Picking up the trend that I started two years ago, and before we will ultimately name the 2018 Mover of the Year later this week, I am going to recognize a number of other distinct awards exclusive to our blog; the ‘Most Improved Mover of 2018’, ‘Most Impressive Rookie Mover of 2018’ and finally, the ‘Most Masterful Moving Team for 2018’ As always, in true ‘Football Beyond the Stats’ fashion, each of these additional 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); on the execution of movement skills and NOT on where individuals (or teams) rank statistically!
Most Improved Mover
Eddie Jackson, Safety, Chicago Bears
Honestly, selecting a ‘Most Improved Mover’ is one of the more difficult tasks for me in the analysis of my annual, year-end awards. In order to do so, I have to go out on a limb regarding what a player’s skill-set consisted of in previous seasons and attempt to assess the growth and evolution of their toolbox. Improvement from year-to-year for a singular NFL player can be due to any number of things, or a combination of them; a Coach figuring out how to use the respective player tactically in a way that fits their strengths and weaknesses as a player, the shared affordances between him and his teammates (the better fit of the players around you allows you to interact in more functional fashions), the health and overall well-being of the player, and/or some particular aspect(s) of one’s movement toolbox getting filled in or more ready for optimized use on-field.
As I performed my analysis, three players really seemed to continue to stick out, each of which I ended up thinking so highly of that I placed them somewhere on the All-Movement Team. Additionally, and ironically enough, each also ended up being a key component part to their teams being mentioned as a contender in our ‘Most Masterful Moving Team’ award as you will see below. Two of these players were WR who helped enable their QBs to have NFL MVP-consideration seasons (or is it a chicken vs. the egg type of thing?) in Keenan Allen of the Chargers and Michael Thomas of the Saints. Allen began to really display higher proficiency of movement skills to allow him to get open in a variety of context (across the field, on various routes, versus all kinds of opponents) while Thomas was the picture of efficiency and effectiveness in the NFL. The third player that showed himself to be worthy of this recognition was Eddie Jackson of the Bears. Jackson, a young safety only in his second year, took massive steps forward in his development. Jackson went from being a guy that was inconsistent and still figuring out how his skill-set fit last season (most rookies are in this boat), to a guy who is a complete safety that absolutely changes the game week-in and week-out. Jackson just so happens to be the guy on the back-end of one of the top overall defenses in the league and arguably the most skilled defensive unit from a movement standpoint; Eddie Jackson is a big reason for this overall assessment. Not taking anything away from Allen and Thomas (and their contributions to the firepower that their respective teams display), but it’s for these reasons mentioned above that Eddie Jackson is my ‘Most Improved Mover’ for 2018.
Most Impressive Rookie Mover (NOT Named Saquon Barkley)
Derwin James, Safety, Los Angeles Chargers
The thing is, though I would say that Saquon is in a movement league of his own (hence we added a caveat to this season’s rookie award), this rookie class is stacked with highly dexterous young movers that should see their skills shine for years to come across various positions on both sides of the ball. Because of that (and because Saquon may be taking home other figurative hardware in our annual awards), I elected to recognize a different rookie mover who is more than deserving of deeper dialogue. It’s often been said that the NFL is a young man’s game. Though this is certainly true, it often takes a much more extensive amount of time for rookies to get their feet under them so-to-say…actually, it’s more accurate to say that they get their perception-cognition-action coupling dialed in. The disposition of NFL problems represents a totally different puzzle to piece together than was required within the college game. But, this current crop of rookies came in more than prepared for the movement challenges in front of them.
I mean, just look at this group of rookies here (again, outside of Saquon): Phillip Lindsay (RB), Darius Leonard (LB), Nick Chubb (RB), Derwin James (S), Baker Mayfield (QB), Jaire Alexander (CB), and Bradley Chubb (DE). Talk about not only immediate impact but also having that impact be felt through being a dynamic and complete movement problem solver! Picking a standout mover out of this group actually proved to be almost as difficult as this year’s Mover of the Year Award. But, when the smoke cleared and the film was analyzed, it was Derwin James for the Los Angeles Chargers, rookie safety out of Florida State, who receives my nod as the 2018 Most Impressive Rookie Mover. It could be said that James is the equivalent on the defensive side of the ball as Saquon is on the offensive side. He truly represents a different breed of movement skill at the position; so much so that I recognized the dynamic rookie as the most skillful mover at safety ahead of guys the likes of Eddie Jackson and Jamal Adams (and a stacked group behind them). From the beginning of the season for the upstart Chargers, James proved to be a moving chess-piece for their defensive unit while being used all over the field during every single game as he was able to excel in true Polamalu-like fashions. This on-field, in-game repetition without repetition, shows the true worth of the adaptability that is the calling card of Derwin James. James is a guy that I am truly eager to watch as he grows and his craft continues to evolve as his career progresses.
Take a peek at these highlights of James with fantastic analysis and breakdown by Brian Baldinger:
Most Masterful Moving Team
Last year was the very first year that I offered up this ‘Team’ award to go along with our other individual recognitions that we made in our Movement Awards. Last year’s victor in this category, the Atlanta Falcons, didn’t seem to resemble the team that walked away with those honors for very much of this season missing guys like former All-Movement 1st Team performer, Devonta Freeman, and slick moving linebacker, Deion Jones, for much of the 2018 campaign. The newly crowned movement skill king at the WR position, Julio Jones, wasn’t enough to even get the team a mention here this season to contend for the repeat. This seems to be a tale told regarding life in the NFL as a whole and it’s no different when it comes to movement skill behaviors witnessed on the field: meaning, things often change really quickly in the National Football League. Only one of the teams below (the Kansas City Chiefs) is one which was recognized last year. The other 2017 finalists, the Steelers, Seahawks, Vikings, and Jaguars all took significant steps backwards from a collective movement skill standpoint; three of those teams missed the playoffs, as well…funny how that seems to be a bit correlated, isn’t it?
However, I digress, as that was then and this is now! Thus, it’s time to move on and recognize the current best of the best teams across the league from a movement skill standpoint.
Here were some of the features of our top candidates:
Kansas City Chiefs – The sole repeat team from the 2017 season, the team who hit the ground running in the 2018 season, powered once again by their dynamic, game-breaking offense, was the Kansas City Chiefs. Though they lost a key component of this movement skill weaponry mid-way through the season when Kareem Hunt was released from the team, they also added the newly anointed All-Movement First Team Quarterback Patrick Mahomes as their full-time starter at the position. The Chiefs couple Mahomes with another All-Movement performer in Travis Kelce; a guy that could’ve easily been on the top of my list this year yet again for the fact that he is as much of a mismatch as it comes in the league today. Talking about mismatch, of course, the Chiefs also have the individual who is likely the fastest player in the entire league if we line them all up and put them in a straight line. I am talking of course about wide receiver, Tyreek Hill. Unfortunately, for the Chiefs trying to get awarded this ‘Team’ recognition, we must also take defense into consideration. Sure, they have guys like Dee Ford (All-Movement Third Team) and Chris Jones who have been absolutely exceptional from a pass rushing standpoint with the diversity of movement skills that they show, the entire unit left more than a little to be desired on more than one occasion showing a lack of movement skill especially at times when pressure and anxiety was at his highest (late in games) by missing tackles as well as both tactical and technical assignments.
Los Angeles Rams – At the beginning of the season, if you were to look at each team’s rosters on paper, the Los Angeles Rams would have likely been on any Sport Movement Specialist’s shortlist of favorites to win this award. From top to bottom across the roster, and from position-to-position, on offense, defense, AND special teams, to say they were stacked would be putting it lightly. However, probably due to those lofty expectations, they seemed to disappoint when we analyze the movement execution displayed across the entire season. Sure, they started out working like a well-oiled machine tactically, but there were times that the wheels seemed to fall off of the movement bus for them on both sides of the ball with certain movement problem solving struggles of some of their guys. That said, this roster still had last year’s offensive and defensive players of the year in the league, in Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald, respectively, who were both guys who have gotten recognized on this blog site many times over; including AD-99 being named All-Movement First Team this year and having one of the most dominant defensive seasons in recent memory. As spectacular as those two individuals were, and as impressive as each of the team’s units were at times across this long NFL season, it always felt like they were falling a bit short of their expected potential (from a displayed movement execution standpoint that is).
New Orleans Saints – The NFC’s top seed is simply stacked with skillful movers. Starting out with the best 1-2 punch at the RB position in Alvin Kamara (2nd Team All-Movement for the 2nd year in a row) and Mark Ingram certainly helps matters here. Additionally, one of the most improved movers in the league, Michael Thomas, happened to also put himself into the conversation as one of the most productive wide receivers in all of football. On the defensive side of the ball, the Saints are also relatively stout though one could make the argument that a few of their secondary members on the backend of their defense (Lattimore and Williams) seemed to have relatively up and down seasons after I expected major movement breakout seasons from both of them. To wrap things up, let’s not forget that to be as highly efficient and accurate as future Hall of Famer and record setting QB Drew Brees is, one has to do so through processes of execution that are as masterful as they come. Though no one will mistake Brees for Lamar Jackson or Patrick Mahomes when escaping the pocket, it’s what he does inside the pocket that displays the sheer proficiency of his movement skill.
Chicago Bears – On the day All-Movement Team First Team performer Khalil Mack was traded to the Bears, one could’ve looked across their roster and expected them to find themselves on this list if everyone across the unit would stay healthy. The core of their defense is both relatively young, but also ironically experienced at the same time, led by Mack, of course, but bolstered tremendously by All-Movement Team 2nd Team member Eddie Jackson on the back-end at safety and with two awfully crafty performers in Prince Amukamara and All-Movement 3rd Team performer, Kyle Fuller, on the outside. Still staying on the defensive side of the ball, rookie inside linebacker Roquan Smith is already an absolute stud and has all the makings of a movement superstar (namely, we are talking about a dude who can flat out fly at the position). Moving to the offensive side, second year triggerman Mitch Tribusky is sneaky good in the open field as when he elects to make something happen with his feet, he presents ample problems to opposing defenses. Not to be outdone, the Bears have one of the more gifted movers at the RB position, especially when we are speaking from an elusiveness standpoint, in Tarik Cohen, whose lightening is coupled with the thunderous style of Jordan Howard. Also, though on the surface they don’t seem to scare anyone, I strongly feel as though we can’t sleep on a few of their wide-outs in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel (a player I liked a lot when he was in Atlanta) and rookie, Anthony Miller.
Baltimore Ravens – In many ways, the mention here of this Ravens team reminds me an awful lot of last season’s Jacksonville Jaguars team. Stacked with dynamic defensive playmakers that led the Ravens on an unlikely run down the homestretch of the season, they’re just in need of some more skillful movers on the offensive side of the ball in order to leapfrog them above this stacked group of teams in the movement award hunt. That is, with the exception of rookie Lamar Jackson, who has been as good as advertised, at least in regards to his playmaking ability when he escapes the pocket. As I said earlier, as a collective unit on the defensive side of the ball, we would be hard pressed to find a defensive group that is better across positions. However, due to the overall lack of dynamic movement skill offensively, they are still a year or two away from being serious contenders for this Most Masterful Moving Team award.
Los Angeles Chargers – I will admit; at the beginning of the year, the Chargers wouldn’t have been one of the teams that would have initially popped out in my mind if I were to do a quick tally of who I expected to see here on this list at the end of the season. However, the Chargers proved me wrong from a movement skill standpoint just as they did others across the league in the win column and in the playoff race. Though, like Brees, Philip Rivers isn’t going to fool anyone for Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson, he still quarterbacks this Charger team with copious amounts of sport-specific skill and has skill which remained especially proficient in times of heightened pressure and anxiety throughout the course of this season. When you put a vastly improved mover in RB Melvin Gordon behind him, a player who truly has the ability to break a game open at any point by putting the team on his shoulders, as well as All-Movement 2nd Team performer and one of our finalists for the ‘Most Improved Mover’ award across all of the league, Keenan Allen, working both from the slot as well as outside, you immediately have one of the most skillful offensive trios in all of football. Let’s not forget to at least throw out a mention to future Hall of Famer, Antonio Gates, who has obviously lost a few steps at this point (I mean, come on, he’s now 38 years old!), but can still lean on his movement craft to find openings in opposing defenses with or without the ball in his hands. Though the movement skill of this offense is quite impressive, it’s on the defensive side of the ball that the Chargers really seem to standout from a few of the other finalists. Starting at the line of scrimmage with Melvin Ingram (who each and every year is on the verge of being named to our All-Movement Team) along with defensive end-mate, Joey Bosa, the Chargers have the ability to solve certain problems up-front that others cannot. Then we take a peek at the dynamic, young secondary and the movement adaptability that they already show at such an early timescale in their respective careers. I have already raved plenty about our top moving safety in 2018 in rookie, Derwin James, throughout these 2018 Movement Awards, as he is an absolute game changer that few others in the league can compare to. However, let’s add into the conversation Casey Hayward who is capable of stepping up and turning some heads on the corner along with second year nickel cornerback, Desmond King, who was quietly one of the better nickel corners covering the slot in all of football this season. We can’t forget that they also have King returning kicks and punts, as well (in fact, he was All-Movement Third Team in 2018).
That all being said, when the dust is settled and the game movement analysis has been completed and compared, the winner of our 2018 Most Masterful Moving Team is…
The Los Angeles Chargers
This selection may come as a shock or surprise to some people, but if it does, it’s only because either: 1). They don’t watch games or a team’s film with the intention of studying, analyzing, understanding, or assessing for movement skill and/or 2). They haven’t watched enough of the Los Angeles Chargers in 2018. From top to bottom, on both sides of the ball and with the third phase of special teams thrown into the mix, the 2018 Charger team is a movement juggernaut.