Biomechanical Draft Guide 2021 Part 1: Quarterbacks

(to read the intro to this series, click here)

After studying tape of QBs drafted from 2014-2020, the one universal trend that emerged (albeit from a necessarily small sample size) is that QBs showing more than one area of full thoracic efficiency became star QBs. The full list of such QBs (in rough order of thoracic efficiency) is Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, and Deshaun Watson. Josh Allen took a few years to overcome accuracy issues (noted when he was drafted as posterior cervical thoracic overlap, generally correlated with issues targeting specific depths of field), but in the end every QB who showed more than one area of full thoracic efficiency when drafted eventually became an NFL star (or shows such promise, in the case of Justin Herbert).

So if there’s one QB prediction that I feel most confident making for the upcoming draft, it’s that

Zach Wilson (medial centric posterior dominant) will be a star quarterback. His two areas of full thoracic efficiency (very even and reliable across his posterior areas) indicate an unusual degree of control while throwing vertically. His overall accuracy, quick release, and field-stretching power combine with above average mobility (high levels of lumbar efficiency) to make Wilson a sure bet to be a very productive NFL starter. While his anterior thoracic areas appear a bit under-developed (particularly his upper thoracic areas), which can be seen in the way the ball dives as it reaches its target, as well as some stiffness shown in responding to pressure, these deficiencies will almost certainly be able to be overcome with time and proper scheming. In addition, Wilson (assuming he is drafted by the Jets) will be entering an offensive scheme (Mike LaFleur’s, from the Shanahan tree) that is very likely to be predicated on vertical accuracy. And with a left tackle (Mehki Becton) that appears to be a generational talent. Assuming Joe Douglas makes the right move and drafts Wilson in the upcoming draft, Douglas may oversee a very quick turnaround in NY (particularly if he can surround Wilson with some more receiving talent).

Kellen Mond (medial centric posterior dominant) shows close to full thoracic efficiency in his medial posterior areas, with a notably quick release and good accuracy/ anticipation throwing straight ahead. However, Mond shows highly underdeveloped/ stunted anterior thoracic areas, which strongly compromises his ability to make quick horizontal adjustments to his throws, and keeps him from showing much touch on his passes. In addition, Mond shows small stunting in his upper posterior thoracic areas, which means that he lacks full efficiency in even his otherwise very efficient medial posterior thoracic areas. While Mond shows good lumbar efficiency/ running ability (albeit with some borrowing from lateral anterior lumbar areas), his lumbar efficiency does not measure high enough on its own for Mond to be a strong rushing playmaker in the NFL. As a result, Mond likely maxes out as a Bridgewater-esue backup option at the NFL level– his near/ intermediate accuracy is strong (unless he is forced to pivot/ make quick horizontal adjustments), and he shows a quick reliable release. But the upper thoracic constant fascial involvement (even in his otherwise efficient medial posterior thoracic areas) caps his deep accuracy and is very unlikely to be overcome with time. Mond profiles as someone who can run an offense (particularly one predicated on intermediate accuracy) but would likely be exposed over the course of full NFL seasons.

Kyle Trask (medial centric anterior dominant) is the only other QB (besides Wilson) in this draft class to unequivocally show full thoracic efficiency (based on current methodology). Trask’s medial anterior thoracic areas appear fully developed and clear of fascial entanglements, allowing him excellent accuracy and touch when driving throws from this fully efficient area. However, Trask shows quite a bit of lateral tightness, particularly in his posterior lumbar areas (hips, ankles, etc.), likely borrowing against these areas to supplement his underdeveloped posterior thoracic areas. Trask’s overall lumbar efficiency is unremarkable, and his mobility is not an asset. Trask’s profile (full medial anterior thoracic efficiency, underdeveloped posterior thoracic areas, taut/ borrowed against lumbar areas) essentially begs the question, “what would happen if you removed a bit of Deshaun Watson’s throwing talent (particularly vertically), and took away all his mobility?”. In other words, Trask profiles very much like an un-mobile, slightly less-talented-throwing Watson– very similar accuracy/ touch (except when trying to force the ball deep or into coverage), but stuck playing in the pocket. Is that enough to succeed in the modern NFL? To my eyes, Trask will need the right scheme to find long-term starting success, but will at the very least be a superb backup. Likely this draft’s greatest value QB, given his projected slot on day 2-3.

Justin Fields (lateral oriented posterior dominant) poses the opposite question to Kyle Trask– is an extremely impressive overall athletic profile enough to overcome a lack of full thoracic efficiency? Justin Fields shows very high levels of lumbar efficiency (particularly in his posterior areas), translating to excellent run power/ speed. In addition, Fields shows high levels of efficiency in almost every thoracic area (very well rounded) but without full efficiency in any one area. In practice, Fields shows good accuracy to all levels of the field (particularly when throwing vertically), but always with some level of fascial involvement even on routine throws– which can compromise his release, making it a bit slower than a fully efficient mechanic (and often with an extra hitch). Because Fields is such an impressive overall athlete, the extra demands of using fascial action on every throw (necessary or not) do not appear to have affected his success in college. But in the NFL, will the extra energy/ action of his throws eventually drag down his accuracy/ slow his decision making, especially when the hits start adding up? In the drafts studied from 2014-2020, the only QB to find starting success without showing full efficiency in any thoracic area is Lamar Jackson, and while he is a less accomplished thrower than Fields, his running ability is unmatched among QBs. Will Fields be the second recently-drafted QB to succeed without full thoracic efficiency? Personally, I think it will depend largely on scheme (he would be a perfect fit in a Shanahan-tree offense) and surrounding personnel. I like his odds if drafted by Shanahan to the 49ers, otherwise I think he is about as likely as not to find long-term NFL starting success.

Davis Mills’s (lateral oriented posterior dominant) eleven starts across two college seasons (and lack of uploaded pro day footage) make assessing his thoracic efficiency very challenging. Nevertheless, Mills appears more likely than not to show full lateral posterior thoracic efficiency, amidst an otherwise reasonably impressive profile. While Mills’s mobility is not a major asset, he is not quite as pocket-bound as Trask, and while his anterior thoracic areas appear somewhat under-developed, they do not appear to be as underdeveloped as Trask’s posterior thoracic areas. In other words, while it is hard to show high certainty about Mills’s profile (for the reasons listed above, as well as generally poor-quality tape available on YouTube), if Mills does indeed possess a fully efficient lateral posterior thoracic area, he would make an excellent developmental draft pick, with likely higher upside than the other listed value pick (Trask). In fact, if Mills does possess a fully efficient lateral posterior thoracic area, he will be the only other QB drafted since 2014 (besides Drew Lock) to show full efficiency in this area. Which would make him the perfect candidate to sit behind Lock, since whichever scheme will fit one will likely fit both. While to my eyes Lock is a more talented thrower/ overall athlete, Mills nevertheless appears likely to possess the baseline physical talent to succeed as a starting NFL QB. So while Mills is clearly very far from being ready to start an NFL game at current, with his throwing/ awareness appearing very raw across his sparse college career, if available on day three of the NFL draft, Mills would likely make an excellent developmental draft pick, one that could pay major dividends down the road.

*The following QBs are lateral oriented anterior dominant. Since my lateral anterior oriented methodology is currently undergoing significant revision, these profiles will be given asterisks and revisited down the road (likely after higher-quality NFL preseason footage is available)

Mac Jones* (lateral oriented anterior dominant) may be the most difficult top-rated prospect to analyze from this draft. In addition to generally poor-quality footage available on YouTube, Jones’s pro day footage was uploaded in bizarrely low resolution and shot from a distance, making it essentially unusable. So I’ve gone back and forth many times when analyzing Jones, and may continue to do so until NFL footage becomes available and my lateral anterior methodology fully matures. Nevertheless, at this time, it appears that Jones does indeed show full efficiency in his lateral anterior areas. Jones uses fascial adjustments on almost every throw (again making assessing him very difficult) but on close inspection these adjustments appear to be on demand and in response to changing situations. And it is hard to argue with the results on the field– Jones shows excellent touch/ accuracy to all levels of the field, as well as a reasonably quick release. In addition, Jones shows good enough efficiency in his lumbar areas that, while somewhat taut and borrowed against, these areas still give him enough mobility to bootleg/ escape pressure (and he shows good pocket awareness/ mobility). While Jones is far from a superlative overall athlete, he appears likely to meet the baseline physical requirements of the position. And if his success in leading Alabama’s high-flying offense is any indication, Jones may also find long-term starting success leading an NFL team.

While I was initially confident that Trevor Lawrence* (lateral oriented anterior dominant) showed full efficiency in his lateral anterior thoracic areas, that his constant fascial engagement was by design (and perhaps I was caught up in a bit of group-think), Lawrence’s pro day video did much to dissuade me of this notion. On even relatively routine throws, Lawrence’s forearms engaged constantly, even when little adjustment should have been necessary. It’s certainly possible that Lawrence was nervous during his pro day and forcing his throws to try to prove something, but looking back on his game tape showed a similar pattern of constant forearm involvement. If Lawrence does show full efficiency in his lateral anterior areas, this efficiency is very far lateral, and hardest for me to identify at this point (using mid-revision methodology). As such, I am very eager to revisit this profile when NFL tape becomes available (and my methodology presumably matures). Other notables for his profile are very high levels of anterior lumbar efficiency, translating to quick mobility in the pocket and shifty running. And regardless of the presence/ absence of full efficiency, Lawrence shows relatively well-rounded thoracic areas, with reasonably high posterior thoracic efficiency for an anterior dominant player. Nevertheless, if Lawrence does indeed lack full thoracic efficiency in any area, his overall athleticism while high is certainly not enough on its own for him to succeed without this requisite throwing efficiency. As such, Lawrence (if the absence of full efficiency is confirmed) could end up being one of the most high-profile QB busts of recent memory. A strong backup certainly, but not a successful long-term starting caliber NFL.

Somewhat ironically, given that he hails from the Missouri Valley Football Conference, Trey Lance* actually has by far the highest quality tape available on YouTube. As such, even though he is lateral anterior oriented like the above two QBs (and with few college starts under his belt), this analysis comes with greater confidence. Trey Lance shows very high levels of lumbar efficiency, translating to quick/ powerful running and good escapability in the pocket. However, Lance does not appear to show any areas of full thoracic efficiency, with quite a bit of arm force exerted for each and every throw. These throws also very often arrive on a line, since Lance (like Dwayne Haskins and Josh Allen before him) shows the type of posterior cervical/ thoracic overlap that correlates strongly with inability to target specific depths of field with accuracy. The combination of these two deficiencies (lack of full thoracic efficiency, and posterior cervical/ thoracic overlap) point to long-term throwing inadequacies that are unlikely to be fully overcome. While Josh Allen was able to overcome his depth-related inaccuracies, he did so by borrowing against arguably the most efficient thoracic areas of any QB drafted in the past 7 years (and it still took him 2+ years to achieve). It therefore seems very unlikely that Lance will similarly overcome this limitation. And while Lance is a very impressive overall athlete, he is neither as talented a runner as Jackson, nor as talented a passer as Fields. As such, it seems very unlikely that Lance will be able to overcome his limitations as a passer to become a long-term successful starting QB. To my eyes, Lance is a project QB that will be very unlikely to ever fully mature.