Biomechanical Re-Reviews: 2019 Draft

This part of the three-part 2019 look-backs will focus on the reviews of Denver’s 2019 draft class. As with part one, all reviews are quoted in full (with links to the original posts at the bottom), followed by an analysis of the review. This set of re-reviews is particularly intriguing since, in addition to being a chance to review predictive results and compare updated methodology, it’s an opportunity to revisit these players via much higher-quality NFL grade All 22 tape and see how they’ve progressed/ developed since entering the league.

“Dre’Mont Jones is an anterior dominant defensive tackle, heavily favoring his medial areas. He shows high levels of medial anterior efficiency, particularly in his thoracic areas. His medial anterior lumbar areas are also reasonably efficient, although not particularly independent. Jones’ posterior thoracic areas are efficient in the medial areas, while his posterior lumbar areas appear somewhat under-developed. Overall, Jones’ lateral areas appear to be borrowed against towards his medial areas, and Jones is much more efficient in thoracic areas vs lumbar ones (particularly in his posterior areas).

Jones is a very quick player, particularly going straight ahead. He shows fast and powerful hands, with a very quick/ strong initial punch/ hand move. Jones’ posterior lumbar areas however, are not developed or strong enough to support continued push- Jones is a player that wins with his initial burst/ hands, not through sustained forward strength. His base is relatively weak, so he can be pushed backward and his hand strength (while notable) can be nullified by this weak base. In addition, Jones’ lateral lumbar areas are not efficient enough to allow him to pursue successfully from the edges- Jones is most effective (by far) rushing straight ahead. Jones’ initial burst/ quickness and strong upper body translate to very effective ability to rush the passer up the middle. Jones therefore seems likely to be an immediate contributor rushing from the DT spots on passing downs, and will likely be a very effective sub-package rusher for years to come.”

Before evaluating the above review of Jones, a quick note on the writing seen here– this was the first post written after the Guide to Biomechanical Efficiency went up (in fact I specifically delayed posting this until after the guide was finished), and at the time I decided to include a purely technical analysis first (assuming people could now understand it better), followed by the practical football analysis. This is the style seen throughout this draft review– first the pure biomechanics, then the football analysis– and I don’t think it works as well as the later settled-on style wherein the technical side is elided with the practical in an attempt to show how the biomechanics specifically affect the football.

Nevertheless, this review was accurate in noting Jones’s high levels of medial thoracic/ lumbar efficiency and how it translated to first-step quickness/ burst and hand strength. There was however a key mistake made here (and in other reviews from this series)– Jones is listed as having under-developed posterior lumbar areas. Studying his film recently made clear that while Jones’s posterior lumbar areas aren’t terribly efficient or powerful, they are not at all stunted. This is a key distinction because if Jones did show stunted/ under-developed posterior lumbar areas, he would be more likely to experience lower body injuries.

Where this analysis was correct was in noting Jones’s unusually efficient medial anterior areas (both thoracic and lumbar) giving Jones truly elite burst for the position (and for a man his size). Although I didn’t stress enough how elite this burst was in this review, it was made clear in the comments when I emphasized how unusually quick and powerful is Jones’s first step (comparing his first step quickness to Aaron Donald). As predicted, Jones was an effective rusher from the DT/ DL right from the start of his career.

What’s interesting to note regarding Jones’s development is that his technical style grew over time to match his biomechanical strengths, and now mostly successfully masks his weaknesses. As noted in the original review, Jones wins with burst, not sustained strength, and as he has developed, he has mastered the technique of continually re-bursting (often changing directions or adding moves in the process) rather than trying to drive straight ahead. A typical Jones pass rush will include three or four (or more) different bursts forward– a first step in one direction, then a jab in the other, then a spin move, followed by a burst around the corner (for example). By doing this constant quick re-bursting process (rather than simply driving straight ahead) Jones keeps o-lineman on their toes trying to react to him, and eventually one of his multiple successive bursts will typically break through. On run plays, Jones will burst to a specific gap and then either dive (to clog the hole) or continually re-burst to either side of the o-lineman to try to circumnavigate the block. Jones is not a plugger or a 2-gap player despite mostly lining up at DT (and always with his hand in the ground). But he has already shown high levels of skill at penetrating from the DL position. And unlike what was stated in this review, Jones has ceased to be a liability on run plays– again by using his burst. Although Jones started his career as a pass-rush player/ liability against the run, he has already matured into a complete DL with a rare level of quickness for a man his size.

“Justin Hollins is an anterior dominant player favoring his lateral areas. He shows reasonably high levels of lateral anterior efficiency (both lumbar and thoracic), while his medial anterior efficiency is just mediocre (also in both areas). Hollins’ posterior areas are not very efficient, and his medial lumbar areas in particular seem underdeveloped. While Hollins favors his posterior lateral areas over his medial ones (like with his anterior areas), both appear somewhat underdeveloped. His medial posterior thoracic areas also appear under-developed.

Hollins shows good quickness off the edge- his lateral anterior efficiency is such that he is very quick in pursuit via circular approach. However, Hollins’ strength is severely compromised by his under-developed posterior areas (particularly medial). As such he is very easily redirected by blocking and is unable to stack against the run. Hollins therefore seems unlikely to stick as an NFL defensive lineman- his posterior areas are simply too under-developed. His quickness is likely an asset on special teams, and it is possible that a position shift to linebacker might better suit his abilities. However, at his current state of development, Hollins appears to be a tweener without any particular noteworthy strength (except rushing unblocked off the edge). He will therefore likely need to play well on special teams to make the gameday roster early in his career.”

The constant use of the word under-developed in the above review highlights a key methodological distinction made since this article was posted. Although by 2019 I was careful to always list a player’s orientation at the outset of each review, I was still at this time trying to analyze players via a universally-applied grading system, wherein all players’ biomechanical areas were measured and weighted equally against all other orientations. In other words I would compare a medial centric anterior dominant player against a lateral oriented posterior dominant player and make no adjustments at all for their orientation, simply comparing and contrasting one directly to the other. This, it turns out, was a key mistake made here (and earlier)– since a person’s orientation directly affects their development patterns, a much more accurate grading system (and analysis of development) is to only directly compare players who share the same orientation, not to try to apply some universal standard of development. Each orientation will (and should) have different levels/ patterns of development and the only accurate way to gauge development/ efficiency is to create entirely different standards for each orientation.

However, if you ignore the constant use of the word under-developed (which, as in Jones’s review, is not accurate given Hollins’s orientation) this review showed itself to be accurate over time. Hollins never did become a regular contributor in Denver, and in LA became a part-time player (~34% snap percentage) always lining up at the OLB position. On tape in 2020, Hollins showed reasonably high levels of lateral anterior efficiency, but his underwhelming efficiency in other areas still translated to a lack of any true standout skills. Hollins played reasonably well in space as an OLB– he was always set out wide near the line, either rushing the passer (sometimes successfully if unblocked or with enough confusion caused by the rush package) or defending against outside runs. Staley seemed to do a good job of working to Hollins’s strengths and mitigating his weaknesses, having him avoid the interior and giving him plenty of space to rush via circular approach. But Hollins likely tops out as adequate even in this somewhat limited role, and it remains to be seen how he will fit in the new scheme the Rams are installing for 2021.

“Juwann Winfree is an anterior dominant wide receiver, favoring his lateral areas. Winfree shows high levels of anterior efficiency across all his anterior areas- medial and lateral, thoracic and lumbar. However his posterior areas appear under-developed. It therefore seems likely that Winfree is borrowing from posterior areas towards anterior areas.

There was very little college tape of Winfree to evaluate, so this analysis is more of a thin-slice take. Winfree looks to be a very effective route-runner, with good quickness in/ out of breaks and fast changes of direction. Winfree also appears to have good hands, and can extend to make catches away from the body. However, Winfree’s lacking posterior development means he may struggle to break away from press coverage at the line. Winfree also does not appear to be a very strong blocker. Due to his borrowed-against and taut posterior areas, Winfree may struggle with injuries. Overall, Winfree may be something of an inconsistent asset- someone who plays very effectively when healthy (other than blocking), but may struggle to stay healthy over time.”

Finally in this review we see the correct usage of the term under-developed. As noted above, Winfree combines high levels of anterior efficiency with highly under-developed and borrowed-against posterior areas. Compared to Mims and Reagor who were both listed in 2020 as having red flags for injury/ inconsistency due to under-developed posterior areas, Winfree’s posterior areas are even significantly more under-developed/ stunted. Although it was correctly noted in the above review that Winfree might struggle to stay healthy due to this posterior stunting, current methodology (or even methodology from 2020) would issue a much stronger prediction on this front– not that Winfree *might* struggle to stay healthy, but that given his degree of posterior stunting he would be *very likely* to struggle for health/ consistency. As such this review was technically correct in terms of the biomechanical analysis, but the football prediction should have been considerably more influenced by the levels of posterior under-development/ stunting.

“Dalton Risner is an anterior dominant lineman, favoring his medial areas. Risner shows high levels of efficiency in his anterior thoracic and lumbar areas, particularly medially. And for an anterior dominant player, Risner shows high levels of medial posterior efficiency, particularly in his thoracic areas. While Risner does favor his medial areas, he does not appear to borrow from lateral areas- in fact there is very little apparent borrowing system-wise except perhaps between posterior cervical and thoracic areas. Risner’s posterior lumbar areas are perhaps a bit underdeveloped, but for an anterior dominant player, he nevertheless shows reasonably high posterior lumbar efficiency. Overall, Risner appears very well balanced between anterior medial and lateral areas, and generally well balanced between anterior and posterior areas (again, for an anterior dominant player).

Risner looks very likely to be a top guard for Denver. He moves very well, both forward and laterally. He shows good balance and can keep his feet under him even under duress. He isn’t necessarily going to blow people off the ball, but for an anterior dominant player, he shows good strength and can hold his own in one-on-one situations. Given that Denver appears to be shifting back to a wide-zone scheme, Risner’s movement skills combined with his balance and strength should allow him to play at a very high level right out of the gate. This one looks to be an easy call- great pick by Denver.”

Other than another incorrect usage of the term under-developed, this review showed itself to be accurate over time. Risner did indeed play very well right out of the gate, and as mentioned above Risner was a particularly good fit in Scangarello’s movement-based wide-zone scheme. Unfortunately, Shurmur’s scheme is much less movement-based for the interior OL, relying on the 5 primary OL to drop straight back in pass protection far more often than in Scangarello’s scheme. As such, Risner’s elite movement/ balance was schematically minimized while his lack of straight ahead strength/ power was highlighted. Risner certainly didn’t play poorly overall in 2020 (and some of his perceived dropoff was due to Cushenberry’s rookie struggles (particularly early in the year)), but Risner’s scheme/ skill-set mismatch meant that he went from being a top young guard to being a player who struggled in some of the more onerous one-on-one matchups (again, particularly when dropping straight back). While Risner will likely adjust and improve in Shurmur’s scheme in 2021, a more movement-based blocking scheme (getting Risner moving laterally/ out in space/ to the 2nd level) will again highlight his rare strength/ balance while in motion.

“Noah Fant is a posterior dominant tight end, favoring his lateral areas. His lateral posterior efficiency in both thoracic and lumbar areas is notably high. In addition, his lateral anterior thoracic efficiency is reasonably high for a posterior dominant player. Fant’s posterior lumbar efficiency is reasonably high in his lateral areas, but he clearly favors his thoracic areas over his lumbar ones. Fant’s medial posterior thoracic efficiency is reasonably high, but Fant is strongly balanced towards the lateral in both posterior and anterior areas. Fant’s anterior lumbar areas are fairly tight and appear to be borrowed against towards Fant’s anterior thoracic areas. Fant generally appears somewhat underdeveloped along the medial anterior, with tight anterior mechanics and borrowing across his anterior thoracic/ lumbar areas. Overall, Fant favors thoracic over lumbar, lateral over medial, and posterior over anterior efficiency.

Fant looks to have the frame to develop into a top tight end. His speed is excellent, due to his posterior lumbar efficiency. In addition, Fant shows soft hands, albeit only within a relatively short range from his body- at full extension, Fant’s somewhat under-developed medial anterior areas appear to lead to stiff fingers. Although Fant’s speed is noteworthy, his initial quickness off the line is somewhat lacking, due to compromised anterior efficiency. Fant is a fairly strong blocker for his size, particularly down the field- once he gets himself moving (again somewhat slowly due to his under-developed anterior mechanics), Fant’s lateral strength allows him to redirect blockers very effectively. The issue with his blocking is the same as with his route-running: Fant lacks quick burst due to his under-developed anterior (particularly medially). However, Fant has the baseline strength/ speed/ lateral movement skills to develop into a consistent playmaker when/ if his anterior areas fully develop. Likely an early-career move-specialist utilizing straight-line speed, Fant may develop into a top all-around threat when/ if he can further develop his anterior areas.”

Although Noah Fant has yet to truly break out statistically, a review of Fant’s 2020 tape shows that the above analysis appears to be accurate. Where in 2019 Fant played much like he profiled at draft time, with excellent speed somewhat inhibited by a lack of suddenness (anterior efficiency), in 2020 Fant showed significantly increased anterior efficiency/ burst. Fant’s anterior lumbar areas in particular developed significantly between 2019 and 2020 (specifically from the knees up), and this increased development/ efficiency translated to far more effective route-running/ ability to beat press coverage (and better ability to quickly engage blockers).

As noted above, Fant does show somewhat under-developed/ stunted medial anterior areas, and while these areas developed significantly between 2019-2020 (in both lumbar and thoracic areas), injuries to these areas (particularly lumbar) may continue to trouble Fant, much as his ankle injury did in 2020. In addition, Fant’s catch radius continues to be somewhat constrained by his under-developed anterior thoracic areas.

However, Fant still looks very likely to become a top tier tight end, particularly if he has developed between the 2020-2021 seasons at all like he did between 2019-2020. Fant shows rare speed and good strength for the position, and his increasing anterior efficiency/ burst is clearly reflected in his ability to get open/ run after the catch (particularly prior to his ankle injury in 2020). And while Risner and Lock have seen their levels of play decline due to the shift from Scangarello’s vertically oriented wide-zone scheme to Shurmur’s horizontal misdirection scheme, Noah Fant has benefited significantly from Shurmur’s tendency to isolate TEs in space (including often lined up in the slot) with room to run after the catch. Assuming continued development from Fant during the 2021 offseason, this upcoming season may offer a true breakout.

“Since I’ve already written quite a few words about Drew Lock’s biomechanics (which are re-posted below), I’ll instead tell a little personal anecdote to help explain why I’m bullish about Lock’s prospects in Denver.

When I was starting as a freshman at music conservatory, I thought I was the bees knees. I had spent the last few summers before college playing concerts with some very accomplished musicians (including a then-famous piano prodigy), had won several music competitions, and was recruited at several top conservatories (and given a generous scholarship at the school I attended). My first week at conservatory, I was the only freshman/ sophomore cellist (and one of four in the entire school) placed in the upper junior/ senior orchestra. My head was uncomfortably swollen.

So what did my cello professor (a man I respect tremendously, now and then) do with this “hot shit” cellist? He forbade me from entering any competitions or playing any concerts that weren’t directly required by my degree/ summer festivals, took me off of any challenging music repertoire, and assigned me nothing but technical studies and fundamental exercises. And it was the best thing that could have happened to me as a cellist.

Drew Lock had the exact opposite college experience. As a freshman, he was expected to sit and learn, but was instead thrown into the starting lineup by injury midway through the year. He then started all 4 years, playing against SEC defenses, with new offensive coordinators (and systems) each season. He was given no time to learn fundamentals, instead being expected to perform at the highest level while carrying an undermanned team and learning new offenses each year.

For me, that would’ve been like immediately entering the toughest competitions in the world while learning new repertoire with a new cello teacher every year. These conditions are simply not conducive to mechanical learning. Learning mechanics involves slow repetitions, with focus on basic movements (which can then slowly be chained together into advanced ones). It’s a long, slow process that requires patience and time away from the spotlight.

Drew lock appears to finally have the time and space to focus on mechanical learning. It’s been extremely encouraging for me to hear Elway/ Fangio consistently emphasize that Lock is expected to sit and learn for the forseable future. This is exactly what he needs. And if he gets the time and space to shore up his fundamentals, I think we’ll all be happy with the results. After all, even with being thrown into the fire too soon, Lock managed to increase his completion percentage every year he played- from 49% to 55% to 58% to 63%. Imagine what he could do with some real learning time?

Here’s what I wrote about Lock pre-draft-

“Drew Lock is a posterior dominant QB, favoring his lateral areas. Lock shows very high levels of lateral posterior thoracic efficiency, as well as good levels of lateral posterior lumbar efficiency. Lock also shows independence between his posterior cervical and thoracic areas, as well as independence between his lateral posterior lumbar and thoracic areas . Along the anterior, Lock shows reasonably high levels of lateral thoracic efficiency, but subpar levels of efficiency in the medial lumbar area and little independence between cervical and thoracic areas. Lock’s anterior thoracic efficiency appears to be borrowed from lumbar areas.

In practical terms, Lock shows excellent arm strength and ability to arc the ball in to his receivers (due to high levels of lateral posterior thoracic efficiency). Lock’s running ability is also reasonably strong given his lateral posterior lumbar efficiency. While on the run, Lock can make accurate passes when he draws from his lateral posterior lumbar areas- otherwise his accuracy suffers on such passes. Lock’s posterior cervical independence means that Lock throws very accurate intermediate/ deep passes when he has time/ space to work through his release. Lock’s stiff anterior areas mean that when he is caught off-guard (such as by pressure) he loses control easily and can fumble/ run into trouble. In addition, his lacking anterior efficiency lowers his release point, so that his balls may be more easily tipped. Finally, his seeming lack of anterior cervical efficiency means that he can be slow to scan the field, and is not always able to easily gauge pressure in the pocket.

If thrown onto an NFL field tomorrow, it seems likely that Lock would sink rather than swim. His anterior areas are simply too stiff/ inefficient for him to handle NFL pressure, and he does not appear to read defenses well enough to avoid putting himself in harm’s way. However, in my experience, posterior dominant QBs are much better able to generate anterior efficiency over time (particularly before age 25) than anterior dominant QBs are able to generate posterior efficiency. Dak Prescott made such gains incredibly quickly, while Jared Goff, Mitchell Trubisky, and Drew Brees took a couple years but were able to make the necessary adjustments. And when I compare tape of Lock in 2017 to tape from 2018, the gains in efficiency he displays are enormous (as reflected in his rapidly rising completion percentage)- he seems to be still on the sharp side of his growth curve.

As for a potential fit in Denver, Lock’s closest NFL analog is Joe Flacco. They both show high levels of lateral posterior efficiency, they both show somewhat compromised anterior systems, and they both share some of the same weaknesses regarding quick-reading/ quick-throwing. So if, as I argued in this article, Flacco is an excellent fit in the system Rich Scangarello is presumably designing, then so too is Drew Lock. Lock could presumably sit behind Flacco for 1-2 years and learn a tremendous amount about playing in this system, while working on developing/ refining his anterior system.”

“Lock shows some top-level traits, is still improving very quickly in his areas of weakness, and is a perfect fit for the offensive system preferred by the Denver coaches (a system which highlights Denver’s inherent altitude advantage by forcing defenses to run maximal distances per first down). Lock would theoretically have the luxury of sitting for 1-2 years behind a QB from whom he could learn a tremendous amount, given their biomechanical similarities. Overall, he would be entering a situation seemingly designed specifically to maximize his chances of NFL success. So while it requires some projection to envision Lock succeeding at an NFL level (given his need to continue developing his anterior thoracic/ lumbar efficiency), it seems as likely as not that Lock would eventually find success if drafted by Denver.”

Drew Lock has been covered extensively since this review was written– one full-length post after his first NFL start in 2019, and another after his first few starts in Pat Shurmur’s offense in 2020. Although there are a few errors in this above review (and Joe Flacco will be addressed in part three of this series), for the most part this review showed itself to be accurate. Drew Lock did need time to adjust his mechanics upon entering the NFL, and given the time to adjust these mechanics, Lock did significantly increase his level of play in a properly-fitting scheme (in 2019). Lock did (and does) show under-developed anterior areas (lumbar, cervical, and thoracic) which directly affect his ability to respond to pressure, read the field laterally, and make quick horizontal passes/ adjustments. While Lock has yet to find a fit in Pat Shurmur’s offense, he does show increased anterior development (particularly lumbar) and it is possible that he will eventually be able to make the necessary adjustments to be able to play reasonably well even in a poorly-fitting scheme (even though to my eyes there is no question he would play far better in a more biomechanically-aligned scheme).

The errors in the above review include stating that Lock had four offensive coordinators in college– he had three coordinators but four offenses, since one coordinator changed offenses between seasons, making the above statement factually incorrect but accurate in impact. Additionally, listing Mitchell Trubisky among the “successful” posterior dominant QBs would never happen given current QB methodology (which shows that Trubisky has zero areas of full thoracic efficiency). And the errors regarding Joe Flacco will be specifically addressed in part 3 of this series. However, the biomechanics listed above (summed up succinctly as high levels of posterior efficiency, under-developed anterior) showed themselves to be correct, as did Lock’s specific fit in Rich Scangarello’s offense.

Interestingly, recently updated methodology is actually more bullish on Drew Lock’s prospects than the above review. Lock shows one area of full thoracic efficiency (lateral posterior) which historically has only rarely resulted in a QB who failed to find find starting success. Lock’s under-developed anterior areas remain a major impediment to him succeeding at present (particularly in Pat Shurmur’s scheme), but in a vertically-oriented scheme that minimizes Lock’s horizontal range (and reads), he may still find success in the future even if it eludes him in 2021.

Overall, while there was (and surely still is) a lot of room for methodology to grow from these draft reviews, they showed themselves to be accurate over time (particularly if you ignore the incorrect usage of the word under-developed). Jones played as a rookie like he profiled in college, as a standout rusher from the DL but a liability against the run, before improving his technique significantly as a sophomore. Hollins still appears to be a tweener without any standout skills, and Winfree certainly struggled to stay healthy/ effective (although this outcome should have been emphasized as a far greater likelihood). Risner played like a top young guard in a properly-fitting scheme, and Fant still shows the ability and trajectory of a top young TE as his anterior areas continue to develop. Lock’s situation is the most complicated (and has been addressed comprehensively in other posts), but as noted in the above review, Lock both needed time to further develop, and a scheme to fit his strengths (and hide his weaknesses). While these reviews contain a few key mistakes (the biggest being the failure to weigh orientation in the measures of development, leading to incorrect usage of the term under-developed), it is also clear that methodology was generally beginning to mature.

Part 3 (Joe Flacco) will address the biggest mistake made in 2019 evaluations.

Links to the original posts– here and here