Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens RB Saquon Barkley (Giants): Anatomy of a Spin

Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens examines Giants runner Saquon Barkley’s phenomenal spin cycle on the Carolina Panthers and reveals that what happens before and after is equally important to the success of the move. 

Few things are more beautiful on a football field than a tight spin move from a running back. It’s like watching big wave surfers weaving through tunnels of churning ocean and coming out the other side unscathed.

Saquon Barkley is a big wave surfer in the NFL and this spin move is as pretty as you’ll see this year.

What’s the anatomy of a great spin move?

Identifying space to generate the move: A good spin move is an explosive maneuver that draws upon forward-momentum and redirects in an explosive manner. This requires the space to generate the move. Barkley hasn’t been running 5, 10, or 20 yards downhill before he spins so on this play, he must leap into the maneuver.

It means he must have enough space to make the leap, balancing the explosion with some economy of space to avoid running into another body. Barkley manages this well, taking just the right amount of space with the leap to generate the necessary momentum.

Bending at the knees and dropping the hips: This move makes the body compact and curved so it’s difficult for a defender to stop or significantly slow down the move because there’s less spatial area to hold onto. The muscles around the hips are the strongest of the human body, so bend also draws in that momentum and redirects it explosively through the turn.

Snapping the head around fast: A good spin move requires the head to lead where the body is going. It’s an important facet of maintaining balance. You see this with figure skaters when they execute several spins in a row. It’s also important to get the eyes downfield to process the next move as the body is spinning.

Point the toe, and the hips will follow: If you’ve been reading the RSP site for the past few months, you’ve heard this numerous times before. The toe-point activates the hips. If an athlete has the hip mobility to bend and change direction through the hips explosively, the toe-point is a vital bio-mechanical precursor.

Post-spin footwork: This is essential because if the feet aren’t in a stable position to continue forward, maximize acceleration, or change direction again while maintaining a stable base, the move is pretty but not effective. In the play above, Barkley’s ability to keep his inside foot from crossing behind his outside foot prevents him from falling over after navigating another two steps to the left so he can accelerate up the left flat.

While many backs learn spin moves from watching pros and practicing it the way musicians practice licks they like, it doesn’t mean that the move is solely an instinctive one. Having the feel for when to execute is largely a product of timing and there are players who naturally have better timing than others.

Still, players can improve their timing and feel with experience. Athletes can also improve hip mobility and footwork to some degree.

Even so, pulling off the spin cycle this well and doing it judiciously requires a combination of athletic ability, technical skill, conceptual feel for space, and special footwork that few possess. Enjoy Saquon Barkley; he’s a rare treat at the running back position.

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