NFL Ankle-Breakers: The Art of the Juke

  • Reggie Bush

    I can still vividly remember watching Bush at USC while I was away at college. Every Trojan game was like a holiday, a party. He didn’t just make people look bad; he completely embarrassed entire teams. The game that he had against Fresno State in 2005 — the one where he gained an otherworldly 513 all-purpose yards — ranks up there as maybe the greatest single-game performance I’ve ever seen.

    In the NFL, success has been more difficult, but Bush has worked himself into a very good player over the last few years, racking up over 1,500 yards from scrimmage last year. He’s best known for his hurdling, but he still has a few jukes left over from his college days.

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  • Tavon Austin

    Okay, so this one is based more on potential considering the 2013 No. 8 pick didn’t have the greatest rookie season. As a rookie in St. Louis, Austin found pay dirt six times, but showed enough skills — taking reverses in opposite directions, fielding punts inside the 10-yard line and converting them into something — that he’s being called one of this year’s biggest fantasy sleepers.

    Everyone in the NFL is waiting on the former WVU star to explode… because of play like this. The guy has literally every move you could want, and does it all in a package (5-8, 180 pounds) that makes him super hard to tackle.

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  • Jamaal Charles

    Charles was the second-best back in the league last year, and he found the end zone 19 times, more than his prior three seasons combined. He’s also best known for his blazing speed. With a 4.36 40-yard dash time, as well as a personal best 10.18 in the 100 meters, which could’ve qualified him for the 2004 Olympic finals, Charles is a blur. Still, every once in a while, he sticks a mean cutback and a defender starts grabbing air.

    Manti Te’o had his “Welcome to the NFL” moment last year when he snuck into the backfield looking to make a play during a back-and-forth Week 12 matchup. Forty-six yards later and Te’o is still looking like a fool.

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  • Andre Ellington

    The only way to get the Cardinals 25-year-old running back down is to rip out his dreads. Literally. Jacksonville’s Jason Babin tried that and it worked. But anything else feels like trying to grab a piece of shell in the egg yoke.

    At 5-9, Ellington is a wrecking ball, just as capable of running someone over as he is breaking their ankles. But everyone once in a while he dusts off a run like he did last year against Tampa, when put Bucs defensive back Darrelle Revis on his backside. On the year, he broke a tackle nearly 20 percent of the time he touched the ball.

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  • Cordarrelle Patterson

    Last year’s rookie in Minnesota was an absolute terror during the season’s second half. A high-strider at 6-2, he reminds Vikings fans a little bit of Randy Moss in that he’s fast but also possesses some breathtaking juke moves.

    Ask Ravens safety Matt Elam what happens when you come face to face with this dynamo in the open field. He had that opportunity during Baltimore’s Week 14 matchup with the Vikings last year. The play ended with Patterson in the end zone and Elam flat on his face.

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  • LeSean McCoy

    When McCoy starts coming at you with those fire feet, salute the SportsCenter gods with a prayer or two because the chances you end up like this guy are pretty high. McCoy’s shake moves might be somewhat limited in the sense that he doesn’t really spin or do any of the crazy stuff that made Barry Sanders so scary. But that’s because he doesn’t have to. His pivots and cuts are so ridiculous quick, and the way he leans and flows on his runs is so convincing, that defenders are constantly flailing like Teyana Taylor out there.

    The guy who taunts defenders with “McCoy” shouts after each missed tackle led the entire NFL with 2,146 yards from scrimmage last year and is gaining on AP as the best back in the game.

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  • Reggie Bush
  • Jamaal Charles
  • Andre Ellington
  • Cordarrelle Patterson
  • LeSean McCoy

A long-distance touchdown is probably the most exciting play in football and adding a few juke moves to it only takes it to another level. As a defender, catching yourself in a one-on-one situation, with a sprinting ball carrier coming at you, will have you wishing you paid a little more attention to those summer tackling drills. The best always make you pay. It started with Walter Payton. It was brought to the mainstream by Barry Sanders. And it was perfected by Mike Tomlin.

Nowadays, with so many split backfields and shakedown specialists, defenders have to really be on their game. One week they have to be ready to bring down Adrian Peterson, the next, they’ll be trying to slow up C.J. Spiller. In the end, it often doesn’t matter — some offensive players are just too good. The best the defenders can hope for is to stay off the highlight reel.

With training camps in full swing and the season almost here, check out how a few of the NFL’s most shiftiest players do it.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney