Football is a complex team sport that requires 11 players working in sync on each side of the ball. To coordinate these large rosters, every player is assigned to a specific position with designated roles and responsibilities. This complete guide examines in detail the various football positions. We will cover what each position does, which skills they require, examples of top players, and how the positions work together during gameplay. Whether you’re new to football or a lifelong fan, this guide will give you an in-depth look at the roles that make up the ultimate team sport.

The Quarterback

The quarterback is the most important and prestigious position on the field with immense responsibilities leading the offense.


The quarterback is essentially the on-field coach, calling plays in the huddle and making pre-snap reads of defensive formations. Once the ball is snapped, the quarterback has the following jobs:

  • Hand off the football to running backs on rushing plays
  • Pass the football to receivers down the field
  • Scramble with the football and rush as a last resort
  • Read the defense and make quick decisions in real time

The quarterback orchestrates the offense and handles the ball on nearly every play. They have to execute plays with precision and read defenses to pick them apart. It’s the most influential position that controls games.

Key Attributes

To succeed at quarterback, players require these athletic and mental attributes:

  • Strong throwing arm for accurate passes
  • Quick release to avoid sacks
  • Mobility to evade pressure or scramble
  • Excellent vision and scanning ability
  • High football IQ and play recognition
  • Quick decision-making and processing skills
  • Leadership and competitive toughness

Quarterbacks must have a combination of physical gifts and intangible traits like leadership, poise, and work ethic. They steer the ship for the entire offense.

Famous Examples

Legends like Joe Montana, John Elway, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady defined the position over the decades. Some of today’s stars are Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert. The greatest quarterbacks display precision passing, ironclad mental toughness, and on-field generalship.

The Running Back

Running backs align behind the quarterback and specialize in rushing plays.


The running back has two main jobs when they get the ball on run plays:

  • Rush through running lanes opened by blockers
  • Use quick cuts and vision to accumulate rushing yards

Running backs carry the ball more than any position besides quarterback. They must time their cuts precisely, break tackles, and find holes in the defense. Running backs are also often used as receiving targets on passing plays.

Key Attributes

These athletic traits allow running backs to thrive:

  • Speed and acceleration
  • Elusiveness and agility in small spaces
  • Balance through contact
  • Lower body strength to break tackles
  • Receiving skills like hands and route running
  • Pass blocking ability
  • Vision to find lanes

The best running backs combine breakaway speed with tackle-breaking power and reliability catching passes.

Famous Examples

All-time greats include Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, and LaDainian Tomlinson. Some current standouts are Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, and Nick Chubb. Running backs endure heavy hits for their team’s benefit.

The Wide Receiver

Wide receivers specialize in catching passes from the quarterback and making plays as secondary runners.


Receivers have these key jobs on passing plays:

  • Run precise routes to get open vs. defenders
  • Catch passes and secure the football
  • Gain yards after catch on screens and short passes
  • Block downfield on runs or extended passes
  • Use speed and separation to stretch defenses

Receivers must perfect the skill of running routes that fake out defenders combined with reliably securing catches. They are constant deep threats that can break open games with explosive plays.

Key Attributes

Star receivers boast these athletic gifts:

  • Top-end speed to beat defenders
  • Quickness and separation skills
  • Excellent hands and catching ability
  • Vertical leaping for high passes
  • Mid-air body control and adjustments
  • YAC (yards after catch) ability

The league’s best wideouts have a mix of speed, length, route running savviness, and big-play ability.

Famous Examples

All-time greats like Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Larry Fitzgerald set records playing receiver. Today’s elite are Davante Adams, Cooper Kupp, Stefon Diggs and Ja’Marr Chase. While quarterbacks get more glory, top receivers can single-handedly take over games.

The Tight End

Tight ends line up attached to the offensive line and perform a mix of blocking and receiving roles.


Tight ends have multifaceted responsibilities:

  • Provide extra pass protection by blocking rushers
  • Seal edges on run plays as a bigger blocker
  • Run routes and catch passes over the middle
  • Use size mismatches against smaller defenders
  • Provide an additional short-yardage target near the goal line

Tight ends must embrace physical roles as blockers while also running crisp routes and reliably catching passes in traffic. They bridge the gap between the offensive line and skill positions.

Key Attributes

To handle this diverse role, tight ends need:

  • Size, strength, and tenacity for blocking duties
  • Athleticism to get open running routes
  • Great hands to catch in tight coverage
  • Toughness to absorb hits across the middle
  • Enough speed to threaten defenses deep

The most complete tight ends have the size of linemen with near the athleticism of bigger receivers.

Famous Examples

Legendary tight ends include Mike Ditka, Kellen Winslow Sr., Tony Gonzalez, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates. Some current stars are Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Mark Andrews. Great tight ends are invaluable with their ability to control games as blockers and receivers.

The Offensive Line

The big men of the offensive line are tasked with clearing run lanes and pass protecting for the offense.


The offensive line must work as a single unit to:

  • Pave running lanes open for backs on rushing plays
  • Maintain the pocket and block rushers on passing downs
  • Defend the quarterback and other skill players
  • Sustain run and pass blocks for several seconds
  • Communicate assignments along the line

Dominant offensive line play allows time for quarterbacks and opens consistent holes for running backs. They fight pivotal trench battles on every snap.

Key Attributes

Linemen require enormous size combined with quick feet and hand skills:

  • Sheer mass to overpower defenders
  • Strong hands and arms in engaging defenders
  • Quickness off the snap into blocks
  • Balance and anchor to handle bull rushes
  • Stamina to finish blocks for extended reps

Fundamentals like footwork, hand placement, leverage, and technique are also heavily coached.

Famous Examples

All-time greats include Anthony Munoz, John Hannah, Jonathan Ogden, Walter Jones and Reggie White. Some current stars are Trent Williams, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, and Quenton Nelson. Offensive linemen are the overlooked heroes that make spectacular offensive plays possible.

The Defensive Line

The defensive line forms the first line of resistance trying to penetration into the backfield and make stops at the line of scrimmage.


Defensive linemen have these fundamental responsibilities:

  • Rush the quarterback and collapse the pocket
  • Stuff runs by clogging gaps and tackling backs
  • Occupy blockers to free up linebackers to make plays
  • Maintain leverage and gap discipline
  • Bat down passes at the line of scrimmage
  • Force holding penalties against blockers

Dominant defensive lines that stuff the run while pressuring quarterbacks set the tone for the whole defense.

Key Attributes

Defensive linemen thrive with:

  • Raw power and strength to overmatch blockers
  • Quick first step and explosive burst
  • Array of power and finesse rush moves
  • Effort and motors that persist through reps
  • Use of leverage, hand placement, and footwork
  • Ability to disengage from blocks

The front four defensive linemen are foundational in pressuring the offense backfield.

Famous Examples

Legends like Deacon Jones, Reggie White, Bruce Smith and Mean Joe Greene dominated the trenches. Today’s stars are Aaron Donald, Cam Heyward, Chris Jones, and Myles Garrett. Great defensive line play is a catalyst that elevates the overall defense.

The Linebacker

Linebackers align directly behind the defensive line and have extremely well-rounded responsibilities both defending the run and pass.


Linebackers are versatile defenders that:

-Shut down runs by plugging gaps and tackling -Rush the quarterback on blitzes through gaps
-Cover short and intermediate pass routes -Keep vision on the QB and ball -Pursue and chase down ball carriers -Defend the flats and contain outside runs

Linebackers must use their vision to diagnose plays and positioning to stifle offenses. They are defensive playmaking machines.

Key Attributes

Complete linebackers boast:

  • Sideline to sideline speed and range
  • Block shedding skills to defeat blocks
  • Tackling ability in space
  • Coverage skills like hip fluidity
  • Blitzing ability timing the snap
  • High football IQ and awareness

The great linebackers have unique play recognition and closing speed to make stops all over the field.

Famous Examples

Legends like Lawrence Taylor, Dick Butkus, Ray Lewis and Derrick Thomas made game-changing plays. Today’s stars are Bobby Wagner, Fred Warner, Roquan Smith, and Micah Parsons. Hall of Fame linebackers are Celtic leaders that took over games.

The Cornerback

Cornerbacks specialize in limiting and covering wide receivers on the edges of the defense.


Cornerbacks principally excel at:

  • Mirroring wideouts using speed and agility
  • Jamming and pressing at the line of scrimmage
  • Maintaining tight coverage downfield
  • Defending quick-hitting passes into the flats
  • Tackling receivers after the catch
  • Rerouting receivers and forcing them out of bounds

In today’s pass-happy game, having lockdown corners who shut #1 targets down is invaluable.

Key Attributes

Stellar cornerbacks have:

  • Loose hips and quick feet to shadow routes
  • Straight line speed to carry vertical routes
  • Physical press skills at the line
  • Ball skills to contest catches and force turnovers
  • Quick reaction time on throws
  • Tackling technique on the edge

It’s an island position requiring advanced coverage techniques and athletic gifts.

Famous Examples

Legends like Deion Sanders, Darrell Green, Rod Woodson and Dick “Night Train” Lane set the standard at the position. Today’s stars are Jalen Ramsey, Marshon Lattimore, Jaire Alexander, and Marlon Humphrey. Great corners alter defensive gameplans entirely based on their ability to shut down top threats.

The Safety

Safeties are the deepest defensive backs, patrolling and making plays as the last line of defense.


As versatile defenders, safeties:

  • Provide over-the-top coverage help
  • Rotate down to cover slot receivers and tight ends
  • Fill rushing lanes and make tackles near the line
  • Blitz the quarterback from disguised looks
  • Prevent big-play touchdowns
  • Force turnovers across the middle

Savvy safeties solidify the back third of coverage while also flying downhill against the run.

Key Attributes

To fill this flexible role, safeties need:

  • Range and speed to cover the entire field
  • Play recognition skills diagnosing plays
  • Open field tackling ability
  • Blitzing timing and angles
  • Ball skills to take away deep passes
  • Hard hits to force fumbles

Great safeties captain the secondary using instincts and closing burst to extinction plays.

Famous Examples

Legends like Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, Steve Atwater, and Kenny Easley made game-changing stops. Today’s top safeties are Minkah Fitzpatrick, Derwin James, Harrison Smith, and Jamal Adams. Ball-hawking safeties provide the last line of deep coverage and run support.

Special Teams

Beyond scrimmage positions, special teams players handle kicking, punting, returns, and coverage:


Kickers handle field goals and extra points. Accuracy, leg strength, and range are key traits.


Punters aim for maximum hang time and distance to pin opponents. Ball placement and getting punts off quickly are vital.

Return Specialist

Returners are elusive runners that set up returns through vision and quick cuts.

Coverage Players

These contain and tackle returners, maintain lane discipline, and avoid penalties. Speed and tackling skills are critical.

Special teams tilt field position and create explosive plays. Players use their athleticism in focused roles helping teams win close games.

How Positions Work Together

Now that we’ve covered each position’s roles, let’s look at how they interconnect:

  • The quarterback calls plays involving handoffs, passes to receivers, outlets to backs and tight ends, and protection from linemen.
  • The offensive line blocks for multiple seconds, allowing time for routes to develop downfield.
  • Receivers’ vertical threat opens up underneath lanes for tight ends.
  • Safeties provide deep help, while corners battle receivers one-on-one.
  • Linebackers flow and fill rushing lanes that linemen create penetration into.

On each play, every position works together carrying out their assignments. Football is the ultimate team sport, where all 11 players’ coordination is needed for success. One weak link can blow up an entire play. That’s what makes the synchronized execution by all positions so crucial – and so fascinating to watch unfold!

Football Positions by Jersey Number

Players at certain positions traditionally wear jersey numbers within defined ranges:

  • Quarterbacks: 1-19
  • Running Backs: 20-49
  • Wide Receivers: 10-19 and 80-89
  • Tight Ends: 80-99
  • Offensive Line: 50-79
  • Defensive Line: 50-99
  • Linebackers: 40-59 and 90-99
  • Cornerbacks: 20-49
  • Safeties: 20-49
  • Specialists: 1-19

Jersey numbers help identify players at a glance based on their roles. Numbers also frequently represent legacy, with college and NFL teams retiring iconic numbers.

Positions in Common Formations

Positions align in set formations that provide spacing, blocking schemes, and coordinated routes:

4-3 Defense

  • 4 Down Linemen rush quarterback
  • 3 Linebackers plug gaps and cover short zones
  • 2 Cornerbacks cover wideouts on the outside
  • 2 Safeties defend deep zones

This provides steady pressure and versatile underneath coverage.

3-4 Defense

  • 3 Down Linemen occupy blockers
  • 4 Versatile Linebackers blitz, cover, and defend the run
  • 4 Defensive Backs cover wideouts and deep zones

Linebackers do everything in the 3-4, allowing deception and unpredictability.

West Coast Offense

  • QB makes quick, precise short throws
  • WRs run sharp routes to get open immediately
  • RBs act as receiving threats

This fast-paced passing game creates a death by a thousand cuts.

General Positional Training Tips

Every position requires tailored training and skills. But here are some general tips:

Quarterbacks: Master dropbacks, footwork, releases, and reads. Constantly work on passing accuracy. Study the playbook and defenses. Lead vocally and by example.

Linemen: Focus on explosiveness, hand fighting skills, blocks, and leverage. Master fundamentals and techniques. Build core and lower body strength. Work on stamina and finishing.

Receivers: Run every route precisely. Do drills to improve hands, catches, footwork, explosiveness, breaks, and body control. Get in sync with quarterbacks.

Defensive Backs: Drill backpedaling, hip turns, breaks, and coverage fundamentals. Study receivers’ tendencies. Work on tackling. Improve eye discipline andreactions.

Linebackers: Drill speed, tackling, block shedding, and blitzes from all angles. Study formations and run fits. Drop into coverage and work on passing lanes.

Every position requires its own skillsets, techniques, and athletic attributes tailored to executing a specific role on the field.

Succeeding at Positions by Competition Level

The skills required for success differ slightly by level of play:

High School: Develop athleticism, fundamentals, and football IQ. Outwork opponents and focus on long-term growth. Execute your role within the team system.

College: Take your physical tools and positional skills to an elite level. Excel at your role through mastery of techniques and schemes. Thrive under coaching.

NFL: Fully optimize strengths through advanced training while limiting any weaknesses. Study film obsessively to master nuances. Maintain lung capacity, conditioning, and focus through a long season. Perform every week.

Of course, passion and work ethic matter at every level. But as the competition rises, maximizing the specific traits for your position becomes even more important. The training and dedication required to play at the highest levels is immense. But the rewards of succeeding in defined roles part of a team make football positions so special.

Positional Specialization vs. Versatility

Should football players specialize at one position, or build versatility across multiple roles? The approach depends on the player and level:

Pros of Specializing

  • Faster development by mastering one position’s nuances
  • Ability to dominate against counterparts through focused training
  • Less complexity learning just one role allows playing faster
  • Showcasing elite skills at one position improves chances of making higher-level teams

Pros of Being Versatile

  • Multi-positional skills provide coaches more options
  • Flexibility to play different roles helps teams and provides more game reps
  • Less chance of being rendered obsolete if a scheme changes
  • Versatility makes a player more valuable to retain on roster
  • Unique playmaking skills across positions can unlock “positionless” roles
  • Securing starting and niche playing time on special teams

Approach by Level

High school: Play different positions to find best fit and become well-rounded

College: Specialize and master your eventual pro position

NFL: Work on complementary skills and flexibility for schematic changes

The best approach depends on your skillset and the team situation. But having some versatility adds value at any level.

Football Positions Glossary

Here are quick definitions of some other common football positions:

  • Safety – Secondary defender who patrols deep zones. Free or strong.
  • Nickelback – Defensive back who comes in as a 5th DB to cover slot receivers.
  • Dimeback – 6th defensive back added against heavy receiver sets.
  • Rover – Safety/linebacker hybrid who subs in against pass-heavy offenses.
  • Fullback – Blocking back lining up in front of the running back.
  • H-Back – Hybrid receiver/fullback who lines up off the line of scrimmage. Frequently goes in motion.
  • Slot Receiver – Receiver who lines up between the offensive line and outer receiver. Often go over the middle.
  • Outside Receiver – Split end and flanker aligned on the line of scrimmage on the edge. Mainly run outside routes.
  • Halfback/Tailback – Versatile running back often positioned deepest in the backfield. Gets bulk of carries.
  • Wingback – Running back or receiver positioned in the slot outside the tight end. Used as an additional blocker or pass catcher.
  • Split End – Lines up on the line of scrimmage with extra space between other receivers. Utilized primarily as a deep threat.

There are even more specialized defensive packages and offensive roles, but this covers some of the most common ones. Football has highly defined positions, but the game continues to evolve and blend roles in new ways too.


This guide provided an in-depth look at key football positions. Each has specific responsibilities and required attributes while working in concert with the other 10 roles on the field. Football relies on this well-orchestrated teamwork combining individual skills, techniques, schemes, and strategies. Every position provides a unique lens into how the game’s complex parts synchronize together for teams to succeed through disciplined execution. This total team sport has captivated fans for decades through the diverse abilities and personalities of its many positions. Hopefully you now have a better understanding of the game within the game that takes place between these highly specialized roles competing on each play!

Here are some additional frequently asked questions about football positions:

What are the main positions in football?

The main positions are quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, offensive linemen, defensive linemen, linebacker, cornerback, safety, kicker, and punter.

Which position impacts the game the most?

The quarterback is usually considered the most important position. They handle the ball on every offensive play, make decisions, and are involved in almost every aspect of moving the offense.

What makes a good quarterback?

A good quarterback needs strong passing accuracy, arm strength, football intelligence, leadership skills, poise under pressure, and the drive to master the offense and opposing defenses. They make the whole offense click.

How are wide receivers different from tight ends?

Wide receivers typically focus almost entirely on running routes and catching passes using their straight-line speed and quickness. Tight ends have more blocking responsibilities at the line and specialize in passes over the middle using their size.

What does a defensive tackle do?

Defensive tackles line up between the defensive ends and specialize in stopping the run by fighting through blocks, plugging gaps, and defending their territory against the opponent’s offensive line and running backs.

Do football teams use the same starting players on offense and defense?

No, offensive and defensive starters are completely separate. This allows players to specialize at positions on just one side of the ball and rest between drives since football is such a physically demanding sport.

How do you play middle linebacker?

Middle linebackers are tasked with calling defensive alignments, reading the offense’s formations pre-snap, getting quick jumps on the ball, taking on lead blockers, plugging running lanes, covering short zones, and tackling anyone in their territory.

What makes a great running back?

A great running back has excellent vision to find holes, quick cuts and change of direction, tackle-breaking power, receiving skills, and open field speed to outrun defenders. A combination of physical gifts and running instincts.


Categories: Football


  • Tom Eddy

    Tom Eddy is the founder and CEO of Poll Position, a leading sports news and opinion website. Eddy founded Poll Position driven by a vision of creating an innovative digital media brand focused exclusively on sports journalism. Under Eddy's leadership, Poll Position has grown from a solo blog into one of the most visited online destinations for sports coverage.


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