game for the Chiefs late last season; I was very unaware of the skill-set that Mahomes utilized at Texas Tech to solve the problems he’s presented with. Though I personally feel as though Smith was underappreciated in Kansas City, Mahomes possesses a totally different skill-set than the man he’s taking over for. Nonetheless, his creative flair and ability to extend plays (not to mention a huge arm) will surely be a unique problem for opposing defenses. As with any young player, especially a newly named starting QB, it will be interesting to see how his movement system handles the pressure and anxiety of this bigger stage with much brighter lights.
Richard Sherman, CB, San Francisco 49ers
This will be an interesting one to watch for me. Coming off of a torn Achilles in 2017, Richard Sherman appears to clearly be back in the movement mix in his new uniform. I will be the first to admit that I initially had thought a move to safety may be the next step for the perennial All-Pro. However, ignore the comments from people who aren’t aware of how 1v1’s work at the NFL level and forget the video of him getting beat at Training Camp last week, even at his most masterful throughout his time in Seattle, Sherman never won with linear speed anyway. Instead, he battled guys over the course of 60 minutes by figuring out their weaknesses with his sharp perceptual attunement and cerebral warfare, consistently forcing his opponent(s) to play into what Sherman himself does best. Nonetheless, a torn Achilles is nothing to scoff at and will require some adjustments of his human movement system in order to accommodate accordingly and figure out nuanced ways of solving problems. Luckily, he’s seen just about any and everything that one can imagine over the course of his career and with his intricate dissection in-hand, I am guessing he will be able to adapt and once again flourish.
Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Already one of the very best at his position, I will admit that Jalen Ramsey sort-of got the snub from me last season. However, I legitimately felt as though there were four performers who were more skillful movers than he was throughout 2017 including his teammate, AJ Bouye, who I gave the First Team nod to. Gifted with exceptional physical gifts and a highly authentic movement style as well as an authentic personality, Ramsey just figures out ways to make plays that others wouldn’t expect him to or that his peers do not have the capabilities of executing within. In order to see himself on the top of the All-Movement Team to go along with his already All-Pro status, I would personally like to see Ramsey bring some additional polish to the details within his movement craft especially when he’s playing off. I am talking here specifically of the crispness of his transitions in and out of his plants/breaks to move in whatever direction is needed to match the WR’s route. Ironically, I remember reading an article a number of weeks back (apologies to whomever reported it as I can’t recall where I saw it!) that stated that he was actually focused on working on exactly that aspect of his movement skill this offseason. I am excited to see how this focus and emphasis pays off for him in 2018 to round out his craft.
Telvin Smith Jr, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Another player who got the shaft from me during my All-Movement Team selections was actually another member of the Jaguars defense in their stud linebacker, Telvin Smith. This guy is an individual who can flash from sideline-to-sideline and possesses a rare game-changing instinctual flow in all 360 degrees. Yeah, honestly, how I didn’t put him on the 2017 All-Movement Team list is beyond me. He’s that proficient and unique and is an early favorite to leapfrog up the list in 2018.
Marcus Williams, S, New Orleans Saints
Though people will (unfortunately) remember him for his blown role in the Minneapolis Miracle play versus Stefon Diggs (a ‘Mover to Watch’ in 2017) in the NFC Divisional Round of last year’s playoffs, that is not doing justice to what the rookie safety did on the field throughout the entirety of last season. However, let’s call it as it is: sometimes rough plays of this magnitude (somewhat analogous to choking episodes in field goal kickers) can lead to a movement behavior hangover where guys get to thinking too much at times when they used to just act fluidly and quickly. After a big rookie campaign that showed him flying all over the field in fast and precise fashions, I am hoping that Williams is able to put that one bad play behind him and use it as a learning opportunity to grow and allow a further evolution of his perceptual sensitivity to flow from.
JJ Watt, DE, Houston Texans
It goes without saying that even the best performers in the NFL can get derailed at the hands of injury. Playing in only eight games over the last two seasons, only time will tell as to how much JJ Watt has been impacted by the injury adversity that has crossed his path. One of the most passionate and tenacious players in the entire game, Watt will surely have invested everything imaginable into returning to form. That previous form encompassed a highly adaptable player who would often organizes exceptionally novel movement solutions when presented with non-routine problems while also delivering extreme explosive power within more routine, key movement patterns. Early reports from Texans camp account a reinvigorated player but we must remember that this is during a time when he isn’t be tested in the same fashions as he will when the regular season games begin and the intensity starts coming at him hard over an extended number of repetitions and the accumulation of week-to-week fatigue is sure to rear its ugly head. The real question then will be to what degree his movement solutions remain stable under these physiological constraints.