How Saquon Barkley and AJ Dillon became the 'Quad Kings' of the NFL

AJ DILLON FIGURED the encounter with a complete stranger at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport would resemble any other with a Green Bay Packers fan who asked to position for an image.

They’d toss an arm over each other’s shoulders and smile like they were long-lost buddies while they either snapped a selfie or had another person take it.

Not this person.

“He gets down on his knees and wraps his arms around my quads,” the Packers’ running back remembered. “This is a grown man, picture of his kids on his phone, married and [says to his] his wife, ‘Hey, take this picture of me with my arms wrapped around his quads,’ and thought it was the funniest thing.

“I didn’t understand he was doing all that. I simply believed I was preparing for an image, and prior to I understood it, he was down there.”

Even Saquon Barkley, who has the thighs to competing Dillon’s, had never ever knowledgeable anything rather like that.

“That is where the line draws for me,” the New York Giants’ running back said. “I may get the sleeve a bit and offer it a flex for the image. I’ve done that a couple times. I have not gotten anybody to fall to their knee and cover my leg and take an image with it. That’s a little too far.”

Coincidentally, it was at an airport when Barkley first recognized people fixating on his legs.

“This is when I initially recognized it: I remained in Newark airport, and I was strolling to get my bags, and I had brief shorts on, individuals were simply taking a look at me, and I’m like ‘What the heck?'” Barkley said. “I had a hoodie on, and I’m like, ‘What’s everybody looking at?’ And individuals were turning up and stating, like, ‘You’ve got some truly good legs.’ I believe when it initially began, I resembled, I do not understand why — it was males, women, everyone — and I’m so captured off guard by it.”

Such is life in public for the two running backs with perhaps the most muscular lower bodies in football.

Two years after tearing the ACL in his right knee, Barkley has rebuilt his body into the foundation of his success. With the added motivation of a contract year, he leads the NFL with 463 rushing yards through four weeks. His 252 yards after contact is second only to Cleveland’s Nick Chubb, and only 81 fewer than he had all of last season as he rebuilt his strength and confidence.

Barkley ranks 36th in the NFL in yards after contact since the start of the 2020 season, despite missing 18 games with injuries. Dillon, who combines with Aaron Jones to give the Packers one of the most lethal 1-2 punches in football, ranks seventh.

While Jones leads the team and ranks seventh in the NFL in rushing yards, it was Dillon who got the call on the final drive of overtime in Sunday’s win over the New England Patriots. Coach Matt LaFleur ran Dillon six times on that drive to help move the Packers into position for the game-winning field goal.

Barkley and Dillon will share the same field on Sunday when the Giants (3-1) and Packers (3-1) play in London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (9:30 a.m. ET, NFL Network), and before that, they shared stories of their legs, people’s reactions to them and debated who was “The Quad King” during a joint Zoom interview with ESPN.


BARKLEY’S QUADS WERE a thing long before Dillon was even on the NFL radar. When ESPN The Magazine featured Barkley in the 2018 version of The Body Issue, Dillon was a sophomore at Boston College.

“I never ever truly belonged to the compulsive quad bandwagon till I believe a few of my colleagues at BC were joking around,” Dillon told Barkley. “I believe after that you did the ESPN Body Issue and all my kids kept tagging me, like guy, however I’m like, I’m not going to be talking and comparing my legs to this man.”

If Dillon’s quads weren’t an instant sensation in college, they were in the NFL.

A photo from Day 1 of training camp during his rookie season was just the beginning of the phenomenon.

“Training camp is where everyone kinda figured about the legs, and after that individuals began tagging [Barkley] in things,” Dillon said. “And I resembled, ‘Hey, you never ever understand, I may have him beat.'”

Barkley understood being available in if it were large size that would identify the title of “The Quad King,” he would be in trouble. Dillon reported that he checks in at 6-foot-1, 250 pounds; Barkley, a shredded 6-foot, 227 with body fat of less than 6%.

Barkley, whose 133 rushing yards over expectation this season is second in the NFL, was stunned when Dillon guessed Barkley’s quads would measure at well over 30 inches. Hey, he hasn’t run through defenders for 290 total yards this season by accident.

“Oh wow,” said Barkley, who knew he would measure in at a solid 29 inches.

That is when Dillon took out the kind of measuring tape a tailor would use to fit a suit. Of course, he had to flex to reach max girth. These are uber-competitive NFL running backs. They compete at even the most innocuous of tasks.

“We’ve got 34 [inches],” Dillon said. “But it may be more like 33 due to the fact that I’ve got sweats on.”

At that point, Barkley, riding in the backseat of a car to New York City, simply conceded.

“Not 34,” he said. “You’ve got me beat.”

The second-overall pick in 2018 wondered how the great Earl Campbell would compare. Campbell’s Hall of Fame bio notes he had 36-inch thighs. He’s got all of these modern-day backs beat.

Barkley’s advantage may be strength per inch. He estimated his max squat at 700 pounds while Dillon said 675. (Note: They had to do it simultaneously in order not to try and one-up the other.)

Neither is anything to scoff at. Actually, quite the opposite.


WHILE BOTH HAVE nicknames related to their quads — former Giants teammate Odell Beckham Jr. came up with “SaQuads” for Barkley and Dillon has used both “Quadzilla and “The Quadfather” — their running designs are various. Dillon keeps up power in between the takes on, while Barkley relatively slides through open areas and makes protectors miss out on.

Barkley has the edge in the speed department; his 4.40 40-yard dash time improved Dillon’s 4.51 coming out of college. Barkley is connected for 2nd in the NFL with 4 runs of 20-plus backyards this season.

“My biggest question is, like, ‘Yeah, he’s got big legs, but how do they move so fast?'” Dillon stated. “Mine don’t necessarily move that fast. I’ve got the big ones, but I use mine more for running through people.”

It’s still rather a weird phenomenon to Barkley. He does not accept the fascination with his legs.

“I don’t know why, for some reason in college, having big legs wasn’t a thing. It wasn’t like my legs got bigger when I got to the NFL or AJ’s legs got bigger when he got to the NFL, but it’s like, once you get on the NFL scene, everyone likes talking about the size of your legs,” Barkley stated.

“People talked more about my calves in college, and then I got to the NFL, Odell kinda made a joke calling me ‘SaQuads,’ and everyone was like, ‘He’s got huge quads, he’s got big legs.’ Now, whoever’s new, it was Najee [Harris] or it was AJ — I forget how the order went — but, like, every year someone new is like, ‘Who’s got the best quads, who’s got the biggest quads in the NFL?’

“I do not understand why. I do not truly get individuals’s fixation with it.”

Not that Barkley tries to hide them. He still flaunts them by wearing the short shorts he says are in style. The quads protrude out of them.

As do Dillon’s.

“If you got ’em,” Dillon said. “You’ve got to reveal ’em.”



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