You’ve found what I believe to be the most unique NFL award compilation that you will come across this post-season. If this is your first time here, or if you just need the reminder, this is the only list of its kind that recognizes players solely based on possessing the most attuned and adaptable of movement skill toolboxes versus their peers. For the way that they have shown that they can execute with dexterity and mastery, I believe that these players should be recognized for the work that it goes into crafting those movement behavioral dynamics.
Today, we will offer up the All-Movement Team on the offensive side of the ball and follow it up tomorrow when we name the defense and returners. Before we go any further though, if you want to look back at last year’s All-Movement team (for the offense) 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.
Now, here we are for the sixth straight season, ready to find out who were the most masterful movers in the NFL over the course of the 2018 season.
All-Movement Team 2018; Offense
General Movement Qualities Evaluated: Elusiveness while moving in the pocket, Making plays with feet when plays break down
First Team: Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs)
Second Team: Russell Wilson (Seahawks)
Third Team: Aaron Rodgers (Packers)
Though he’s a favorite to pick up a few more honors (such as OPOY and potentially the NFL’s Most Valuable Player) that far supersedes making his first All-Movement Team, the second year signal caller of one of the league’s most potent offenses, Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, presents such a unique package of a skill-set for the position. Mahomes is blessed with world-class arm strength along with authentic, finely nuanced movement skill to be able to change his platform even in sometimes ambidextrous fashions. This allows him to frequently throw out of novel positions which look awkward (and are impossible) for others. Mahomes is able to make not only any throw needed on the field but also throws that NO OTHER Quarterback in league would arguably even attempt to make. His affordances for action are just rare and special; what he perceives and connects to is simply in another class. Additionally, his often-commented-on gunslinger persona drives his intentions which authentically influence the way his movement skills are executed.
I had the opportunity to catch-up with a longtime trainer and personal performance advisor for Mahomes, Bobby Stroupe, of APEC in Texas, and was able to gain some great insight from him in regards to what he feels makes Mahomes tick differently than others. Having known Mahomes for 13 years, Bobby can talk extensively about the Patrick’s unwavering passion, energy, and competitiveness. Using a story to illustrate these qualities, Bobby states: “I can’t say enough good things about him. The kid wanted to train the morning after the draft before he flew out to Kansas City. I think I (personally) might have skipped that day.” Stroupe goes on to say: “His demeanor simply doesn’t change, whether his team is up by 40 or down by 40.” Piggybacking off of my analysis on Mahomes above, it’s also telling to hear Bobby say, “Patrick is comfortable in uncomfortable situations. He doesn’t have a predetermined plan on-purpose. He is the most creative athlete that I have ever worked with and can get into an almost flow state level of reactive athleticism where he is fully immersed in focus and enjoyment in the competition.” Given the vast number of high-level NFL athletes that Bobby works with annually, I think this is all saying something; however, given the fact that we all collectively watched Mahomes put that all on-display each week, it should come as no surprise. For the record, I also tried to squeeze a few tips from Bobby for my own benefit with my defensive players who may have to face Mahomes in the future, as I asked him what we may come to expect from Patrick Mahomes heading forward and what else that Stroupe would like to see from him. Though he was more than gracious enough in talking about things that they have done in the past that has certainly shown itself to transferring on-field for Mahomes’ game (such as a constant emphasis on bolstering his arm speed, his movement skills in retreating and making plays with his feet, and his ability to throw from any arm slot in combination with any locomotive movement skill that could be needed on a Sunday), Bobby definitely saw through my question and what I was getting at (dang it, anyway!) and came back with, “I want Patrick to be like a band that can’t be simulated. I don’t want any coach or any team to be able to realistically prepare anyone else for him.” And in this desire, I think they are well on their way!
Another improvisational and creative artist at the position, Seattle Seahawk QB Russell Wilson, finds himself relegated to the Second Team in this year’s edition of the All-Movement Team. The former First Team performer (’17, ’15, ‘14), is simply a magician in the fashion in which we see him frequently solve movement and skill problems on the field. When there appears to be nothing, Wilson will often find a whole lot of something. This doesn’t mean that he is just dangerous because of his legs, instead, it’s the overall versatility of his movement which set up what he will do with his arm and the throws he can (and will) make. Our Third Team performer at the position is one of my favorite for the issues and headaches that he’s able to perennially present to his opponents (aka the movement problems he poses to others). Though he had a down year according to most based on the standards he’s set in the past, if you were to ask those same people who is the one Quarterback they would like to have on their roster and they would likely answer without hesitation; Aaron Rodgers. That same thing goes for our All-Movement Team. Though Mahomes has essentially redefined the way that we view movement skill organization at the position, Rodgers is the OG of this style of play at least in the era of this blog (with many others having come before all of them such as Brett Favre, Fran Tarkenton, John Elway, Randall Cunningham, Steve Young, and many more).
I would be amiss if I didn’t mention a few other guys who were potentially in the running for this list as it includes a couple of rookies in Lamar Jackson (Ravens) and Josh Allen (Bills). Though both are very one dimensional at this point in their careers, they also proved to use this movement dimension (as it pertains to escaping the pocket and running with the football) to its fullest and were essentially the most dangerous extension of their team’s running games that defenses certainly had to account for them on every snap. With almost a full NFL season under their belts, if they can fill in some gaps of their personal movement and skill toolboxes by adequate learning from this extended exposure and experience, where they can look to place priority on the throwing of the ball under these conditions (when they run), they could find themselves being more than mere mentions on our annual recognition in years to come.
General Movement Qualities Evaluated: Robust movement strategy use in diverse conditions, Stopping/cutting on a dime, Accelerative burst
First Team: Saquon Barkley (Giants)
Second Team: Alvin Kamara (Saints)
Third Team: Ezekiel Elliott (Cowboys)
One look at either the posts on this blog site or on my Twitter feed throughout the season, and it probably won’t come as a surprise that I place New York Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley on the top of the movement skill totem pole at the RB position in 2018. I will be honest; though it’s only happened a few times throughout the last six seasons of the All-Movement Team blog posts (including several this year), anytime a rookie is making a case to be the most skillful mover at a respective position, I remind myself to pump the breaks a bit, and I perform a complete re-watch of his film to scrutinize a little harsher to ensure that he is completely deserving of this recognition versus his peers. The thing is, the more I did this with Saquon’s film, the more separation it gave him compared to everyone else at the position. In my view, he’s that special when it comes to movement behaviors. By now, you’ve likely listened to the arguments comparing Saquon to guys such as the likes of Barry Sanders (among others). You’ve also probably heard the cliché term “generational talent” uttered by everyone and their brother as they rant and rave about what Saquon can do. The fact is that no matter which way we cut it, Saquon is the new dude…the new breed of movement skill, if you will. He’s equally as breathtaking in open space as he is making moves in the phone booth. He will make any and all comers (even the most skilled of movers at-that) look silly at-will. And what’s crazier about it all: he can still get MUCH better as he currently still has major gaps in his toolbox. These weaknesses are particularly evident when it comes to his perceptual attunement in certain situations and, because of that, he sometimes cannot connect to the entire range of affordances that exist in the landscape in front of him. Yet, even with these weaknesses remaining in his skill-set (he is a rookie after all), he’s still the cream of the crop in 2018.
Our ‘Top Rookie Mover’ of 2017 finds himself as our 2nd most skillful mover at the position in 2018. Alvin Kamara, of the NFC’s top seeded New Orleans Saints, is a guy who just seems to take positive steps forward from a movement skill-standpoint with every weekly outing. Kamara is certainly one of the most explosive guys in the league but his true calling card is within his versatility; a theme which plays out on-field for him not only in the vast number of ways that Saints Head Coach and offensive mastermind Sean Payton utilizes him but also in the way we see him solve the problems that are unfolding around him. His movement toolbox oozes with diversity. I particularly enjoy studying the ways that Kamara varies his movement tempos to match the problems (i.e. opponents) he is facing and what the situation calls for from him.
The NFL’s statistical rushing champion for 2018 is back on our list again, this time on the 3rd Team, after a fantastic campaign two years ago that found him being recognized on this list as a rookie in 2016. Ezekiel Elliott is a guy who can seemingly morph into whatever he needs to be based on what the problem and the context of the moment entails. If the problem requires a gap or a corner to hit, Zeke will be a speedster. If the problem contains a linebacker standing in the hole, Zeke can shimmy and shake him and make him look silly. If the problem has a defensive back going low, Zeke immediately channels his inner hurdler. If the problem involves someone standing their ground, Zeke will power right through them. There’s arguably no more complete, all-around RB in the entire league than Elliott, and it’s a major reason as to why he found himself on the All-Movement Team yet again.
Though I am fully satisfied with the guys who I placed on our All-Movement Team, we also find a few others who were worthy of at least a mention even though they ended up on the outside looking in. First, I want to give some love to the one and only Adrian Peterson for his resurgence and how he’s truly begun to trust various nuances of his movement skill that were previously underutilized when he formerly possessed physical abilities that were worthy of freak status. Personally, I actually like this version of AD28 as much as any other in previous seasons! Next-up, we have Melvin Gordon. Mel is a guy whose movement toolbox has progressively evolved step-by-step with exposure to the problems one faces in the NFL. Finally existing in a system that showcases this skill-set in 2018, I believe that Melvin can be one of those guys that on any given week are capable of solving problems that others at the position simply aren’t prepared for. One of the NFL’s most equipped all-around offensive weapons, Todd Gurley of the Rams (he was also our ‘Most Improved Mover’ last season), is a guy that due to his sheer physical gifts combined with his exceptional production as the key component in one of the NFL’s top offenses, should find himself on nearly any list recognizing skillful execution at the position. Finally, we have another player who I feel could be on the verge of movement stardom when everything starts clicking for him in Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers.
General Movement Qualities Evaluated: Crisp/precise route running, Dynamics in the open field, Linear football speed (ability & mechanics)
First Team: Julio Jones (Falcons)
Davante Adams (Packers)
Keenan Allen (Chargers)
Third Team (Tie):
Antonio Brown (Steelers)
Michael Thomas (Saints)
DeAndre Hopkins (Texans)
Down goes the king! Well, it may not be about what AB84 didn’t do per se, but it was more about what the rest of his peers showed that they are capable of doing this season, that allowed a number of players to surpass the great Antonio Brown. Of course, for the last four years, Antonio Brown was THE staple on the top of the All-Movement Team ranks as it pertains to the wide receiver position while, of course, also being named the first ever two-time Mover of the Year in that time period. It may be what I have come to expect from AB84…always finding ways to solve problems that others cannot, such as; gaining separation no matter who the opponent that was lined up across from him, routinely hauling in seemingly ‘uncatchable’ balls, and exploiting space in unique and creative ways with the ball in his hands. Still ranking amongst the league’s best movers, he continued to be able to do some of this (of course, he DID end up leading the league in touchdown receptions), it’s just that he didn’t seem as comfortable in 2018 with each of these problem solving capabilities that I have come to become accustomed to him being.
This status quo from Brown then gave way to the guy who I consider to be the new top moving dog at the position in Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons. Julio is no stranger to recognition on our All-Movement Team. Coincidentally, Jones is likely the most physically gifted of the group in regards to the development of specialized motor abilities to transfer to the movement skill requirements of the position. But, don’t let this fact fool you into thinking that he relies just on those physical characteristics and hasn’t mastered some of the deeper nuances of the movement skill for a WR. From my perspective, he’s capable of putting on a master-class in every outing no matter who his opponent is lined up across from him and what qualities that player offers to the problem-solution interface. This movement characteristic, of course, is one of the hallmarks of dexterity and Jones is the new exemplar of it for the position in 2018.
As is sometimes the case on our All-Movement Team (because I do what I want here), we have a tie on the Second and Third Teams this year. Our first player to recognize, Davante Adams of the Green Bay Packers, is one that I have had to study the movement behaviors of quite deeply and frequently over the past few years (due to personally working with a number of cornerbacks in the division who often have to match up with Adams). Anytime I sit down and watch him, I end up more impressed. For my money, Adams is the most skilled receiver in the league once he has the ball in his hands, possessing near-RB-like comfort in his coordination and control of movement strategies; on-display both in the open field or while in tight spaces with opponents surrounding him. Because of this, he’s able to exploit space and also create it. Following up Adams on this Second Team we find a WR who I feel is one of the most improved movers in the entire league in Keenan Allen of the Los Angeles Chargers. Allen is creative, authentic, and crafty in his route running especially at moments of truth in interaction with corners. He won’t blow his opponents away because of any world class movement quality or physical abilities, but his movement toolbox is compromised of equal parts of a whole lot of great characteristics which all coalesce into a package that leaves one hard pressed to keep him off this list even in a stacked class of WR in 2018.
On the Third Team, we find the place that AB84 was relegated to but we also find two newcomers to our All-Movement Team who both happened to represent efficiency in much of what they do. I am talking about none other than Michael Thomas of the Saints and DeAndre Hopkins of the Texans. Though on this blog, we don’t usually use statistics to prove our points (hence the name of the blog), we could in the case of Thomas and Hopkins. For starters, Michael Thomas was one of the main reasons in which his quarterback once again set a new NFL record in completion percentage as he offered Brees the highest passer rating in the NFL when getting thrown to. On the same note, Hopkins nabbed 115 receptions on the season without a single drop (think about this; it’s extraordinary!). Though I often prefer to add deeper contextual investigation to statistics, when WR are getting as many targets as both Thomas and Hopkins do, this level of output efficiency that we find signified by both of these statistics, begins to paint the picture of just how attuned and adaptable Thomas and Hopkins are with their movement solutions.
Additionally, I want to mention a list of other wide receivers that came close to being named on our All-Movement Team this year for their possession of standout movement qualities such as Stefon Diggs (Vikings) and Amari Cooper (Cowboys), for the movement nuances which make-up their exceptional route running skills, as well as Odell Beckham Jr (Giants) and DeAndre Hopkins (Texans), for their uncanny abilities to create specifically in novel pass catching situations (side note: I ended up putting Hopkins onto the Third Team because I just felt as though he deserved to be there). When you look at the names scattered across all mentions on this list, and then you try to compare apples to oranges in hopes of accurately assessing the quality of their movement skill-sets to one another, you quickly realize that this position is absolutely stacked across the NFL and it presents a valuable but treat-filled challenge for any movement specialist to embark on.
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: Zach Ertz (Eagles)
Second Team: George Kittle (49ers)
Third Team: Travis Kelce (Chiefs)
On a week-by-week basis throughout the course of the season, it seemed that I continued to flip flop each of these guys’ names across the various ‘Team’ slots as each player showed me various nooks and crannies of his respective movement toolbox. At the end of the day, it probably could’ve actually been a three-way tie between them as it ended up being such a close call. This also meant that I really couldn’t go wrong with whomever I selected as they each bring a little something different as a mover to the position. Finally, all three finalists were record-setters in their own right this season so though it’s not always the case for our All-Movement Team, this TE group backed up their movement skill status with statistical outbursts all season long.
When the smoke cleared, I elected to place Zach Ertz at the top of the heap this season. Out of the three players that find themselves here, Ertz is arguably the most well-rounded in what he can do, and how he can do it, in all facets of the game. This allowed him to narrowly outclass the other two tremendous players (and every other across the league too). All we have to do is watch an Eagles game in its entirety and sometimes only a half, quarter, or even a drive, and the brilliance of Ertz’s movement skill jumps off the screen at you. It’s easy to see how he was able to set the NFL record for most receptions in a single season by a TE as he routinely gets open no matter who the opponent is, what the coverage is that he’s up against, and how the opposing team’s defensive coordinator attempts to contain him. As we have mentioned a few times prior to this point across the other positions on the All-Movement Team, this problem solving capability is made possible through possessing a diverse set of movement solutions and having a high functional fit of matching those solutions to what’s being personally perceived.
A player who many across the league were unfamiliar with at the beginning of the season is second year TE George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers. Kittle consistently performed at a level which brings him recognition here on our 2nd Team. Kittle took the NFL by storm this season and became the go-to target among an injury-ridden WR corps for whoever was playing QB for the 49ers throughout the season. This isn’t a knock on Kittle though because he more than deserves the mention on his list and depending on the aspect of the toolbox that we are analyzing, he could have been given the nod over all others in the league. Even though he set the NFL record for single season receiving yards at the position, Kittle is a guy who’s production could keep improving too as long as he regains connection with his franchise QB who will be returning from injury in 2019. As it stood already, it seemed as though every week viewers got to see George Kittle running past or through a defense, racking up yards by bunches at-will. Especially at the position, Kittle is fast in a straight line and has an abundance of explosive qualities that he is able to put to use in ways to exploit the opponents he faces. Personally, I would like to see him further develop the ability to put more of this explosiveness to use especially in and out of breaks in closer quarters during route running problems which would allow for more frequent separation versus those covering him.
Rounding out the TE group for our All-Movement Team in 2018 was a player that is no stranger to recognition here. Having been a former First Team performer, Travis Kelce is arguably the biggest mismatch of the group listed here due to his WR-like route running skills and his ability to make guys miss in the open field. In his process of execution of finding himself frequently displaying both of those aforementioned skills, Kelce often utilizes creative, emergent movement solutions which naturally flow from his personal intention of finding any way imaginable to get the task goal achieved; this stems from possessing a whole host of strategies in his toolbox and thus, we will see an occasional leaping or hurdling effort from him.
Why no offensive lineman?!
I have often been asked (and sometimes criticized) as to why I don’t have any offensive lineman on my All-Movement Team? This question was raised so many times after last year’s list that I vowed to include them for 2018. Well, the best of intentions turned into a no-go from me once again this year. It’s not that I believe that offensive linemen aren’t important or that their movement skill-sets are not highly nuanced. Instead, as with every other position, it obviously takes an incredible amount of skill to play OL at a high level. In fact, it was because of that nuance that I avoided the analysis of their craft for years as I honestly didn’t feel qualified to dissect it at the level that would do justice to respecting what goes into each of the positions (Tackle, Guard, and Center). Thus, from 2017-2018, I have embarked on a deeper dive into understanding the movement requirements of the positions more fully. However, based on the vast amount of film analysis I do to put together this All-Movement Team, I simply ran out of time to analyze an additional 150+ more players this year than I have in previous years. Thus, still no OL movement analysis this year! Sorry!