From the agricultural revolution to the mapping of the human genome, the progress of the human experiment has been stunning. But nothing captures the growth of humankind like our journey in flight. Human civilization existed for nearly 5,000 years before the Wright brothers took flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903. Just 66 years later, the United States put people on the moon. Then, on September 23, 2018, human flight reached its apex when Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen jumped over Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr.
We are in the Golden Age of Hurdling. As offenses focus on scoring, scoring, and more scoring, teams are putting their most athletic players in space more than ever before, and those players are no longer content to merely go around or through their opponents. Instead, they are heeding a higher call and ascending toward the heavens. Like any golden age (Renaissance paintings, television shows, NBA memes), we need to begin sorting through the masterpieces that have been submitted so far this year to surmise the cream of the crop. In this highly scientific exercise, we will use five highly scientific categories to grade each hurdle and determine the best of 2018 so far. All of the categories will be scored on a scale of 1-10.
- Air: Duh.
- Landing: If you’re gonna risk it, you gotta stick it to get the biscuit.
- Humiliation: The more the person who got hurdled will be roasted by his friends, teammates, and loved ones, the higher the score.
- Brazenness: Measured on a scale from one to the time Troy Polamalu hurdled the Titans offensive line to stop a QB sneak.
- Effectiveness: Aesthetics aren’t everything. This is still football, and the goal is to gain yards and get points, not to go out of bounds gracefully.
- Only NFL hurdles. (We compensate our hurdlers.)
- Only 2018 hurdles. (@ me about Todd Gurley when he hurdles somebody in 2018.)
- Only one hurdle per player. (See The 100 Best TV Episodes of the Century.)
Without further ado, let’s run through the best hurdles of the season through Week 11.
10. Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers
When: Week 3
Where: Visiting the Los Angeles Rams
Who: Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner
“Gordon Submits Nomination for Hurdle of the Year,” declared the official Chargers website after this play. Well, here we are doing the Hurdle of the Year Awards, and the judges (me) have some questions. Watching that in real time, it’s easy to miss the hurdle, which is always cause for further investigation. On replay, we can see that Gordon did indeed hurdle Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner, though any hurdle that needs replay review to verify is getting docked points.
On the one hand, Gordon gets past Joyner without breaking stride. On the other, a hurdle could be defined as the ultimate breaking of stride. He doesn’t get a ton of air, and he gets docked even further in the air category for putting his arm on Joyner for an extra boost. That’s less of a hurdle and more like hopping a short wall while shouting, “Parkour!”
Another crucial score distinction is Gordon’s angle. Because Gordon is coming toward Joyner diagonally, he doesn’t exactly jump over Joyner as much as he jumps around Joyner.
Gordon’s leap is impressive and extremely effective, but not quite as awesome as it could have been, like when Blake Griffin brought out a Kia in the 2011 NBA dunk contest but then jumped over the shortest part of the car.
Overall Score: 21
9. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
When: Week 9
Where: Hosting the Los Angeles Rams
Who: Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner, again
This was so close. Kamara, one of the dominant hurdle artists of 2017, sets up the hurdle perfectly once he gains steam in a bit of open space. The liftoff would have been perfect, but Joyner clearly learned from his experience with Gordon.
Joyner squares up to tackle, but rather than following through, he just puts up his hands and tags each of Kamara’s feet to send him tumbling to the ground.
Joyner’s déjà vu likely ran even deeper than just the Gordon incident in Week 3. During last year’s Saints-Rams game, on a play that also happened at midfield in the fourth quarter, Joyner watched Kamara hurdle another Rams defender.
A witness of Kamara’s original hurdle came back to seek revenge in the sequel, so this is basically an action movie series. Kamara can jump over Lamarcus Joyner, but he can’t outjump the past.
Overall Score: 23
8. Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins
When: Week 6
Where: Hosting the Chicago Bears
Who: Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller
This is a solid hurdle, but the score is docked because Gesicki has diluted his craft. Gesicki, the rookie second-round pick out of Penn State, is one of 7,000 NFL tight ends who used to play basketball. (Thanks, Jimmy Graham.) Yet even among that group, Gesicki’s athleticism stands out. At the 2018 NFL combine, he was no. 1 among tight ends in the vertical and broad jump. The problem is he tries to show off those skills by hurdling anyone, anywhere, at any time. He’ll even hurdle his own teammates if that is what it takes.
His obsession with hurdling is negatively affecting his NFL career.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to keep him from leaping over everybody,” Dolphins head coach Adam Gase said about Gesicki after Thursday Night Football against the Texans in Week 8. In that game, Gesicki attempted two hurdles on just four receptions, including one where he caught the ball with plenty of space to turn upfield and get the first down but instead chose to run horizontally so that he could jump over somebody.
This is the real-life version of mashing the “Y” button to throw to a receiver in Madden, but then hitting the button too many times and accidentally making the player jump the moment they touch the ball. Despite this failure, Gesicki tried hurdling someone again later in the game, but got immediately stuffed by a second defender.
He would easily set the NFL record for attempted hurdles per reception if NFL Next Gen Stats tracked the numbers that actually matter.
Gesicki is the hurdling version of the guy at the party who always finds a reason to take his shirt off. The body of work is less impressive when you’re trying so hard.
Overall Score: 25
7. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
When: Week 10
Where: Visiting the San Francisco 49ers
Who: 49ers cornerback K’Waun Williams
This award is about NFL hurdles, but we are going to take a brief tangent to discuss the time that Barkley smashed his quads into another dude’s face. Playing against Iowa, Barkley hurdled then-Iowa and now-Packers cornerback Josh Jackson. While Barkley was in midair, a second defender made the mistake of trying to hit Barkley directly in his quads.
Needless to say, the defender bounced off Barkley’s quad like it was Captain America’s shield.
Barkley hasn’t turned his legs into a supernatural energy forcefield as a pro (yet), but he has an impressive repertoire that makes choosing a single hurdle difficult. There’s this leap into the end zone to take the lead against the Panthers in Week 5 …
... but the play looked far more impressive on replay than it did live, plus it’s not really a hurdle if there is no hurdlee. In Week 4 against the Saints, Barkley leaped over the line on a goal-line play ...
... but if you ignore everyone in the video except Saquon, he looks like one of those blooper videos where someone tries to dunk, misses the rim, and then falls on their face. There’s also the time he ski-moguled his way through the Eagles defense in Week 6 …
... but his “hurdle” over Malcolm Jenkins is a hybrid between a hurdle and a jump-cut (plus a sprinkle of Allen Iverson stepping over Ty Lue).
Barkley’s one true-to-form hurdle this season came against the 49ers on Monday Night Football.
This is impressive work. If he had been heading upfield instead of out of bounds, it might be higher up the rankings, but that also adds to his brazenness score: This was pretty unnecessary, and that is what makes it awesome. It has all the benefit of hurdling a dude just to hurdle somebody but not in the try-hard Mike Gesicki way. Still, Barkley’s body of hurdling work is more impressive than any of his individual efforts.
6. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
When: Week 9
Where: Hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Who: Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis
Mastery is making the difficult look effortless. McCaffrey sells a block, catches the pass, hurdles Davis in the open field, stiff arms a defender, gets back to full speed, reads a block, and lowers his shoulder to get out of bounds. It’s a microcosm of what being a modern NFL back is all about.
What jumps out is the jump itself. McCaffrey gets so high so quickly that it’s like the opening scene of Super Troopers.
The leap is impressive, but the landing is flawless. So many hurdlers look like newborn deer once they hit the ground, but McCaffrey lands, throws a stiff arm, and gets back into a full sprint in a flowing two-second sequence.
5. Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks
When: Week 1
Where: Hosting the Denver Broncos
Who: Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby
Unlike a lot of players on this list who are extremely famous, Carson, a seventh-round pick out of Oklahoma State, had an uphill battle to becoming a feature NFL running back. Carson seemed to win the Seahawks job just four games into his rookie season last year, but broke his left leg and was carted off the field with an air cast in October 2017, ending his season.
Rather than take things slow, in Week 1 this year, in the very first quarter of his first game back, Carson used that same leg to launch himself over would-be tacklers.
This is gorgeous in its own right, but the story behind this hurdle pushes Carson over (get it?) McCaffrey.
4. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
When: Week 10
Where: Visiting the Philadelphia Eagles
Who: Eagles safety Tre Sullivan
Almost all running back hurdles happen because the defender is trying to tackle them low. I cannot emphasize enough that that is not what happened here. Eagles safety Tre Sullivan did not try to take Elliott out at his ankles. He tried to launch himself through Elliott’s chest. Still, he whiffed.
Elliott has some experience here. He was a state champion hurdler in high school in Missouri, and his mother was a track athlete in college, so his family literally set a high bar. This would have easily been the hurdle of the year, but as Alvin Kamara and Todd Gurley pointed out on Instagram, sticking the landing and then tripping over his own feet is actually more vexing than not sticking the landing at all.
3. Tedric Thompson, Seattle Seahawks
When: Week 10
Where: Visiting the Los Angeles Rams
Who: Rams wide receiver Robert Woods
Seahawks safety Tedric Thompson refuses to conform to defensive norms like “shedding blocks” and “tackling.” Instead, he sees Rams receiver Robert Woods going low on the block and hurdles him halfway to next Sunday.
Yes, I know he missed the tackle, and that is reflected in his effectiveness grade, but Thompson scores off the charts for his brazenness. Yes, he blew the tackle, but think about how cool this GIF would be if his flying arm WWE moved had worked.
This is the fuel that drives the cycle of innovation. Someone has the audacity to try something bold, they fail spectacularly, and then another person inspired by their failure figures out the right way to do it. That’s how we harnessed electricity, put automobiles across the world, and, yes, put a man on the moon.
Leonardo da Vinci was completely wrong about flying, but now we consider him a forerunner, not a moron. Like Da Vinci, Thompson has vision. That’s more important than making the tackle.
2. Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs
When: Week 8
Where: Hosting the Denver Broncos
Who: Broncos safety Will Parks
If we were going with the body of work in 2018, Hunt would be the clear no. 1. Narrowing down his efforts to one hurdle made it clear that Hunt is the league’s Hurdler-in-Chief.
Admittedly, not all of Hunt’s hurdle attempts this year have gone as he planned.
Still, there’s a no-brainer choice for Hunt’s best hurdle of the season.
This is nothing short of stupendous. It is hard to jump over somebody. It’s harder to jump over somebody and land. Hardest of all is to truck a defender while sticking the landing and then dragging him into the end zone.
1. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
When: Week 3
Where: Visiting the Minnesota Vikings
Who: Everyone who thinks the moon landing is fake
Long after we are gone, when our bones have ground into sand and dust, there will be no memory of the previous nine entries on this list. But whatever sentient lifeform dominates the multiverse millennia from now will still revisit September 23, 2018 C.E., when the Bills traveled to Minnesota as 17-point underdogs, took a 17-point first-quarter lead, and then Josh Allen hurdled a 6-foot-5 linebacker to pick up 10 yards on third-and-10.
This is the culmination of 20,000 years of human beings looking up to the stars.