2023 Skill Position Draft Review: Part 1

The following is the first part the 2023 NFL skill position draft review, examining Anthony Richardson and the top rated RBs and WRs (the ones who were studied most closely for exceptional biomechanical traits). Where applicable, NFL scheme will be considered as part of their probability of finding NFL success

Anthony Richardson has already had an entire article devoted to his profile. So instead of rehashing his biomechanical makeup, his landing spot in Indianapolis will be considered.

While on the surface Indianapolis boasts talented skill position players, a potentially quality OLine, and a head coach who succeeded in developing two previous high level QBs (Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts), there are potentially some issues with Richardson’s fit in Indianapolis when viewed through a biomechanical lens. The first and most obvious issue being that there is no strong incumbent QB to take the pressure off Richardson to start early in his career. This means Richardson will likely be thrown into the fire early, which may be a detriment to his ability to develop his mechanics slowly and patiently over time.

The other less obvious issue is that Shane Steichen’s two previous QB successes are both anterior lateral oriented players– Jalen Hurts and Justin Herbert favor and base their mechanics around their anterior lateral areas. Anthony Richardson however, unlike Steichen’s previous QBs, is oriented posterior lateral. In fact his anterior lateral areas– the areas most efficient for Hurts and Herbert– are easily Richardson’s least efficient.

This may become quite important, since particular NFL coaches/ schemes often base their offensive system and mechanics around certain hot zones– areas of the field where receiving routes are clustered. For example, Shanahan/ Kubiak systems (but not LaFleur variants) tend to align many routes vertically over the middle of the field, and the footwork and mechanics of the scheme are based around this particular vertically oriented target layout. So for a traditional Shanahan/ Kubiak scheme (where vertical accuracy is emphasized) the mechanics and footwork strongly favor posterior dominant QBs (who generally show better vertical accuracy than similarly efficient anterior dominant QBs)

From the outside, it is unclear if Steichen’s tutelage is similarly technocratic to Shanahan/ Kubiak– there are no obvious signs that Steichen bases his scheme/ mechanics around a particular throwing style and target cluster. Nevertheless, if Steichen (or more likely his QB coach) is teaching specific mechanics/ footwork to Richardson (which Richardson certainly needs) he may not be teaching mechanics appropriate to Richardson’s throwing/ body type. In addition, Steichen’s offensive system will need to accommodate exactly what Richardson does well as a thrower, which in certain ways is quite different from Hurts/ Herbert (much less touch/ much less able to pivot and quickly throw steeply angled to either side).

Seattle would likely have been the perfect landing spot for Richardson, both in terms of having a strong incumbent QB to lessen the pressure for Richardson to start right away, and in terms of having a coach and offensive system that has historically favored lateral posterior oriented players and throwers (Shanahan tree, and with Carroll generally favoring lateral posterior dominant players (including Russell Wilson)).

Nothing about Indianapolis is an obvious *bad* fit for Richardson (other than perhaps the fact that he will likely be rushed into the starting lineup). But much remains to be seen about how Steichen and Richardson will work together. How rigid and specifically technocratic Steichen is in trying to fit Richardson into patterns he has previously established with very differently-built QBs, will likely dictate whether Richardson grows over time into a more accurate thrower, or remains very scattershot with poorly developed/ biomechanically unmatched throwing mechanics. Time will tell.

RB Tiers

Superstar Tier: more than one area of full lumbar efficiency

Bijan Robinson (lateral oriented anterior dominant) shows 2 areas of full lumbar efficiency– lateral anterior and medial posterior. Robinson also shows superlative thoracic efficiency (for an RB), with excellent hands. Overall, Robinson appears extremely well developed and efficient in a number of areas– a truly high level overall athlete, not just for an RB. Reminds of other elite offensive weapons in terms of overall development and efficiency (Christian McCaffrey, Ja’Marr Chase etc).

Featured Back Tier: one area of full thoracic efficiency

Kendre Miller (medial centric posterior dominant). After Robinson, the most biomechanically efficient RB in lumbar areas in this class. In addition to full efficiency in medial posterior lumbar areas, Miller also shows very high systemic efficiency, reflected in his ability to throttle up and down very quickly and explode through holes for big gains. Shows some stunting in anterior lumbar areas, possibly contributing to some future injury issues (already tore MCL and damaged meniscus). Shows reasonably soft hands, but not particularly high thoracic efficiency– likely will not be used often as a receiver except on screens and wheel routes/ dump offs.

Tyjae Spears (lateral oriented posterior dominant). Right knee is an obvious pain point, and in general shows less anterior lumbar efficiency than Kendre Miller. Unlike Miller however, Spears shows long/ efficient arms with very good ball skills for an RB, and good route running. Likely an excellent scheme fit in Tennessee– Spears is at his best stretching the defense horizontally and then exploding through holes (which perfectly matches the demands of Tennessee’s wide zone based offense). Spears also does an excellent job manipulating defenders into committing to specific gaps, only to burst around them. Will likely be an explosive all around threat for as long as his knee(s) hold up.

Starting RB Tier: high levels of lumbar efficiency, but no areas of full efficiency. These are quality runners, but may wear down or face shorter careers/ injury issues/ ineffective traits that ultimately prevent featured back levels of production over time

Zach Charbonnet (lateral oriented anterior dominant). Very well rounded and highly efficient athlete. Good hands and very powerful in the open field. May struggle to run through more crowded LOSs in the NFL, generally needs a bit of runway to get up to speed. Doesn’t throttle up and down as quickly as a back with full efficiency in lumbar areas.

DeWayne McBride (lateral oriented posterior dominant). Very well rounded in lumbar areas and shows excellent contact balance and ability to keep feet moving while absorbing hits. Close to full efficiency in lateral posterior areas, enabling him to throttle up or down reasonably quickly to burst through the hole, or change directions and make people miss in the open field. Lacks true breakaway speed, and thoracic efficiency is hard to gauge (almost never asked to catch in college, also fumbled far too often). Appears to borrow from anterior thoracic areas towards anterior lumbar ones, which may explain the fumbling and lack of receiving production.

Devon Achane (medial centric posterior dominant) shows close to full efficiency in medial posterior lumbar areas and very high levels of overall lumbar efficiency. Translates to superlative speed and good contact balance for someone his size. If he were 20 lbs heavier, he would profile as an excellent starting RB, but his diminutive size keeps him from showing enough power through the hole or tackle breaking ability. Landed in the perfect spot in Miami– will likely be at his best schemed out into space where his speed can be lethal, and McDaniel has shown great skill in scheming speedy playmakers. Doesn’t show great thoracic efficiency for making difficult catches and takes a beat to get up to speed after catching.

Offensive Weapon Category

Jahmyr Gibbs (medial centric anterior dominant) shows some very high level traits, particularly as a receiver. Catches the bell extremely smoothly and without breaking stride, moves in and out of breaks very quickly, can catch the ball and throttle up very easily. Likewise, he is an explosive runner, with excellent speed and smooth hips to outmaneuver defenders in the open field. In these ways (and in terms of his orientation) he has been compared to Alvin Kamara. However, while Kamara shows full efficiency and superlative posterior efficiency (excellent run power/ contact balance), Gibbs is significantly lacking in these areas. Gibbs’s posterior lumbar efficiency is below the levels of every other back on this list (including the anterior dominant ones) and his contact balance and run power are not starter level. Gibbs profiles very much like a tweener– as much slot WR as RB. A sort of rich man’s Duke Johnson– far more electric/ explosive in the open field, but similarly deficient running in between the tackles. Detroit will surely scheme Gibbs into favorable situations to utilize his explosiveness and downfield elusiveness. However, his production as a true RB is very much an open question. A genuinely unprecedented profile (at least in this space) therefore very hard to gauge.

WR Tiers

While the past few draft classes have seen a bounty of high level WRs enter the league, the 2023 draft class appears comparatively poor in WR talent. There are still likely a few exceptional players, but this draft appears far deeper in RB, QB, and TE talent than in WR talent (relative to recent drafts). The vast majority of 2023 drafted WRs fall into the complementary player category (at best).

Potential Stars– players with exceedingly high levels of systemic efficiency, as well as biomechanical slack for continued growth and mechanical tightening.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba (medial centric posterior dominant) shows a combination of extremely efficient and powerful (for his size) medial posterior areas, with high levels of overall development and reasonable amounts of biomechanical slack. In practice, Smith-Njigba’s tight and tuned medial posterior areas translate to powerful and sudden changes of direction/ course, particularly in the middle of the field (where his compact frame and high efficiency of motion combine to form superlative elusiveness). Likewise his thoracic areas are very efficient and his ball skills are superb (taking into account his somewhat shorter arms than those of a traditional boundary receiver). While Smith-Njigba’s shows good overall biomechanical slack, his lumbar areas are very tightly developed already (in medial posterior areas) which may have contributed to his hamstring issues in 2022 (via over-development). Nevertheless, he profiles as an immediate playmaker, someone who will be extremely difficult to guard out of the slot. And someone whose overall high levels of development suggest a long career as a high-level offensive weapon.

Zay Flowers (medial centric anterior dominant) shows superlative overall systemic efficiency, particularly in lumbar areas. He runs crisp routes, changes direction fluidly and quickly, and shows both short area quickness and excellent long speed. The one area where Flowers shows somewhat less developmental maturity is in thoracic areas– he still shows high efficiency and excellent hands, but not a particularly large catch radius (and it was rare to see him high pointing the ball in his college film). Likely able to play very effectively both inside and out, and someone who via pure measures of efficiency already profiles as a star. But who will also be challenged to overcome his small size and somewhat limited catch radius. Perhaps not going to be making too many deep sideline grabs over defenders, but otherwise will likely be very productive (to the degree allowable in Baltimore).

Puka Nacua (medial centric posterior dominant) shows truly superlative levels of lumbar efficiency (for a WR) and runs with power and elusiveness. In particular his ability to change course subtly but powerfully without losing speed is noteworthy and rare. This ability shows up on film both in his route running (which is excellent, despite lacking high end long speed), and with the ball in his hands, where he regularly made big plays in college (on jet sweeps, end arounds, and even traditional runs out of the backfield). In addition, Nacua shows powerful/ soft hands and a good (but not outstanding) catch radius. In combination with his size (6’2” and 202 lbs), Nacua presents an extremely difficult matchup for opposing corners, and he will likely be very productive as a pro. In particular, his fit in Sean McVay’s offensive scheme is perfect, both in terms of his excellent run blocking, and especially via his ability to serve both as a downfield threat and as one out of the backfield. Likely to become an even more effective version of Robert Woods in McVay’s offense over time. The one red flag for Nacua is similar to the one for Smith-Njigba, which is possible overdevelopment of lumbar areas, potentially leading to future injury concerns. In addition, Nacua may struggle against press coverage early in his career– he does not appear in his college film to have developed a diverse release package.

Starter level WRs– players who show some exceptional traits, but lack the true high end ability of an alpha WR. Best serving as a strong #2 receiving option, rather than a primary threat.

Jordan Addison (medial centric anterior dominant) shows very high systemic efficiency and good overall development. However, he shows very little slack for continued development– he is likely close to maxed out already as an athlete (other than what will continue to grow naturally until ~age 25). And while he shows excellent hands and very good route running, Addison’s taut mechanics and diminutive size translate to underwhelming play strength. Addison can be redirected at the line (if he doesn’t get a clean release), doesn’t play well through contact, and shows somewhat subpar blocking ability. In particular his difficulty playing through contact may be a strong detriment to high end long term productivity against the NFL’s larger/ stronger corners. Reminds to some degree of Jerry Jeudy in terms of tight mechanics, lack of play strength, and excellent route running– except that Jeudy is also significantly larger (although Addison has a much larger catch radius for his size). Overall, landed in the perfect spot as a complementary player to Justin Jefferson, where he will likely be very productive.

Red Flags for potential injuries/ ineffective traits

Quentin Johnston (medial centric anterior dominant) profiles biomechanically as a bit of a one trick pony. Johnston shows truly superlative levels of medial anterior lumbar efficiency, and from a distance he jumps off the screen for his ability to run powerfully/ quickly off the line, change direction smoothly, and generate downfield separation. In particular, his powerful leg lift, effective spin move, and large size (but with ability to make himself skinny in crowded areas) make him extremely difficult to tackle in YAC situations. However his one area of extremely high efficiency appears to be generated largely by borrowing from adjacent areas. In particular, Johnston’s thoracic areas appear to be borrowed against towards his lumbar areas, strongly affecting his ability to make contested catches. Despite long arms, Johnston shows a small catch radius, and lacks the posterior development/ control to jump up and make high-point catches. In addition, his arm strength is likely subpar for someone his size, and he may struggle to make catches against physical NFL defenders. Furthermore, Johnston’s lack of full development in areas outside his anterior lumbar ones predict potential future injury issues and inconsistent play. Overall, Johnston may play very well when he is fully healthy and able to use his superlative anterior lumbar efficiency to generate separation and/ or to run after the catch. But some level of inconsistency and difficulty with catching away from his body may prevent him from being able to be counted on as an important offensive weapon over time.