(the following is a significant update to part 1 of this series)
Sometimes methodological breakthroughs happen at inopportune times. Like, for example, the day after one has published one’s findings using older methodology. In this case, on Saturday (the day after part one of this series went up), a breakthrough was made seemingly finally enabling reliable measure of the most lateral anterior thoracic pathway. Although it’s only been a few days since then, rigorous testing seems to back up the reliability of this method, with measures correlating strongly with expected results (although more testing is obviously needed).
As such, I went back and applied this measure to the current crop of lateral anterior oriented quarterbacks. And the results were somewhat surprising.
For Mac Jones*, a clearer picture appeared. One in which the closest analog to his profile now appears to be Jared Goff (albeit with a different orientation– medial centric posterior dominant). Goff shows high thoracic efficiency overall, as well as reasonably good mobility/ lumbar independence. Very good overall accuracy, and can hit all levels of the field. But without full efficiency on any throws, Goff is susceptible to pressure interrupting/ slowing his throws/ progressions, and hits eventually enact their toll on his ability to manage a game. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jones ends up with a similar type of career– very effective on individual throws, but under duress/ taking hits, his level of play may fall off due to seeming lack of full efficiency. And if the Goff/ Jones comparison holds when my lateral anterior methodology matures, there will be a certain irony to McVay shipping out Goff in the same offseason that Shanahan (running a very similar system) presumably drafts Jones.
With the updated methodology, Trevor Lawrence’s* efficiency also came into clearer focus. For example, it became apparent that Lawrence’s shoulder injury, despite being to his non-throwing shoulder, clearly affected the efficiency of his throwing mechanic during his pro day. However, even with seemingly accurate measures of the most lateral anterior thoracic pathways, Lawrence’s throwing mechanic still seems to lack full efficiency, with constant forearm involvement that may eventually sap his delivery of strength/ accuracy. Again, more time is needed to test this updated methodology, and even if accurate, more methodological development is still needed to fully assess lateral anterior efficiency. But my suspicion that Lawrence may not live up to his draft slot is increasing.
Of the three lateral oriented quarterbacks to be re-evaluated using new measures, Trey Lance* showed by far the greatest change. With a full picture of the most lateral anterior thoracic pathway, it is now apparent that this pathway contains Trey Lance’s one fully efficient mechanical area. Although the constant arm involvement in other areas is still present, having this one fully efficient pathway completely re-frames his profile. There are still legitimate concerns, such as the previously described cervical thoracic overlap that strongly suggests issues with depth-related accuracy. And it’s clear that, despite now-apparent full efficiency in one lateral-most thoracic area, Lance is still quite raw as a passer overall. But assuming further updated methodology continues to show full efficiency in Lance’s lateral anterior thoracic area, he now appears to meet the baseline throwing needs of the position. Which, in combination with his high levels of lumbar efficiency/ running ability, may indeed make him a successful long-term starter. Still likely a project (at least as a passer), but one with far greater chances of long-term success.
Below is the final pre-draft thoracic efficiency rankings for studied QBs, with methodology as mature as possible for now (and lateral anterior oriented QBs labeled with asterisks). These rankings are for thoracic (throwing related) efficiency, not taking into account overall athleticism
- Zach Wilson: 2 areas of full thoracic efficiency (posterior)
- Kyle Trask: 1 area of full thoracic efficiency (medial anterior)
- *Trey Lance: 1 area of full thoracic efficiency (lateral anterior)
- Davis Mills: ~1 area of full thoracic efficiency (lateral posterior)
- *Trevor Lawrence: 0 areas of full thoracic efficiency
- *Mac Jones: 0 areas of full thoracic efficiency
- Justin Fields: 0 areas of full thoracic efficiency
- Kellen Mond: 0 areas of full thoracic efficiency
A full revision of both lateral anterior oriented methodology and quarterback analytical methodology has left little time for non-quarterback draft study this offseason. As such, focus was diffused across positions to try to analyze the best possible talents available for Denver’s first round pick. A few players stood out as high-level talents and good potential fits in Denver. Please note that full profiles were not built for any non-studied players.
Starting with a relatively obvious name, Penei Sewell (lateral oriented anterior dominant) would likely make an excellent right tackle in Denver, with very high levels of lateral anterior efficiency and excellent size/ mobility. Sewell favors lumbar efficiency over thoracic, and is better in motion/ going forward (where he can use his bulk/ speed to overwhelm defenders) than falling straight back in pass protection. But overall, an excellent tackle prospect, and the clear standout at the position for this draft. To my eyes, he is not quite the generational prospect that Mehki Becton appears to be, but is nonetheless a high level talent who would give Denver a long-term upgrade on the right side of the line.
If Denver opts to stay at the ninth pick, the best talent likely to be available (and very likely the best offensive skill position player in this draft) appears to be DeVonta Smith (medial centric anterior dominant). Smith shows extremely high levels of both thoracic and lumbar efficiency, translating to incredible speed, leaping ability, and an enormous (and powerful) catch radius. In Alabama’s 2020 offense, Smith seemed essentially unguardable, regularly breaking wide open, and making circus catches even when covered. On one of Smith’s end-zone catches in 2020, game presenters pointed out that Smith caught the ball just above the height of a basketball rim– and still got his foot down in bounds. It’s often mentioned that Kyle Trask’s weapons made him a better passer, yet I would argue that no offensive skill position player made quarterbacking easier than DeVonta Smith in 2020.
From a pure biomechanical perspective, Smith not only shows tremendous efficiency, he also shows considerable slack and room to grow (and fill out his frame). So for as well as he played in 2020, Smith likely still has not hit his ceiling. And while he is incredibly slender and therefore a poor blocker at present, Smith nevertheless profiles closest to Randy Moss of any WR I’ve studied in modern times. In other words, a true game-breaking threat, with an incredibly rare combination of superlative speed, size, ball tracking, and an enormous/ powerful catch radius. To my eyes, Smith would immediately make Drew Lock (or any vertically oriented passer) far more successful.
On the defensive side of the ball, two linebackers stood out on film. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (lateral oriented posterior dominant) shows very high levels of lateral posterior efficiency (particularly thoracic), as well as somewhat under-developed anterior areas. This means that Owusu-Koramoah perfectly fits the Vic Fangio coverage archetype– lateral oriented posterior dominant players who favor thoracic efficiency over lumbar, with long efficient arms to break up passes and tight lumbar areas allowing them to close quickly in zone coverage. And there probably isn’t a better coverage linebacker available in the 2021 draft– Owusu-Koramoah shows rare ability in this area, regardless of scheme. In addition, Owusu-Koramoah shows truly excellent speed in pursuit, and anticipation/ closing ability in blitzing. Unfortunately, Owusu-Koramoah’s under-devloped anterior areas significantly limit his prowess in tackling, as well as his ability to navigate/ play physically in traffic. Some of this can likely be coached up, and Owusu-Koramoah shows some room to further develop his anterior areas, but Owusu-Koramoah is unlikely to ever be a between-the-tackles run clogger. Still, as a coverage linebacker, Owusu-Koramoah offers rare athleticism and fit within Fangio’s scheme.
A far more well-rounded linebacker prospect is Zaven Collins (lateral anterior oriented). Collins shows very high levels of lateral anterior efficiency (both thoracic and lumbar) as well as good posterior development (particularly for an anterior dominant prospect). Collins shows good ability to diagnose run plays and fill gaps as well as the ability to shed blocks. While not quite as overwhelmingly athletic in coverage/ closing speed as Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Collins nevertheless shows good ability to stay with players in coverage. In the NFL, Collins appears very likely to be an excellent every-down linebacker, with some notable strengths (quickness, length, gap closing) and few apparent weaknesses. Not as scheme-dependent as Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and perhaps an even better overall linebacker prospect (albeit without Owusu-Koramoah’s rare strengths in coverage/ pursuit).
These four players would be my main targets in the upcoming draft– the first two if Denver stays at pick 9, and the second two via substantial trade down. While it can be argued that Smith would be redundant given Denver’s seeming wealth at WR, I would counter that in this case Smith is such an outlier that Denver will likely appear foolish in the future if they do not take him when available. Drafting Smith and then trading Jeudy (which would be my recommendation) would certainly be a bold move that many would question. But Jeudy, while an excellent route runner, is (to my eyes) more of a quality #2 WR– his extraordinarily taut biomechanical system means that he is very susceptible to disruptions via holding (and is therefore somewhat at the mercy of refs), and shows a very small/ tight catching radius. In addition, because Jeudy is often disrupted via physical coverage, it is difficult to predict exactly where he will be on a given route (even if he does generally break free eventually) leading to a far more difficult process for quarterbacks– who generally want to be able to throw to a spot and assume their WR will be able to get there. In other words, Jeudy is not a player who dictates to defenses (except when the refs are calling it tight)– he reacts to them, and forces quarterbacks to react to him. Whereas Smith wins to a specific spot far more often than not. And makes the ‘just throw it up’ sideline attempt extremely viable (much like Randy Moss). Drew Lock (or any vertically oriented passer) would likely be far more successful with Smith and Sutton on the outside (and Hamler in the middle).
If neither Smith nor Sewell are available at pick #9, I would look to trade back with an eye towards drafting either Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah or Zaven Collins. With either linebacker, Denver would likely be drafting one of the top defensive players of the draft (albeit with the caveat that college YouTube footage makes DB biomechanical study extremely difficult), while also accruing additional draft capital. If Denver manages to select any of these above four players with their first pick(s), it would appear (from a biomechanical perspective) that they maximized their position via the best talent available.