Picking up the trend that I started three years ago, and before we will ultimately name the 2019 Mover of the Year (bet you can’t guess who!? Ha!) later this week, I am going to recognize a number of other distinct awards exclusive to our blog; the ‘Most Improved Mover of 2019’, ‘Most Impressive Rookie Mover of 2019’ and finally, the ‘Most Masterful Moving Team for 2019.’ 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
Dalvin Cook, Running Back, Minnesota Vikings
About halfway through the season, this looked like it was going to be a run away for Dalvin being recognized as my Most Improved Mover of 2019. Though he seemed to fizzle a bit down the stretch due to a number of interacting factors, and though he also ended up missing a few games due to a chest and shoulder injury (he played in 14 games), what Cook showed in the growth and evolution of his movement toolbox over the course of the months of September and October was too much to ignore at the end of the day for this award.
A couple of eventual All-Movement Team members in Za’Darius Smith (DE/OLB, Green Bay Packers) and Shaq Barrett (OLB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers), as well as a number of players not ultimately named to the Team, Cooper Kupp (WR, Los Angeles Rams) and Jaire Alexander (CB, Green Bay Packers) were also strong contenders throughout the season and were in consideration for being acknowledged in this role. But, at the end of the day, it was the improvements of Cook, in becoming a guy who’s movement skill evolved from just get up the field in a hurry freak of acceleration and linear speed, to a guy you was a more complete movement problem solver, that would get this nod.
When it comes to movement problem solving (i.e. dexterity), the characteristics of perceptual attunement (sensitivity to the specifying informational variables of the problem) and adaptability (adjustment of actions to meet the needs of the problem) underpin this all-important movement Form of Life. It was also these two characteristics which I witnessed Dalvin Cook improve upon in the movement behaviors which emerged for him out on the field. If you watch film from 2017 (when early on in this rookie season, prior to tearing his ACL, he was taking the NFL by storm) and 2018 (when he was trying to find his way back to figuring out who he really was), you will see a guy who was overly reliant on world class qualities at the RB position for hitting the gas pedal to exploit gaps and edges. Now, in 2019, we see a more matured and evolved version of movement skill from #33; he’s moving more patiently and more controlled, constantly scanning vigorously to detect information in the open field, making more educated decisions on opportunities for action (affordances) which are there for him, and acting in more diverse and abundant ways…no longer reliant on that extreme acceleration to make plays, but instead using it as needed now complimented by a whole host of other movement skill qualities.
Most Impressive Rookie Mover
Nick Bosa, Defensive End, San Francisco 49ers
When we talk about a player who has absolutely taken the NFL by storm, look no further than 49er Defensive End, Nick Bosa. Of course, in last year’s NFL Draft, everyone and their brother (and Nick’s brother too) expected him to be the real deal. Taking after 2018’s Mover of the Year, Saquon Barkley, Nick Bosa was the 2nd pick in the NFL Draft in his respective draft year. One viewing of the 6’4”, 265lb Bosa, and even the most uneducated of analyst will quickly come to the conclusion that Bosa is like a creature who was created for one purpose: terrorizing quarterbacks.
I will be honest, I was actually a bit surprised to find out that Bosa only had 9 sacks on the actual season because every time I watched a 49er game he was so consistently in the opponent’s backfield that it felt like it was just his rightful place. It also goes to show give us further reminder as to why we can’t always measure impact of a player on a game simply by statistics. If we subtract just a few other members of our All-Movement Team such as Aaron Donald, Chandler Jones, and Shaq Barrett, I don’t think it’s a far reach to say that Nick Bosa disrupted opponent’s game plans more than any other.
Offensive minds came to their senses a bit in the second half of the season and started to scheme against him (though it didn’t help Bosa that his pass rushing counterpart in Dee Ford was also out during some of that time as well) and throw double teams his way more often. Yet, Bosa, who will likely have to do that a whole heck of a lot more of this as he steps into the future, was able to continue to win his rushes fairly consistently. He was able to do this through rare dexterity in his movement skill where his movement solutions stem from a wide variety of coordination patterns and in his extraordinary ability to control/parameterize them to meet the needs of the problem. We witnessed a whole host of pass rush moves from him as he has proven he can beat offensive tackles inside, outside, with speed, or with power. Thing is, that versatility in his skill-set is obviously only going to dramatically improve as he continues to get exposed to what the highly skilled offensive lineman and OL coaches try to throw at him.
Though I am firm on my beliefs regarding the X-factor that Bosa proved himself to be in his rookie campaign, I will also say that he wasn’t a total shoe-in for the award. Hot on Bosa’s heels for a good amount of the season was All-Movement Third Team RB, Josh Jacobs, of the Oakland Raiders. Additionally, there was also a few guys who could end up carrying the movement torch at their respective positions in years to come such as Kyler Murray (QB, Arizona Cardinals), Miles Sanders (RB, Philadelphia Eagles), Devin Singletary (RB, Buffalo Bills), and Terry McLaurin (WR, Washington Redskins).
Most Masterful Moving Team
Here were some of the features of our top candidates:
San Francisco 49ers
The team with the most amount of performers scattered across the All-Movement Team (George Kittle, Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, and Richard Sherman) would surprisingly (due to where they ended last season) have to be considered the favorite here at the end of this season for this award. Along with those performers mentioned above, their QB is a far from a slouch of a mover and they have a stable of RB, who, on most given Sundays, have shown themselves to be highly functional in the movement skill department. Additionally, their defense has been running like a well-oiled machine for most of the season and that’s due to not only having a standout at each level of the defense, but also the complimentary pieces that fit in around them too.
New England Patriots
Though there are many analysts and pundits alike who believe that the New England Patriot dynasty may be over (and it very well may be), they deserve recognition here for what they did all season long on the defensive side of the ball (unfortunately for them, outside of Julian Edelman, they lacked more than a little on the offensive side from a movement skill perspective). That all said though, watching the way that this New England defense functions and plays with/off of each other was absolutely brilliant pretty much from start to finish. Sure, they have All-Movement First Team performer and movement skill stand-out, Stephon Gilmore, at cornerback. But, the rest of the secondary, at some times of the season, turned out some functionally fit movement solutions themselves (especially when they played off of each other in shared affordance fashions).
If you’ve followed either this blog or my social media accounts, you probably have a solid guess as to who the 2019 Mover of the Year is going to be. In case you’re still in the dark, let me give you a pretty glaring hint: he’s a Baltimore Raven. Hopefully I don’t have to say more…but, that given player is a pretty good reason why the Ravens have as good of shot as any at this award. But, he’s not the only reason. This team does a lot of things extraordinary well…particularly in the way they work in synergistic fashions in unison on both sides of the ball. Their veer option stylistic ways on offense are as authentic as they come as a group and it’s made possible by #8, their newly acquired and seemingly rejuvenated Mark Ingram at RB, and even former Heisman QB, RG3, who comes in frequently in each game to give a three-headed Heisman Trophy winning attack. Add guys like All-Movement performers Mark Andrews (2nd Team TE), who was truly a standout who proved he could do it all, and Marcus Peters (3rd Team CB), who vastly improved from his time in Los Angeles, and you have a movement force to be reckon with. Let’s not forget, also new to this team lurking in the shadows of deep center-field is my only defensive recipient of the Mover of the Year, Earl Thomas (back in 2014 with the Seahawks), and though he may not be who he once was, he is still a guy who can cover more ground than just about anyone at the position while playing with an instinctual feel that is second to none.
Kansas City Chiefs – For the third year in a row, the Kansas City Chiefs find themselves in the running as a finalist for the Top Moving Team of the Year. Led by last year’s All-Movement First Team Quarterback in Patrick Mahomes, multiple time All-Movement Team Tight End, Travis Kelce (including 3rd Team in 2019), and a freshly improved and late surging defense driven by 3rd Time All-Movement Safety in the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu, the Chiefs have once again proven themselves to a legitimate contender to note as a finalist here.
New Orleans Saints
Like the Chiefs, the Saints keep marching into this group of finalists year-to-year only to find themselves a bridesmaid each year, as well. Michael Thomas, now having climbed up the ranks to be the top moving WR in the league to go along with being the most dominant WR statistically, while newcomer to the All-Movement Team in 2019 in OLB, Demario Davis, gives some clout to the defensive side of the ball. Additionally, for most of the season, both CB Marshon Lattimore and Safety Marcus Williams were near the top of my fluid list of top performers for All-Movement honor consideration only to fall off the ranks down the stretch. I would also be amiss if I didn’t mention the very apparent regression steps that two-time All-Movement performer of the past two years, RB Alvin Kamara, seemed to have taken both due to battling a few nicks throughout the season while also apparently not having the same type of freedom in his movement skill organization overall. Turns out that balancing on a stability ball, while hearing randomly called out colors to catch matching awkward shaped ‘agility’ tools, may fit more of a category of being a gimmick than it does being a transferable activity to playing RB at a high level.
That all being said, when the dust is settled and the game movement analysis has been completed and compared, the winner of our 2019 Most Masterful Moving Team is…
The San Francisco 49ers
When push came to shove here, it really ended up being a two horse race between the top seeds in the respective conferences: the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC and the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC.
The guys on the top of each of the rosters certainly led the way for each of these groups and it turned this match-up into a true battle royal of movement skill…I mean, just look at this list of All-Movement Team members across both teams: Lamar Jackson (1st Team QB), Mark Andrews (2nd Team TE), and Marcus Peters (3rd Team CB) for Baltimore and then George Kittle (1st Team TE), Nick Bosa (2nd Team DL/DE), Fred Warner (1st Team ILB), and Richard Sherman (2nd Team CB) for San Francisco.
It’s not just about those players though as football is the ultimate team game as we all know. Thus, we have to look up and down the roster and across both sides of the ball (and special teams too) to adequately crown the new Most Masterful Team for 2019. And when I compared the players on both sides of the ball, it was none other than the San Francisco 49ers who have come out of the smoke victorious when all was said and done.
Both rosters are absolutely stacked with young talent that will have a true evolution of their movement skill as time carries on, but the 49ers, consistently right now, just seem to put more of it to use. In fact, besides at the Quarterback, like we saw play out in the top performers who made the All-Movement Team, for my money anyway, the San Francisco 49ers displayed just a bit more movement skill at almost each position as it played out over the entire course of the season and across conditions (when playing better teams, when facing more complex problems, in times of being under pressure/anxiety, etc). It is for those reasons, the San Francisco 49ers are the Most Masterful Moving Team of 2019.