Biomechanical Review: Denver’s 2021 Draft (Part 1)

In 2018, work was completed on a detailed biomechanical model of the human body. This model (and the work done to build it) offers the key building blocks for any biomechanical analysis posted to this site. However, this model was not, in and of itself, enough information to be able to correctly analyze NFL players via video study. It served the raw data– the sort of picture on the front of the puzzle box– that enabled analyses based upon it. But the analytical methods still needed to be developed– the analytical jiggsaw puzzle still needed assembling.

Most early analyses (in 2018) were too based on posterior efficiency and substantially undervalued anterior efficiency. In 2019, the areas of the puzzle relating to medial anterior and lateral posterior efficiency started to coalesce. In 2020, medial posterior efficiency areas started to come into much better focus. And in 2021, lateral anterior efficiency has begun to be pieced together fully.

But, as often happens when you get to the end of a puzzle project, you start to finally see all the little errors, all the little missassembled pieces. There becomes a massive correction phase, where numerous small errors all over the puzzle board start to be noticed and reassembled. It would appear that this phase has now been entered for my analytical methods.

As a result, my methods are changing faster now than at any other time over the past several years. My opinions on a few of the below payers have already (in a few cases) already changed. And I may revisit these again in a few months, after this error correction phase is (hopefully) complete. Nevertheless, below is part one of this year’s draft review, covering day one and two.

Patrick Surtain II (medial centric posterior dominant) shows a remarkably well- rounded and fully developed fascial system. In both lumbar and thoracic areas, there appear to be no obviously stunted areas, and efficiency appears reasonably high across the board. Surtain shows smooth hips, good speed, and excellent play strength. In addition, Surtain shows good recognition and tackling ability in run support. While he may not be the same level of athlete as Champ Bailey, in certain ways Surtain reminds me of Bailey– they both are medial centric posterior dominant, they both show good play strength and tackling ability, and they both seem to excel at off-man coverage. Where Bailey was clearly superior to Surtain as rookies is in closing speed and awareness– Bailey always moved with incredible speed towards his cover as soon as the quarterback threw the ball, no matter how large a cushion he gave initially. Surtain does not show this same level of closing speed/ agility. And in general, a lack of suddenness (anterior efficiency) would appear to be Surtain’s main weakness for now. As such, while he may be able to eventually improve his closing speed by improving his recognition skills (and breaking sooner on the ball), for now Surtain does not appear to be as strong a cover as Darby (when Darby is fully healthy). But it would appear that Surtain, like Darby, is expected to (eventually) play Fangio’s matchup cover corner role (likely specializing in off-man and deep zone coverage). And even as a rookie, Surtain will likely be able to cover less shifty receivers extremely well in off-man coverage. At present a B+ NFL corner, with All Pro upside if he can improve his closing speed. And unlike Denver’s other matchup-capable corners (Darby and Callahan), Surtain’s well-developed fascial system predicts strong long-term durability.

Quinn Meinerz (medial centric posterior dominant) shows truly superlative medial posterior efficiency. Although he favors thoracic efficiency over lumbar, both appear to be highly efficient in his core medial posterior areas. In college, Meinerz appeared to be carrying an obscene amount of extra weight that severely compromised his mobility (particularly laterally). But during the Senior Bowl, he showed excellent straight ahead mobility and was knocking people backwards off the ball consistently. The one area that was very difficult to evaluate based on his available tape was his lateral agility– in college Meinerz was carrying bowling balls around his waist, and during the Senior Bowl (from what I saw) he wasn’t tested much by stunts or exotic/ unexpected rush packages (which I imagine is the norm for these types of events). So his lateral agility/ blocking ability remains something of an open question, and if there is a weakness to his NFL game it is likely to be in this area. Nevertheless, based on Meinerz’s truly superlative medial posterior efficiency, he appears likely to play at an All Pro level sooner rather than later. I have been optimistic that Lloyd Cushenberry could grow into a top tier center over time. But while Cushenbery likely has an initial leg up on Meinerz in technical development/ recognition, it is hard to imagine him holding off Meinerz for very long. In my opinion (and with the caveat that this is based on very little available/ relevant tape), Meinerz might be the OL steal of the draft.

(quick preface to my Javonte Williams analysis– medial posterior lumbar efficiency is currently undergoing methodological revision, and as such detecting full efficiency in this area is somewhat uncertain. Since there is a qualitative difference between 99% full efficiency and 100% full efficiency (with less than full efficiency being inherently unstable), the following analysis is subject to change once methods mature)

Javonte Williams (medial centric posterior dominant) shows what appears to be full lumbar efficiency in his most medial posterior lumbar areas. Assuming this analysis is accurate, that means that Williams is a rare modern franchise back. One who is capable of playing at a high level every week, even with a large workload. Williams shows generally well-rounded lumbar areas, with good anterior lumbar efficiency for a posterior dominant back, and reasonably good balance between medial and lateral lumbar areas (albeit still clearly favoring medial posterior areas). On the field, Williams runs with superlative power and excellent burst, able to keep his feet churning and powering forward even while off balance and/ or being tackled. While Williams isn’t the shiftiest back, he nevertheless shows a good jump-cut to burst through the hole, and is able to make quick lateral cuts to avoid open field tackles. Williams lacks a third gear to run away from the defense, but his second gear (burst) is very quick to engage and helps him quickly pick up chunk yards once he reaches the hole. Williams’s thoracic efficiency appears reasonably high, and he shows good pass blocking ability. He shows soft hands, but only in a relatively narrow radius from his body– he likely won’t be making too many circus catches. Nevertheless, Williams shows the ability to be able to play well on all three downs, and his power running/ tackle-breaking ability are truly noteworthy. Like many of Paton’s picks in the 2021 draft, Williams’s well-rounded development and posterior alignment predict strong durability. And in combination with Melvin Gordon, the Broncos now appear to be one of only two teams in the NFL with two franchise caliber backs (showing full efficiency in at least one lumbar area), the other being the Browns (Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt).

Baron Browning (medial centric anterior dominant) shows excellent raw athleticism, but very little independence between his otherwise efficient medial anterior lumbar/ thoracic areas. Browning’s baseline efficiency shows in his quick burst off the snap and excellent tackling. But his lack of independence shows itself in his inability to use small subtle motions instead of large whole-body ones. This lack of subtlety of movement means that Browning is unable to stay with receivers in coverage (even though he shows excellent baseline speed and length), and is unable to mirror movements on the other side of the line of scrimmage in run support. His overall athleticism and in particular his burst/ strength show themselves to be very useful when rushing unblocked off the edge or when taking on blockers directly. As such, Browning will likely play very well on special teams, even if he struggles to find a place on defense. And while he seems unlikely to be able to play well off the ball (on defense), he may be able to add moves to his pass rushing repertoire in order to utilize his raw whole-body efficiency playing at edge. Like most of Paton’s picks in the 2021 draft, Browning shows excellent baseline athleticism with very well-rounded development, and will likely be able to stay relatively healthy over time. And if nothing else, Browning will likely become a standout special teams player, with the possibility of becoming an asset at edge.