Biomechanical Review: Teaching, Youth, and Drew Lock’s NFL Debut

Before we get to analyzing Drew Lock’s first career NFL start, I hope you’ll indulge me a little personal anecdote/ musing

At one of my first ever professional orchestra gigs, I was sitting assistant principal to a man who was 10-15 years older than me. The time before an orchestral rehearsal is about business- you tune, warm up, and review a few of the tougher passages from the upcoming music.  But after the rehearsal, it’s customary to get to know your stand partner a bit. So after the first rehearsal, I turned to my stand partner and asked, “Did you by any chance happen to study with [my old teacher]?”. His response was, “Yep. You did too, huh?”

Over the course of one orchestra rehearsal, each of us recognized in the other the characteristic technical style of our old teacher, despite never having overlapped in conservatory, and without knowing each other at all.  Such is the legacy of teachers in a highly skilled/ technical profession. To this day, I can always recognize when a cellist has studied with my old teacher (or someone from his teaching tree).

Gary Kubiak’s legacy as a teacher is entirely different.  

Unlike with myself and my stand partner, there is no persistent technical style that stays long after the teaching is done.  As soon as Shanahan/ Kubiak QBs move to another offensive system, the characteristic Kubiak-style lateral posterior borrowing disappears.  Which leads me to believe that the Kubiak technique(s) must be relatively simple and integrated directly into the offense.  

My best guess is that it may be something as simple as angling the right foot towards the spot where the ball is meant to arrive.  This simple technique would in itself generate the type of thoracic borrowing that I have seen in every Shanahan/ Kubiak QB dating back to Elway himself.  The type of borrowing that is most beneficial to lateral-oriented posterior dominant throwers, like Drew Lock.  

You know who else is a lateral-oriented posterior dominant thrower?  John Elway- the first man to ever play QB in the wide-zone Shanahan offense, and the man for whom these techniques would have been originally designed.  

Drew Lock’s Debut

When studying historical players/ footage, it’s easy to overlook how much biomechanical development can occur between the draft and when a player turns 25 (which is roughly when the biomechanical system stops expanding).  Players like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady improved tremendously in their first few years in the NFL, but in retrospect it’s easy to feel like these improvements were pre-ordained, like greatness was inevitable. Studying young players in real-time however really drives home how much development occurs after the draft.  How players develop in their first few NFL seasons is tremendously impactful to their eventual success.  

Some players are hopelessly flawed at draft time- Paxton Lynch was never going to develop into a quality NFL QB, regardless of his work ethic (one thing that doesn’t change between ages 20-25 is overlapped large-scale biomechanical junctions, such as Lynch’s overlapped posterior thoracic-lumbar junction).  But for players like Lock, it’s easy to feel uncertain about their future prospects when needed development has yet to happen by the draft.

So it was extremely encouraging to this particular Broncos fan/ biomechanical researcher to see just how far Lock has progressed in the past several months.  Where his ability to organize his throwing around his fully-efficient lateral posterior thoracic area was still very much a work in progress during preseason, in week 13 of the 2019 season Lock was successfully organizing his throws around full efficiency by default, only interrupted by nerves or over-thinking.  In other words, what was once uncertain (in terms of development) now seems virtually guaranteed. While there will likely still be ups and downs in the coming weeks/ months as Lock continues to grow and learn, to my eyes, Lock is already showing franchise-caliber QB mechanics.

Breaking down the tape, I’ve listed below all the throws where Lock did not show full efficiency in his throwing- where his throws were not fully organized around his fully-efficient lateral posterior thoracic area.  In every other case, Lock showed a fully efficient throwing mechanic- meaning that Lock’s fully-efficient lateral posterior area drove the throw, with all other thoracic areas free to add small adjustments. The clearest visual tell that Lock is well-organized in his throw is that he will often show a limp post-throw wrist, much like classic jump shooters such as Ray Allen or Reggie Miller.

Here are Lock’s inefficient throws (the times are based on the below Youtube clip of Lock’s first start)

0:00 Drew Lock’s first pass of the game was one of his worst.  It would appear that nerves played a role

0:32 Lock wasn’t able to organize his throw on this bootleg

2:26 we’re now well into the 2nd quarter before Lock’s next inefficient throw

4:49 this is the interception throw.  When watching this live, I thought Lock was going to throw the INT before he even released the ball.  He was clearly trying to force a throw

5:48 this is the Hamilton drop.  Although Hamilton clearly should have caught this ball regardless (it was on his hands), Lock’s inefficient/ forced delivery cause the ball to be far less catchable than with Lock’s efficient throws

Those are all the throws Drew Lock made with inefficient mechanics in his NFL debut.  5 out of 28. Two of those were early and likely influenced by nerves, while the last three seemed to be caused by trying to force a throw instead of throwing in rhythm.  When the default becomes efficiency, with only exceptions for inefficiency, this means that the switch has flipped.

For this biomechanical researcher, it would appear that Drew Lock has arrived.