Biomechanical Draft Preview 2020 (Part 2)

WRs continued

(to read part 1, click here)

Tee Higgins (lateral oriented posterior dominant) shows very high levels of lateral posterior efficiency (both thoracic and lumbar), which combined with his 6’4” frame and leaping ability gives him arguably the greatest ‘above the rim’ ability of anyone in this class of WRs. A long strider with surprising strength as a runner with the ball in his hands, Higgins shows the ability to grow into an excellent route runner, although at present his anterior lumbar areas (particularly medial) appear a bit under-developed. In a career-long sense, Higgins may belong at the top of tier 1 as one of the best candidates to become a very productive long-term WR (particularly paired with a strong-armed QB like Lock). But he may be forced to settle for red zone production and deep shots as a rookie, until his route-running sudden-ness (anterior efficiency) catches up with his impressive lateral posterior frame.

Tier 2– Complementary WRs

Chase Claypool (medial centric posterior dominant) shows a hard-charging galloping running style that appears to be very difficult to cover for DBs. He covers a lot of ground very quickly/ powerfully, and though his cuts are rounded, they are similarly powerful and hard to cover. Unfortunately, it appears that this speed/ power comes from borrowing thoracic areas to lumbar ones, which means that Claypool does not show much independence between thoracic and lumbar areas, even where he is most efficient. His thoracic areas appear taut and borrowed against, which compromises both his catch radius and his ability to make clean catches while covered. This lack of thoracic efficiency/ independence means that, despite Claypool’s ability to uncover, he may never rise above complementary-player status, unless he is able to further develop his lumbar/ thoracic independence (which seems unlikely given his apparent developmental overlap).

Laviska Shenault (lateral oriented posterior dominant) may have already peaked in college. Although he shows good lateral posterior efficiency and is overall very balanced in his development, this development appears to have stopped short of complete in both lumbar and thoracic areas, likely due to continuous borrowing. Although Shenault is good at most things, is a surprisingly effective route runner, and is strong with the ball in his hands, his bruising playing style combined with incomplete development may lead to continued trouble with injuries as a pro. There does appear to be room to grow still with his mechanics, but unless he can complete his development and increase independence between thoracic and lumbar areas, Shenault will likely top out as a well rounded complementary player.

Brandon Aiyuk (medial centric posterior dominant) is a powerful compact player.  For an anterior dominant player, he shows good posterior development and efficiency.  His anterior efficiency shows itself in some nimble routes, with quick feet and fast changes of direction.  He runs very well with space in front (ex. kickoff returns) and is able to break tackles with his forceful running (forceful particularly for an anterior dominant player).  However, Aiyuk shows clear evidence of taut borrowing-derived mechanics– borrowing from thoracic to lumbar, and from lateral to medial– and shows little independence between thoracic and lumbar areas. As such, Aiyuk may already be close to his maximum potential, without much room to grow in the NFL. And though he he shows some shifty moves to break from coverage, his catch radius is not large, and his running is not particularly elusive.  Aiyuk will therefore likely max out as a shifty, strong-running complementary wide receiver in the NFL

KJ Hamler (medial centric posterior dominant) shows some of the highest lumbar efficiency of any WR in this class, particularly posterior. He is a very fast runner with good change of direction skills, excellent burst, and nimble moves. Hamler also looks to have room to grow in his lumbar areas, and can continue to tighten up these mechanics for even greater elusiveness. Unfortunately, Hamler’s thoracic efficiency and development appears to have been sacrificed (and borrowed against) for this lumbar efficiency. He shows neither a particularly wide catch radius, not strong hands or the ability to body up against defenders (both in route running and in blocking) On tape, he struggles against powerful athletic defenders, and needs clean space to make difficult grabs. Hamler therefore projects as someone who would excel in a scheme that isolates playmakers in space (like Shurmur’s), though he may never become an all around threat or enough of a blocker to stay on the field on base downs. An excellent complementary player in the right scheme.

Antonio Golden-Gandy (lateral oriented posterior dominant) shows some of the highest thoracic efficiency of any WR in this class. Which translates to a large catch radius and powerful reliable hands. Unfortunately, Gandy-Golden’s lumbar efficiency falls well short of his notable thoracic efficiency– Gandy-Golden is neither fast nor elusive as a runner, and his routes lack sudden-ness and explosiveness. His baseline efficiency shows in that he is not easy to tackle however, and his mechanics show considerable room to grow and tighten. As such, Gandy-Golden may be an excellent developmental candidate– someone who can play on special teams while he works on increasing his lumbar efficiency and adding sudden-ness to his routes. Although he will never be a speed demon or a world-beater at running routes, his contested catch ability means that with some further development and mechanical tightening, he could become a strong asset as a complementary player.

Top 4 OTs

Mekhi Becton (lateral oriented posterior dominant) is a somewhat raw but extraordinarily athletic prospect at LT. His posterior efficiency is some of the highest I’ve seen for the position, and the independence he shows between lumbar and thoracic areas means that even when moving his feet quickly, he doesn’t lose upper body power and control. Watching pass rushers try to beat him around the edge is like watching someone trying to climb a movable mountain– with feet as fast as theirs. Becton is also very mobile in the run game, although his technique (and anterior efficiency) needs further development to maximize his effectiveness in sealing, etc. Becton still shows quite a bit of biomechanical slack, or room to grow, and although his technique in most areas certainly needs refinement, he shows the baseline athleticism (particularly for someone his size) of an All-Pro tackle. Assuming he is at all teachable, Becton is a rare prospect at LT, with perennial All-Pro upside.

Jedrick Wills (lateral oriented posterior dominant) shows extremely high levels of posterior efficiency, with clear independence between thoracic and lumbar areas. Although Wills doesn’t show quite the overwhelming size/ athleticism of Becton, his technique is already at a very high level, such that he could start (particularly at RT) on day one in the NFL. Wills shows excellent mobility and power, and already appears fully developed and efficient. Another rare prospect at tackle, one with perhaps a bit less upside than Becton, but one who is ready to play at a very high level right out of the gate.

Andrew Thomas (lateral oriented anterior dominant) appears to be the most technically proficient tackle in this year’s class. His high levels of anterior efficiency translate to quick movements off the snap, excellent use of the hands, and well-considered use of body-weight. Thomas shows very good mobility. But his somewhat lacking posterior efficiency translates to a lack of straight ahead power in the run game when he can’t leverage his body weight to his advantage. Thomas’s overall athleticism is gated by his lack of thoracic to lumbar independence. And though his technique is impressively advanced, Thomas may be already close to his maximum skills– he does not appear to have much more room to improve in the NFL (other than via the continuing expansion of his system until age 25). As such, his lacking thoracic to lumbar independence may keep him from becoming a truly elite tackle in the NFL. Someone with a very high floor, but the ceiling may be only a slightly above average NFL tackle.

Tristan Wirfs (medial centric posterior dominant) shows very high levels of medial posterior efficiency, as well as independence between medial posterior thoracic and lumbar areas. As such, Wirfs’s core strength and mobility are both very high, particularly for someone of his girth. However, at present, Wirfs does not show the lateral efficiency needed for a tackle to maintain/ seal the edge. He allows defenders by him to the outside too easily, in both the run game and the pass game. So although Wirfs shows rare core strength/ mobility for a tackle (particularly one of his size), his effective lateral strength will need considerably more development before he can play at a high level outside. As such, Wirfs is the opposite of Thomas– biomechanically, and in terms of range of outcomes. Where Thomas is high floor low ceiling, Wirfs is low floor high ceiling.

A Few Notable RBs

RBs were not studied in depth this year. However, a few prospects stood out and were analyzed more closely

Zach Moss (medial centric anterior dominant) shows very high levels of medial anterior efficiency. Which translates to deceptive elusiveness and tackle breaking ability, as well as soft hands and quality pass blocking. Moss’ posterior lumbar areas are developed but not terribly efficient– his burst and top speed are not particularly notable, and he lacks a 2nd gear for home-run hitting ability. However Moss’ ability to fall forward, find small creases in blocking, and break through arm tackles make him a strong asset on early downs. And his soft hands and excellent pass blocking allow him to stay on the field for all 3 downs. An excellent starting RB, particularly if paired with a speedier game-breaking complement (like Lindsay).

Cam Akers (medial centric posterior dominant) profiles remarkably similarly to Chris Carson. Both backs run with power and balance, eating up yardage quickly and finishing downhill. Where Carson is more efficient than Akers in lumbar areas, Akers is more efficient than Carson in thoracic areas, showing softer hands and better pass-catching. However, Akers appears  to need further technical refinement in pass protection.  Overall Akers profiles as a strong efficient runner– a slightly less powerful/ efficient version of Chris Carson, with better receiving ability.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn (lateral oriented posterior dominant) may be the most talented RB in this class of RBs. He shows full or nearly full efficiency (college tape makes it difficult to discern) in lateral posterior lumbar areas, and shows good balance and development between medial/ lateral and anterior/ posterior lumbar areas. This translates to both power and speed, as well as the ability to run through arm tackles and consistently fall forward. Unlike Moss, Vaughn shows the 2nd gear to break long runs, and his acceleration/ burst helps him pick up yardage in chunks. His hands appear reasonably soft, and he is able to keep his feet moving under him while catching screens. Overall a top tier RB prospect who may be available relatively late in the draft.

Thoughts on Draft Strategy

This draft offers a rare opportunity to come away with blue chip talents at 3 different offensive positions in a single draft. The top two tackles may end up being amongst the best of their generation, while long-term high-upside prospects like Tee Higgins and Michael Pittman Jr. may end up falling to the second round in a deep talented class of WRs. Combine this with a rare featured-back quality RB possibly being available as late as the 3rd-4th round, and a draft strategy becomes potentially clear.

Trade up for one of either Becton or Wills if they drop within trade range of #15 and a 3rd round pick. Draft Pittman or Higgins in the 2nd if one of them falls to that point– Pittman is more well rounded/ and a physical blocker, while Higgins may have more superstar potential.  Draft Tyler Johnson as a fallback option in the 2nd or 3rd round– he may lack superstar upside, but is a relatively safe bet to become a productive #2 WR. And then draft Vaughn or Moss in the 3rd- 4th round if they drop to that point.

This is only an exercise– it’s very unlikely that Denver will entirely ignore defense in the first 3 rounds. But to my eyes, the best offensive value in this draft is to be found in the top two OTs (assuming they fall into reach), the 2nd round receivers like Pittman, Higgins, and Johnson, and the 3rd-4th round RBs like Moss and Vaughn. If Denver can come away with one or more of these prospects, they will have maximized draft value and secured long-term offensive upgrades at key positions.  A franchise left tackle, a long-term productive WR, and a feature-back level RB are all potentially available to Denver in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Closing Thoughts

Regardless of draft strategy, this draft offers many quality options at WR, both for primary targets and complementary options.  I’ve tried to make clear which WRs showed the most biomechanical borrowing induced tightness/ stunting, as well as which WRs showed the most independence and room for growth.  Now it’s up to the Broncos to decide which of these quality options we get to cheer on for the next several years.  Here’s hoping the draft successes of the past two years continue with a stellar 2020 crop.  And regardless, thank you all for reading and commenting on this deep dive into biomechanical borrowing and the 2020 draft.