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  • In 2018, NFL quarterbacks

  • attempted over 17,000 passes.

  • Of those, 64.9% were completed.

  • That's the highest completion percentage in league history.

  • And if you look closely,

  • all of those successfully completed passes

  • had one thing in common:

  • They were thrown with a nice, tight spiral.

  • But throwing a perfect spiral isn't as easy as it looks.

  • Here's what it takes.

  • First, we have to answer one basic question:

  • How exactly do you throw a spiral?

  • To answer that, we went to an expert.

  • My name's Ryan Larsen, and I'm

  • the quarterbacks coach here for Columbia University.

  • Narrator: Larsen says that the first key

  • to throwing a spiral is the grip.

  • No matter a quarterback's hand size,

  • there are really only two fingers

  • that are crucial to how they hold the ball.

  • Larsen: We're gonna orient the best we can

  • our middle finger and our thumb

  • in a straight line on the ball,

  • and then we're just gonna wrap our fingers down

  • and let them rest in control.

  • Narrator: After that, the quarterback's goal

  • is to build up force behind the ball.

  • So, first, they'll load the ball back,

  • with their elbow above their armpit.

  • This helps to ensure that the quarterback is

  • what's called being "on top of the ball."

  • That's important because, otherwise,

  • the quarterback won't be able to throw as far.

  • Larsen: The second you're low,

  • now you're, yet again, you're pushing the ball.

  • So when you try to drive that ball deep down the field,

  • you're underneath it, and you're lacking arm strength.

  • Narrator: After that, the quarterback

  • uses their other arm to twist their upper body

  • while stepping forward into the throw

  • as they prepare to release the ball.

  • But a quarterback could complete all of these steps

  • and never end up with a spiraling football.

  • Getting that spiral comes down to the very last thing

  • the quarterback does in the split second

  • before they release the ball, and it comes back to the grip.

  • Because, in order to generate a good spiral,

  • the last finger that should touch the ball

  • as the hand releases it

  • is the quarterback's index finger.

  • Larsen: The spiral's created by that final flick,

  • that last finger.

  • You really want that last finger to come off of it

  • and then finish down, and that's that spin

  • that you're trying to get to create the spiral.

  • Narrator: But here's the problem.

  • Even the slightest of errors in how the quarterback

  • lets go of the ball can affect the throw.

  • Larsen: If you're finishing with the ball on your wrist,

  • you're finishing like that,

  • now your index finger's not the last finger.

  • Now you've got multiple ones,

  • and that's when you start to get balls that get wobbly.

  • Narrator: And wobbly footballs

  • are a quarterback's worst nightmare.

  • Chad Orzel: Really, precision in the release

  • and in the flight of the ball is absolutely critical

  • to success if you're gonna be a passing quarterback.

  • My name is Chad Orzel, and I am a professor

  • at Union College in the department of physics and astronomy.

  • Narrator: When it comes to how well a football

  • flies through the air, there are two key elements:

  • spin rate and velocity.

  • Let's start with spin.

  • On average, a good spiral has a spin rate

  • of roughly 600 rotations per minute.

  • That's as fast as an electric screwdriver.

  • Orzel: If you get the ball spinning rapidly,

  • the ball will tend to stay with its axis of spin,

  • pointing in the same direction all the time.

  • So if it's spinning fast and moving nose-on through the air,

  • it's going to feel a smaller air-resistance force,

  • and that means it'll go a little bit farther

  • because of that.

  • Narrator: The reason a rapidly spinning football

  • stays on course better than a slower-spinning ball

  • is due to its angular momentum.

  • Angular momentum measures

  • how likely a ball is

  • to wobble through the air or not.

  • Orzel: The more angular

  • momentum something has,

  • the harder it is to change the

  • orientation of that object.

  • Something with a lot of

  • angular momentum wants to keep

  • its spin axis always pointing

  • in exactly the same direction.

  • The faster you make the ball spin,

  • the better it will hold its orientation,

  • the more angular momentum it'll have.

  • Narrator: So a rapidly spinning football

  • will fly straighter than one that isn't spinning as quickly,

  • and it will even help it fly a little farther.

  • How far, however, mostly depends on the velocity

  • of the ball flying through the air.

  • Orzel: The initial velocity that the ball's given

  • pretty much determines everything about the flight.

  • It determines, all right,

  • how high is the pass going to go in the air,

  • the arc that it's gonna follow,

  • it determines how far it's going to go.

  • Narrator: And building that velocity behind the ball

  • is pretty straightforward.

  • It's all about muscle strength.

  • Larsen: The most important thing in generating velocity,

  • and therefore what you would call a great spiral, right,

  • is using your strongest muscles in your body.

  • Your strongest muscles in your body are gonna be

  • in your quads, your hamstrings,

  • your glutes, and then your core.

  • Narrator: However, velocity can be a double-edged sword.

  • Because trying to increase the velocity behind a throw

  • can sometimes compromise the integrity of the ball's spiral.

  • Orzel: If you're trying to throw the ball

  • really, really hard, sometimes that means

  • you can't get as much spin on it as you would like,

  • and then the ball ends up not going as far as it could,

  • just because it doesn't hold its orientation,

  • and it tumbles in the air, and it's not as accurate.

  • Larsen: The lower body is what creates everything

  • in terms of that velocity,

  • but if you have bad mechanics in your upper body,

  • you're not gonna be able to have a spiral

  • to get the ball downfield.

  • Narrator: So, ultimately, the best throws come down to:

  • Larsen: Having a tighter spiral,

  • and more velocity behind that spiral

  • is gonna give you the ability

  • to make throws on the field to be successful.

  • Narrator: So, if throwing the perfect spiral

  • is just a matter of the right grip and sufficient strength,

  • what distinguishes the mediocre quarterbacks

  • from the greats?

  • Orzel: The key is getting just the right balance

  • of precisely controlled velocity

  • and a good spin rate on the ball.

  • Narrator: And, as the saying goes,

  • practice makes perfect.

  • Larsen: Anytime you're doing things repetitively,

  • over and over and over, and creating that consistency,

  • that's gonna now give you accuracy.

  • The second that your mechanics go out the door,

  • your accuracy goes out the door,

  • because now every throw is different.

  • Narrator: Of course, repeating those exact mechanics

  • perfectly every time is easier said than done.

  • Especially when your target is moving at 20 miles an hour

  • and 300-pound defensive tackles are barreling toward you.

  • But for the all-time greats,

  • that skill is what makes them so special.

  • Larsen: You think about some of the most

  • accurate quarterbacks of all-time,

  • you think about Dan Marino.

  • Unbelievable arm talent, unbelievably strong,

  • could make every throw, his mechanics are perfect.

  • People talk about Dan Marino having

  • the quickest release they've ever seen,

  • well, he has a quick release because

  • there's no inefficiencies in his throwing motion.

  • Tom Brady is unbelievably meticulous with his mechanics,

  • whether it's footwork or how he's throwing,

  • yet again, it's the consistency in your mechanics

  • that's gonna create accuracy.

In 2018, NFL quarterbacks