Biomechanical Draft Review 2022: Rounds 2- 5

The first 5 rounds of Denver’s 2022 draft showed a very different emphasis from the 2021 draft. Where in 2021 the focus seemed to be on drafting powerful players who could contribute to improving the physicality/ toughness of the roster, in 2022 players seemed to be selected more for specific high level skills. In terms of biomechanical orientation, 5 of the first 6 drafted players are medial centric anterior dominant, which as a gross generalization is often characterized by superior control and quickness. Greg Dulcich is the only player on this list to show a different orientation, and it is still anterior dominant (lateral oriented). Overall then, these players are generally more characterized by finesse and control than by toughness and strength. However, Paton and co still seem to have done an excellent job overall in finding top tier athletes to draft. And this draft will likely present several immediate impact players in important roles.

Nik Bonitto (medial centric anterior dominant) shows extremely high levels of overall efficiency, and good system-wide development. If judged purely by efficiency (so removing size from the equation), Bonitto genuinely appears to be a Von Miller level talent– and with a very similar profile (both are medial centric anterior dominant, with extremely high levels of overall efficiency, supreme get-off, bend etc). That comparison excludes that Miller is a much larger player, and also shows greater lateral development (so with a somewhat more well-rounded overall profile). And in practice, while Miller has always been exemplary at setting the edge on run plays, Bonitto is a much smaller, less powerful player who can be pushed out of his gaps. However, like Miller, Bonitto shows excellent positioning and penetration even on run plays. Although Bonitto was often targeted by opposing run games, it was very often via double teams, otherwise Bonitto would simply elide the block and be in position to make the tackle. This however brings up probably the biggest distinction between Miller and Bonitto (other than size), which is thoracic efficiency/ length/ development. Where Miller has long powerful arms to make strong tackles and engage with blockers, Bonitto’s upper body shows substantially less power and length, so that even when he is in great position to make tackles/ sacks, he sometimes struggles to wrap up/ finish the play. This is probably Bonitto’s largest biomechanical deficiency, and can hopefully be improved with additional time/ development. Nevertheless, just the fact that Bonitto can even be compared to one of the greatest defensive players of the past decade shows his level of talent/ efficiency. Bonitto may even be better than Miller when asked to drop into coverage, with excellent speed, good ball tracking, and soft hands. Bonitto will almost certainly be an impact player on passing downs right out of the gate, and if he can improve his strength/ thoracic efficiency/ tackling will likely be able to play very effectively on all downs for years to come.

Greg Dulcich (lateral oriented anterior dominant) is the type of athlete who plays on the field much more effectively than he tests off of it. His sort of athleticism is generally pretty subtle– he doesn’t make major changes of direction particularly quickly, or wow with superlative straight line speed. Instead, his brand of lateral efficiency shows in his ability to make very quick, often subtle, deceptively effective moves to disarm and unbalance defenders. In terms of profile and moveset, he reminds of Paul Pierce (of the NBA). Pierce (also lateral oriented anterior dominant) was never the fastest nor the strongest basketball player on the court, but his ability to make these sort of quick disarming small movements enabled him to consistently set up open shots, or make his way to the rim. Similarly Dulcich uses his high levels of lateral anterior efficiency to get surprisingly open against coverage using only relatively small, subtle and quick changes of direction, speed, and upper body movements. In addition, his catch radius is larger than might be expected given his short-ish arms (for someone his size), and he shows soft hands. Dulcich is certainly more of a finesse player than a power player, but he possesses a sneakily high level of athleticism, and once he has time to add muscle to his wide frame (which shows good length to add additional muscle/ development), he may be able to block as effectively as he is currently able to get open. In the meantime, Dulcich shows good lateral agility when blocking (and in general), and is often able to engage blockers long enough when moving laterally for runners to find their gaps. If he can successfully add muscle/ strength over time, he may be able to pass block effectively as well, and grow fully into a true versatile Shanahan-style two way TE.

Damarri Mathis (medial centric anterior dominant) shows the baseline efficiency, development, and length to transform into a top tier CB over time. He shows high levels of lumbar efficiency (with reasonably smooth hips), and excellent thoracic length, strength, and development. In general, his biomechanical profile is extremely well rounded, with no obvious stunting or areas of particularly poor efficiency. Currently, he plays a bit raw and will need time to refine his technique and to smooth out his motions. But his overall levels of biomechanical length/ slack predict strong ability to ‘tighten up’ and substantially improve his technique without sacrificing his athleticism. In addition, Mathis plays with consistent tenacity (and a bit of a nasty streak), always looking to dish out extra hits, while playing very physically in coverage (with excellent arm length/ strength for press coverage). It was hard to evaluate his tackling/ run support via the available college film, since he always played at the boundary and was rarely challenged to make tackles. But there is nothing to suggest that he is physically incapable of tackling well, even if he may need to be coached on technique etc. Overall, this appears to be a superb pick in the 4th round, and with coaching/ technical improvement, Mathis could end up being an excellent CB for Denver.
*initial (much less favorable) impressions of Mathis were based around accidentally studying #12 for Pitt (who plays the same position), instead of #21 (Mathis)

Eyioma Uwazurike (medial centric anterior dominant) is a very hard player to study– in general, anterior dominant defensive lineman are very difficult to analyze since the most relevant portion of their body (the front) is almost always obscured (except by All 22). Although there are exceptions, who show high efficiency even with limited/ obscured viewpoints (like Dre’Mont Jones, also medial centric anterior dominant), building a profile for Uwazurike has proven to be beyond my capabilities at this point in time. Relatively surface level impressions are that he shows good/ well rounded overall development, but without particularly notable efficiency in any one area. Nevertheless, his enormous size made him a very effective gap plugger in college– someone who almost always necessitated a double team by the offensive line. However, his limited ability to penetrate/ evade pass blocking meant that Uwazurike generally came off the field on passing downs. It seems somewhat likely that Uwazurike will therefore reprise his role for the Broncos, as an effective run plugger who is removed from the field on passing downs. But this opinion is based on very little biomechanical info.

Delarrin Turner-Yell (medial centric anterior dominant) shows high levels of anterior lumbar efficiency, with good lower body control and some quickness. In addition, his overall biomechanical development appears reasonably well rounded, without any obvious areas of stunting/ incomplete development. However, Turner-Yell shows underwhelming levels of thoracic efficiency/ length, which translates to somewhat poor tackling and block evasion. In addition, despite the notably high anterior lumbar efficiency, Turner-Yell’s overall systemic efficiency (and length for future development) is not particularly impressive– he is neither terribly fast, nor very powerful. It is possible that Turner-Yell’s anterior lumbar efficiency can serve as the basis for improved play in the future (his positioning for run defense could particularly use much improvement), but beyond that one notable area of efficiency, there is not much that impresses about Turner-Yell’s profile.

Montrell Washington (medial centric anterior dominant) is likely a one-trick pony– but that trick is extremely high-level. Washington’s anterior lumbar efficiency is off-the-charts sky-high, with essentially Washington’s whole system geared around these areas, lending them extra give and pull. Although Washington’s other biomechanical areas range from reasonably efficient (medial anterior thoracic) to noticeably under-developed/ stunted (Washington’s posterior areas), on the field, this translates to extraordinarily fast acceleration and a remarkably powerful loping/ pulling stride. It seems unlikely that Washington will grow into a quality full time NFL receiver, due to his under-developed areas including both his posterior shoulders (for strong ball plucking) and his posterior hips (for powerful/ fast cuts), but as a returner/ gadget player, Washington seems very likely to contribute at a high level right out of the gate. Someone who can provide some real special teams pop, and also an occasional explosive play (via screens/ easy receptions in space/ occasional downfield strikes) on offense.

Among these six draft picks (and looking only at the short term) are: a superlative pass rusher, an excellent move TE, a physical press-man corner, a run plugger, and an explosive returner/ gadget player. In other words, almost every one of these picks shows an immediately relevant skillset for a team that is likely to be competing for championships sooner rather than later. This championship mindset is likely the underlying rationale for the apparent shift in draft strategy– where last year was about building a physical long-term foundation for a team trying to turn itself around, this draft was instead about adding specific important skillsets to a team ready to compete right now. Considering the different underlying philosophy, Paton appears to have done a superb job of adding players who not only fill immediate holes/ needs, but also show the long-term potential to grow into even larger roles (particularly Bonitto, Dulcich, and Mathis). In other words, Denver appears to have made excellent use of somewhat limited draft stock to come away with both important immediate contributors, and long term foundational pieces.