Biomechanical Review: Top 3 QBs of the 2019 NFL Draft

It’s time to break down the consensus top 3 QB prospects in the upcoming NFL draft

Kyler Murray is an anterior dominant QB, favoring his medial areas.  For an anterior dominant player, he shows high levels of medial posterior thoracic efficiency, seemingly generated via heavy lateral posterior borrowing. His medial anterior efficiency (particularly thoracic and lumbar) is notably high, but also seemingly generated via borrowing- he does not show much independence between the various areas, even as he he otherwise shows high levels of efficiency.  He does not show much cervical independence, yet still shows high levels of throwing accuracy.

In short, Murray offers a bit of a biomechanical conundrum- he shows high levels of efficiency, yet shows very little independence between the three main biomechanical areas (cervical, thoracic, and lumbar).  In practical terms, this translates as a general tightness to his mechanics- his throws are accurate and powerful, but he does not show much ability to modulate his throwing arc. His release is very quick and accurate even while on the run, but there is substantial lumbar movement that accompanies each throw.  In addition, while he is a very accurate thrower, his seeming lack of cervical independence translates as an apparent inability to scan the field quickly- he appears to be a one-read passer.

Overall, Murray would make me very nervous as an NFL drafter.  His upside is enormous- Deshaun Watson has shown that a running threat at QB who can make accurate passes from unconventional spots in the backfield can be very dangerous to defenses.  Russell Wilson is also an obvious comparison point, as another former baseball star who throws accurate deep passes while on the run. However, Wilson is posterior dominant, and shows very high levels of independence between biomechanical areas- Wilson is able to absorb punishment and continue throwing accurate passes.  Given the apparent heavy borrowing (and general tightness) inherent to Murray’s mechanics, I question whether Murray will be able to absorb NFL-level punishment and still be able to throw accurately. To me, Murray is therefore something of a high-risk high-reward gamble. He may play very effectively when fully healthy. But whether he is able to sustain health (and play well at less than 100%) is a serious question, given his taught, borrowing-derived mechanics.

Dwayne Haskins is an anterior dominant QB, favoring his medial areas.  He shows high levels of medial posterior thoracic efficiency (particularly for an anterior dominant QB), as well as high levels of medial anterior thoracic efficiency.  His lateral posterior thoracic efficiency is seemingly generated via borrowing from lumbar areas, but his medial posterior thoracic efficiency appears to be efficient and independent (with perhaps some borrowing from the cervical areas).  Along the anterior, Haskins shows independence between cervical and thoracic areas, with some overlap between anterior lumbar and thoracic areas along the lateral pathways.

Haskins profiles as an effective pocket passer.  His lumbar efficiency (particularly posterior) does not appear to be suitable to present a regular running threat (although his medial anterior lumbar efficiency hints at some potential sneaky run gains in short yardage situations).  And Haskins’ somewhat lacking lateral thoracic efficiency (both anterior and posterior) may translate to some difficulty arcing in touch throws. But Haskins shows high levels of cervical independence, which translates as an ability to quickly scan the field (and see incoming pressure) without adjusting his throwing mechanics.  In combination with high levels of medial thoracic efficiency (both anterior and posterior), Haskins is able to make accurate passes to all levels of the field (particularly bullet passes, given his medial leanings).  In other words, he appears to possess all the requisite traits of a pocket-passing NFL QB- the cervical independence to quickly scan the field and gauge oncoming pressure, the anterior lumbar efficiency to adjust to pressure in the pocket, and the medial thoracic efficiency (both anterior and posterior) to make accurate passes (particularly bullet passes) to all levels of the field.  Overall, Haskins seems like the safest bet at QB in this class, and appears more likely than not to become a successful long-term pocket-passing starter.

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.

The bottom line

If I were Denver’s GM, I would work the phones to try to find a way to trade up and draft Dwayne Haskins.  He seems as safe a bet as any to become a successful NFL QB. And while Haskins isn’t a great fit in a Kubiak-style system, I would challenge my coaches to build a system around Haskins’ strengths as a pocket-passer.  It’s easier to build a new offensive system than to find a quality NFL QB.

But if early indications are true, that Denver plans on drafting Drew Lock, I won’t necessarily consider that decision a mistake.  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.