Biomechanical Impressions: 2021 Preseason Week 1

With NFL Game Pass now having stripped away the option to select specific plays in favor of only showing full or condensed games (at least for preseason), a rigorous biomechanical review of preseason games has become all but impossible. This then is an informal impressions piece, based on scrubbing through preseason week 1 games.

Starting with the most-scrubbed game, here are some impressions from the Broncos– Vikings game:

I’ve mentioned previously that recent Broncos teams have tended heavily towards finesse players (generally anterior dominant). And there were times over the past few seasons when the Broncos got manhandled in the trenches. So it was very nice to see the Broncos doing the manhandling for a change– Denver’s lines (both offense and defense) won the battles for the majority of the game, opening good holes in the run game, giving QBs time to throw, and taking both these away from the Viking’s offense. The depth/ quality of the past few drafts is finally starting to show up in games, and Denver’s lines appeared to be both deeper and higher quality than Minnesota’s. To be fair, Minnesota has also generally tended more towards finesse players in recent years, so it will be interesting to see how the Denver lines match up against a traditionally more physical (posterior dominant) Seattle team. Nevertheless, the apparent offseason goal of building a power-rushing offense appears to be a success to date.

– Along those lines, Javonte Willams already appears to be backing up the offseason assertion that Denver’s 1-2 punch at RB is likely the league’s strongest (outside of Cleveland), with two franchise-caliber (full lumbar efficiency possessing) RBs.
– Quinn Meinerz was watched with interest, since there was so little usable tape found on Youtube for his draft analysis. And impressions support both that his medial posterior efficiency is superlative (nobody is going to be going straight through him), and that his lateral agility is his one key weakness, and will likely need to be improved before he begins threatening for a starting job. Interestingly, I also saw him lining up at guard, so Denver may be preparing him at multiple positions.
– To my eyes, we saw both the good and the bad of Jerry Jeudy on Saturday– he got manhandled a bit by #29 of the Vikings, and he was unable to hold his block in the run game on the goal line (resulting in a holding call). However he also showed great awareness and superb run after the catch ability on his long scamper on third down.
– Also along those lines, I was a bit surprised to see both Jeudy and Hamler lining up as the single WR in goal line packages. My guess is we’ll see more of Sutton and Patrick in these roles in the regular season, and that this was a bit of preseason evaluation (and because the aforementioned WRs weren’t playing).
– I was paying keen attention to Kendall Hinton, with this being his first game action (at WR) since college. And to my eyes, he still looks to be at least a year away from contributing on offense. From the waist up he has the look of a pro bowl WR, with truly superlative thoracic efficiency. But his anterior lumbar efficiency (quickness) is apparently lacking, and even his college-age quick cuts (via efficient lateral posterior lumbar areas) didn’t show up on Saturday. Right now he looks like a WR who will catch anything near him (and power easily throw CBs) but will struggle to create separation. That being said he threw two very nice blocks on Saturday (one of which was erroneously (IMO) called a block in the back), including a block to spring Jeudy for his big gain.

The main thing I was looking for on Saturday (and furiously scrubbing back and forth to study) was the change in Drew Lock’s mechanics, which was significant. During the offseason it was noted that Lock seemed to be utilizing new borrowing techniques (with extra hip torque and posterior lumbar action used to supplement the throwing mechanic) in an attempt to re-synchronize his posterior/ anterior areas. And so far, this appears to be a success, with Lock again showing good synchronicity and control in his throwing motion (and much improved accuracy/ footwork). This borrowing approach does have certain downsides– a slightly longer delivery, and less independence between lumbar and thoracic areas (meaning that Lock’s mechanic can be more easily disrupted). So it will be interesting to see how Lock fares when the pass blocking gives him less time to throw. But so far, the changes are a clear success. Lock also shows significantly more developed anterior thoracic areas, indicating that he has been working out very hard in the offseason.

On defense, I was paying special attention to Caden Sterns and can already see that my draft-time review of him was far too negative. Although the hip tightness I noted in his review certainly appeared on preseason film, his excellent awareness, spacing, technique in sliding laterally, and the fact that he played the deep safety role (meaning he had time to adjust his lanes) appeared to hugely mitigate this tightness, and his straight ahead power/ speed (and hands) showed themselves to be clear assets. This appears to be a case where biomechanical weaknesses can be largely overcome by technique, awareness, and the right role, and I can already see that my football conclusions about Sterns were erroneous.

Some impressions from around the league:

– Rondale Moore was highlighted before the draft as a likely future star at WR. And after one preseason game he already seems to be showing star NFL potential. Zaven Collins (identified in the 2021 draft guide as a likely impact player) also made some nice plays
– Najee Harris shows the full lumbar efficiency (medial anterior) of a franchise caliber back. This means that the 2021 draft likely had more top-end RB talent available (2 franchise caliber backs in Harris and Williams) than any draft since 2017
– The Eagles offense suddenly appears to have some playmaking at the skill positions. In addition to Miles Sanders (who sat out the game), Philly added DeVonta Smith (likely a future superstar WR) while 6th round 2020 pick Quez Watkins also shows very high levels of medial posterior efficiency (at first glance). Watkins shows game-breaking speed, and in combination with Sanders, Smith, and two excellent TEs (Goedert and Ertz), Hurts suddenly appears to have some real weapons around him. Hurts himself appears to show full thoracic efficiency in his lateral anterior areas (although more study is needed to confirm), and the Philly offense may end up surprising some people this year.
– As noted in this year’s draft preview, the prediction I have been most confident making for the 2021 QB draft class is that Zach Wilson is a future star QB. This weekend’s game only seemed to confirm Wilson’s rare 2 areas of full thoracic efficiency (posterior). However, unlike Philly, the Jets appear to need a serious injection of talent at the skill positions. Corey Davis is the type of player who shows high levels of anterior efficiency via posterior borrowing, which is almost always an unsustainable equation (and Davis has been very inconsistent in his career to date). And Mims also shows stunted posterior areas which may lead him to similar levels of inconsistency. Before the Jets offense can begin to produce offense at the level suggested by Wilson’s talent, far more talent is likely needed at the skill positions.
– It was stated last offseason that Clyde Edwards-Helaire is likely a good back, but not a great one (no areas of full lumbar efficiency), who shows neither top end speed nor power. This last preseason game appeared to confirm that KC made a mistake in drafting him in the first round, and that while he is certainly a good player, there were far greater offensive talents available at that time in the 2020 draft (or at RB in this year’s draft).
– Although it’s been noted several times that the 2020 draft did not appear to include any RBs who show full efficiency in lumbar areas, there now (with updated lateral anterior methodology) appears to be one RB taken outside the 2020 draft to show full lumbar efficiency– UDFA James Robinson (in the aforementioned lateral anterior areas).
– Seattle may have finally found a quality backup to Chris Carson in Alex Collins. Collins shows high levels of medial anterior efficiency, and may be able to spell Carson very effectively this season (if he can stay healthy)
– Pre-draft favorite Chris Evans (h/t Yahmule) popped off the screen in his Bengals debut– I kept asking myself “who is Bengals #25?” before looking it up and re-discovering where Evans had landed. I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see him carve out a nice role on the Bengals offense this season, and Cincy already appeared to be trying to feature him in this week’s game.
– Another player who popped in the Cincy- TB game was Jaelon Darden, a fourth round pick of the Bucs in 2021. Tampa Bay appears to have accumulated an embarrassment of riches at WR with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, 2020 draft-time favorite Tyler Johnson, and now Darden all appearing to be stellar players.