Football is a team sport that requires each and every player to do their part. Everyone has a role on the team and that role is often defined by the position they play. If one player isn’t giving 110% or isn’t dedicated to the overall success of the team, the opposing team will take advantage of it.
So, what are the different positions in football?
Football positions include three categories. The offense consists of a quarterback, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, and offensive line. The defense consists of a defensive line, linebackers, cornerbacks, and safeties. Special teams consist of a kicker, punter, long snapper, and gunners.
The coaching staff and front office are tasked with putting together a team full of talented players in each position group. They not only need starters but backups and depth players in the event of injuries. As you continue reading below, you’ll learn a little more about each position group and what their role is on a football team.
Offensive Football Positions
The first positions we’ll detail are the offensive football positions. These players have one goal on their mind when stepping on the field — score as many points as possible, whether they come from field goals or touchdowns. Of course, that also means limiting the number of turnovers and penalties.
The offense consists of quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive guards, centers, and offensive tackles. Let’s take a closer look at each offensive football position below, including what they do and some of the best to ever do it in the league.
The quarterback is generally the most-liked, most popular, most important, and highest-paid player on a football team. They’re the ones that receive the most praise when a team is playing well, but also receive the most criticism when the team isn’t performing as expected by fans.
Without a quality quarterback, a team is destined to fail. They not only make the most decisions on the field, but they’re the leader of the offense and are tasked with keeping everyone on the same page throughout the game. That’s why a quality and skilled quarterback is so hard to find.
Most teams elect to have a starting quarterback and a backup quarterback on their 53-man roster. While there’s often a third quarterback on the roster, they usually aren’t listed on the gameday roster. It’s also common to have a younger quarterback on your practice squad.
What Do Quarterbacks Do in Football?
The quarterback is one of two players (the other being the center) that touches the ball on virtually every offensive play, with very few exceptions. They’re the ones that call the plays in the huddle and the audibles on the field as the team prepares to snap the ball. They essentially act as a coach.
Quarterbacks line up behind the center and direct them to snap the ball, either verbally or by clapping. Once snapped, the quarterback has several options, but their main goal is to gain positive yardage each play and score as many points as possible.
To be successful, a quarterback has to have a good arm so they can effectively pass to their receivers. With that said, many quarterbacks today add a second element to their game by running the ball well. This keeps the defense honest and makes the offense very hard to defend.
A prototypical quarterback is usually tall enough to see over the offensive and defensive line. They should also be built well so they can absorb hits well, but not built to the point they can’t elude the defense and run the ball efficiently. With that said, QBs come in all different sizes.
Most quarterbacks are 6’2’’-6’5’’. Very few will find success if they’re smaller or taller than that. Smaller quarterbacks usually weigh around 210 pounds, while taller quarterbacks weigh around 240 pounds. Hand sizes are generally 9”-11”.
If you’re a quarterback, you don’t have a ton of options when selecting a number to wear on your jersey. That’s because the NFL only allows quarterbacks to wear numbers 1-19. The only other players allowed to wear these are punters and kickers. A wide receiver can wear 10-19 as well.
Some of the most popular jersey numbers for a quarterback are 12, 7, 4, 1, 9, 10, and 5. Some of the least popular for a quarterback are 19, 3, 2, 17, 14, 11, and 6. Of course, choosing a number is 100% up to each quarterback, so long as it’s available by their team.
Best Quarterbacks of All Time
Over time, we’ve seen a wide range of unique quarterbacks try to etch their name in football history. Unfortunately, the demanding nature of this position has made it very difficult to make a name for yourself. Only a select few have risen to the occasion and proved the doubters wrong.
Here’s a list of some of the best quarterbacks of all time, in no particular order:
- Tom Brady – New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Joe Montana – San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs
- Johnny Unitas – Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Colts, San Diego Chargers
- Peyton Manning – Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos
- Brett Favre – Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets
- Dan Marino – Miami Dolphins
- John Elway – Denver Broncos
- Roger Staubach – Dallas Cowboys
- Jim Kelly – Buffalo Bills
- Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers
- Drew Brees – San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints
Some honorable mentions include Otto Graham, Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Steve Young, Terry Bradshaw, Warren Moon, Ben Roethlisberger, Fran Tarkenton, and Troy Aikman. Some active players that might find themselves on this list are Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson, and Kyler Murray.
As far as offensive players go, the running back will often be the player that touches the ball the third-most on a team — behind the quarterback and center. A starting running back generally sees anywhere from 15-20 touches on the ground and might see more if they catch any passes from the QB.
While a solid passing attack is key to a winning franchise, having a solid run game is just as important. It’s what helps a team control the tempo of the game and is vital to running out the game clock when a team takes the lead. A good running back can do a lot for a football team.
What Do Running Backs Do in Football?
Running backs are some of the most versatile players on a football team. Their main goal is to run the ball and help their team control the tempo of the game. They rely on the offensive line to create holes and opportunities at the line of scrimmage, that way they can exploit it for a gain.
While a running back’s primary objective is running the ball — either up the middle or outside — they also play a major role in the passing game. They have two responsibilities. The first is acting as a receiver for the quarterback. The second is acting as a blocker for the quarterback.
Some running backs specialize in one asset of the game, while others are more versatile with their style. The more versatile ones generally receive a bulk of the load, but the specialty running backs do serve a role and become reliable in certain situations and moments.
What Is a Halfback in Football?
A halfback is a type of running back. In the old days, the quarterback, halfback, and fullback earned their position names due to their position on the field. Quarterbacks stood a quarter of a yard behind the line of scrimmage, halfbacks stood a half a yard, and fullbacks stood a full yard.
With that said, a halfback is nothing more than a running back. In today’s game, the two terms are used interchangeably and there’s no real difference between the two positions.
What Is a Fullback in Football?
A fullback is another type of running back. While they can run and catch the ball, their main responsibility is blocking for both the halfback and quarterback. They generally line up in-between the two and are usually much more built than your typical running back.
Fullbacks used to be much more common in the league, but they aren’t used as much in today’s game. While most teams elect to roster a fullback, you won’t see them on most plays and are usually seen lining up with special teams. Still, they come in handy in certain situations.
What Is a Scatback in Football?
A scatback is a special type of halfback that focuses on speed and elusiveness to gain yardage — opposed to strength and trucking ability. They might be a little smaller in size when compared to other running backs, but their speed more than makes up for their lack of size.
Since they’re faster than most players on the field, they do most of their work on the outside of the offensive line. If a hole opens up in the middle, they’ll burst through it, but only if that hole is there. If not, they push the ball to the outside and do their damage from near the sidelines.
What Is a Blocking Back in Football?
A blocking back is another special type of halfback. Some of them have speed and some of them have trucking ability, but their main feature is blocking. They’re very similar to a fullback, except they usually won’t line up between the quarterback and halfback — they are the halfback.
In today’s game, a quality blocking back generally replaces a fullback on the roster. This is because blocking backs are usually better ball carriers and catchers when compared to a prototypical fullback. A good running back tandem consists of a scatback and blocking back.
Where Do Running Backs Line Up?
Running backs line up in the backfield. This is usually behind the quarterback, but might be behind the fullback or guard — depending on the formation. There are three major formations that you’ll find a running back in — the split back formation, the offset I-formation, and the I-formation.
In the split-back formation, two running backs line up behind each guard about 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage. In the I-formation, the running back lines up directly behind the fullback, who lines up directly behind the quarterback. In this formation, the running back is considered a tailback and is around 5-7 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
In the offset I-formation, the running back lines up directly behind the quarterback about 5-7 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The fullback, however, lines up about 3 yards behind the guard. No matter which formation they’re in, the offense can either run or pass the ball.
Running Back Size
The size of a running back doesn’t matter as much as other football positions, especially since you want these backs to be more skilled than anything. Some running backs are small and fast, while others are big and strong. Either way, a team will find a use for them on the football field.
With that said, most running backs today are 5’10”-6’2’’ in height and 190-230 pounds. The NFL has seen some running backs as small as 5’6’’ and 175 pounds, but also as big as 6’4’’ and 235 pounds — so long as they can run the ball effectively.
Running Back Numbers
In the NFL, a running back can only wear a set amount of numbers to help keep things standard across the entire league. The only numbers a running back can choose from are between 20-49. The only other players on a team that are allowed those numbers are defensive backs.
With that said, most running backs elect to wear a number between 20-29. While you’ll certainly find a fair amount of running backs wearing a number between 30-49, it’s not as common. Of course, it all depends on what each unique running back prefers on their jersey.
Best Running Backs of All Time
Running backs are some of the most talented, gifted, and versatile players on the football field. They can do so many different things and help a team win in a variety of different ways. With that said, some running backs reign supreme and have elevated themselves above the rest.
Over the history of the NFL, here’s a list of some of the greatest running backs of all time, in no particular order:
- Jim Brown – Cleveland Browns
- Walter Payton – Chicago Bears
- Gale Sayers – Chicago Bears
- Bo Jackson – Los Angeles Raiders
- LaDanian Tomlinson – San Diego Chargers, New York Jets
- Eric Dickerson – Los Angeles Rams, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Raiders, Atlanta Falcons
- Barry Sanders – Detroit Lions
- Earl Campbell – Houston Oilers, New Orleans Saints
- Tony Dorsett – Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos
- O.J. Simpson – Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers
- Emmitt Smith – Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals
- Marshall Faulk – Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Rams
- Curtis Martin – New England Patriots, New York Jets
- Adrian Peterson – Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals
- Thurman Thomas – Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins
Of all those running backs listed, only one of them is still in the league (Adrian Peterson). While there are plenty of others that will find their way on that list in the distant future, it won’t be easy for a running back to replicate the careers these guys were fortunate enough to have.
Next to a quarterback and running back, the wide receiver is the next most popular offensive player on the team. They garner a lot of attention from the fans and are known for having electric personalities. Many wide receivers are known for having quite the ego, which fans enjoy.
While a large majority of a wide receiver’s success depends on the quarterback that’s throwing the ball to them, some of the greatest wide receivers in the game are known to bring the best out of a quarterback. More than anything, having good chemistry with your QB is essential for a WR.
What Do Wide Receivers Do in Football?
Wide receivers are primarily responsible for catching the ball, but they also run and pass the ball in rare trick play situations. Inside the huddle, each wide receiver is given a route to run by the quarterback. That way, the quarterback knows where to expect them before throwing the ball.
In most scenarios, the wide receiver is guarded by a cornerback or safety. Depending on the route, the wide receiver must use strength, speed, footwork, or to outrun, outmatch, or outmaneuver the defense. Sometimes it works, while other times it doesn’t.
To confuse the defense, wide receivers are also on the field during a run play. Some wide receivers are asked to run a route in these scenarios, which helps spread the defense out for the running back. Other wide receivers are asked to block if in the vicinity of the running back.
What Is a Slot Receiver?
A slot receiver is a special type of wide receiver. Also known as a slotback or A-back, these receivers line up between the offensive line (or tight end) and the widest receiver — this is also known as the slot position. They also usually stand a yard or two behind the line of scrimmage.
Slot receivers play an enormous role in pass-heavy offenses, such as the West Coast offense. A team can have as many as three slot receivers on the field at one time. A majority of their routes are run down the middle of the field and they’re heavily used in short-yardage situations.
Most slot receivers are smaller than outside receivers and they typically feature speed over anything else. Since they don’t have to worry about the sideline being right next to them. They can go straight, but can also break to the left or right. This makes them difficult to guard.
What Is a Split End in Football?
A split end, also known as the ‘X’ receiver, is traditionally known as the number one receiver on a football team. They’re the receiver that receives the most attention from the defense and generally receives the most targets from the quarterback. In most cases, they’re the go-to guy.
This receiver is important when fulfilling the rule that states each offensive team must have seven players on the line of scrimmage at all times. While five of those players are offensive linemen and the sixth is usually a tight end, the X receiver is the seventh and final player.
Since they’re lined up on the line of scrimmage, there isn’t a big gap between them and the cornerback during a press. This means X receivers need to be big and strong enough to work through the press. They also need speed and footwork to eventually outmaneuver the defense.
What Is a Flanker in Football?
Where a split end is a receiver that lines up on the line of scrimmage on the outside, a flanker is a receiver that lines up behind the line of scrimmage on the outside of the formation. They’re generally called the ‘Z’ receiver and are asked to be the No. 2 receivers on their football teams.
Another difference between the flanker and split end is the flanker lines up on the same side as the tight end — whereas the split end lines up on the opposite end. Since they line up behind the line of scrimmage, they’re much more difficult to jam up and press at the line of scrimmage.
Flankers usually use their speed more than they use their strength. They’re closely related to a slot receiver, other than the fact they play from the outside and generally have the sideline to worry about. A quality flanker on a football team takes away some pressure from the split end.
Where Do Wide Receivers Line Up?
Wide receivers line up in a variety of different positions before a play is called. A split end lines up on the line of scrimmage and to the outside, a flanker lines up behind the line of scrimmage and to the outside, and a slot receiver lines up behind the line of scrimmage and on the inside.
The flanker generally lines up on the same side as the tight end, if there’s a tight end on the play. The split end generally lines up on the opposite side of the tight end, unless there are two tight ends on the play. The slot receiver can line up on either side of the offensive line or tight end.
Throughout the game, a quarterback might call an audible or motion a receiver to either confuse or outsmart the defense. Slot receivers and flankers are the biggest threat to be motioned since they’re already behind the line of scrimmage. Once motioned, the receiver changes position.
Wide Receiver Size
Since there is a wide range of different receivers on any given play — split end, flanker, and slot — receivers tend to come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are tall and skinny, others are tall and built. Some are short and skinny, others are short and built. It depends on the player.
With that said, most wide receivers tend to be 6’0’’-6’2’’. They generally weigh 200-220 pounds. Of course, the NFL has seen players as small as 5’8’’ and as tall as 6’8’’ find success at the wide receiver position. It all depends on their talent.
Wide Receiver Numbers
Much like every other position in football, wide receivers are given a select amount of jersey numbers to choose from. They can either elect to wear 80-89 or 10-19. While most old school receivers chose to go with 80-89, new school receivers go with 10-19.
The numbers 88, 80, and 81 remain three of the most popular and iconic jersey numbers for a wide receiver. Some of the greatest to ever catch the ball wore these numbers. Today, some of the best WRs are wearing numbers 10, 11, 13, 17, 14, and 19. It just depends on preference.
Best Wide Receivers of All Time
With so many quality and talented wide receivers throughout the history of the game, it’s really hard to zone in on and narrow down who’s the best. It’s a list that certainly tends to change every decade as we see new talent enter and leave the league, but we’ll give it our best shot.
Here’s a list of some of the best wide receivers to ever step on the field, in no particular order:
- Jerry Rice – San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks
- Don Hutson – Green Bay Packers
- Randy Moss – Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers
- Lance Alworth – San Diego Chargers, Dallas Cowboys
- Antonio Brown – Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Terrell Owens – San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals
- Larry Fitzgerald – Arizona Cardinals
- Marvin Harrison – Indianapolis Colts
- Cris Carter – Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins
- Tim Brown – Los Angeles Raiders, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Today, there are a variety of players that could find themselves on the list. Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Stefon Diggs, Mike Evans, Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, and Keenan Allen are all candidates if they continue to play the way they’ve played in their career.
The tight end doesn’t always receive as much praise as they deserve. They’re responsible for a variety of roles when on the football field, including acting as a receiver, blocker, and sometimes even filling in for the fullback. Some have a specialty, while others are more versatile.
A tight end normally lines up next to the offensive tackle, but some of the more athletic tight ends can line up in the slot. They’re always a threat to pull away from their blocking duties and run a route, so defenders have to be ready for anything when defending a tight end.
Tight ends don’t have a lot of numbers to choose from when selecting a jersey number. They can choose between 80-89 but aren’t given any alternate numbers to choose from (like some positions are). The only other players that can wear the numbers 80-89 are wide receivers.
The center is generally known as the anchor of the offensive line. They’re the innermost offensive lineman and work in close unison with the quarterback. Not only do they help the quarterback read the defense, but they’re the ones that snap the ball to the quarterback.
A quality center is hard to find. Once a team finds one, they normally lock them down to a large contract for as many years as possible. In most cases, the center is the smartest player on the football field, though they often don’t get credit for it. A good offensive line needs a reliable center.
What Do Centers Do in Football?
Centers have a variety of responsibilities when on the football field. Like we mentioned above they’re tasked with reading the defense and communicating what they see to the quarterback. Once the quarterback yells ‘hike,’ the center is the player that snaps the ball to start the play.
If the center isn’t smooth and accurate with the snap, the offense risks a costly fumble — which is never a good way to start the play. As far as the reads they make, they’re generally more concerned with the defensive line and linebackers — not so much the safeties and cornerbacks.
Since the center is part of the offensive line, they also have to block for both the running back and quarterback each play. Most of the time, they’re matched up with the nose tackle or defensive tackle, but they can also shift to the outside after the ball is snapped to help the RB.
Where Do Centers Line Up?
Centers line up in the middle of the offensive line, right where the ball is placed at the line of scrimmage. They crouch in front of the quarterback and snap the ball when it’s time to start the play. If the quarterback is in the shotgun formation, the QB and center are yards apart.
Since the ball needs to be snapped by someone, you’ll never see the center line up anywhere else on the field. If they do, it’s likely because they’ve temporarily changed positions and someone else has taken over the center responsibility.
Centers are normally the smallest offensive linemen on the team, but that doesn’t mean they’re not strong and tough. Most centers are 5’11’’ -6’1’’ and weigh around 300 pounds. This differs from an offensive guard (a little taller) and offensive tackle (the tallest).
The prototypical center is thick, has a compact torso, is good with their hands (both snapping the ball and gaining leverage in a block), and has extremely strong legs. They don’t give up much space to opposing defenders and are quick to change their positioning when blocking.
Unlike offensive tackles and offensive guards, the center has a total of 30 different numbers to choose from when selecting a jersey number — tackles and guards only have 20. Most centers choose between 50-59, but they can also choose between 60-79 if they aren’t already taken.
The only other players that can choose the numbers 50-59 are linebackers on defense. With that said, the numbers 60-79 are a little more common and can be worn by offensive tackles, offensive guards, and anyone on the defensive line (defense end, defensive tackle, nose tackle).
Best Centers of All Time
A quality center is hard to come around, let alone one that finds their way into the greatest of all-time debate. Much like a quarterback, there aren’t a whole lot of centers that separate themselves from the rest of the competition. When a team finds one, it’s best to hold onto them.
Here are some of the greatest centers of all time, in no particular order:
- Jim Otto – Oakland Raiders
- Chuck Bednarik – Philadelphia Eagles
- Mel Hein – New York Giants
- Dwight Stephenson – Miami Dolphins
- Bulldog Turner – Chicago Bears
- Mike Webster – Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs
- Dermontti Dawson – Pittsburgh Steelers
- Frank Gatski – Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions
- Alex Mack – Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers
- Jim Ringo – Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles
Only one of the players listed above is still in the league to this day — Alex Mack with the San Francisco 49ers. Some others that are having good careers to this day include Maurkice Pouncey, Jason Kelce, Travis Frederick, Rodney Hudson, Ryan Kalil, and Mitch Morse.
The offensive tackles are often the biggest players on the entire football team. They play a major role on offense, especially when limiting opposing defensive ends from getting to the running back or quarterback. If an offensive tackle doesn’t do their job, it likely leads to a loss of yards.
There are two offensive tackles on the field at one point in time, one that plays on the left side and one on the right side. Most NFL teams elect to have a minimum of four on the roster — two starters and two backups — in case one underperforms or is injured in practice or a game.
What Do Offensive Tackles Do in Football?
Offensive tackles are tasked with one main goal when on the field — block the defense from getting to the quarterback or running back. Offensive tackles are big, strong, and quick, that way they can effectively match up with the opposing defensive end. A good tackle is vital to a good offense.
In most cases, the right offensive tackle is the team’s best run blocker and the left offensive tackle is the team’s best pass blocker. This is because most quarterbacks are right-handed, meaning they have a blind spot on their left side and have to trust their left tackle a lot.
Since offensive tackles line up on the outside of the offensive line, they are largely concerned with outside protection. Sometimes, they’ll have a tight end to help out. If the tight end is running a route and not blocking, they must pick up the tight end’s blocking duties — as well as their own.
Where Do Offensive Tackles Line Up?
Offensive tackles line up on the outermost edge of the offensive line. The right offensive tackle lines up to the right of the right offensive guard, while the left offensive tackle lines up to the left of the left offensive guard. They generally line up in front of or near the opposing defensive end.
Offensive Tackle Size
To be an offensive lineman, you need to be tall, wide and have a long wingspan. That’s what gives you an edge over the opposing defense and gives you the best opportunity at blocking your matchup. In most cases, a left tackle is taller than a right tackle.
For a left tackle, it’s not uncommon for them to be 6’5’’-6’8’’ and weigh around 310-320 pounds. A right tackle can be a little smaller and come in around 6’3’’-6’5’’ and weigh around 300-310 pounds. Either way, they are some of the strongest and biggest on the field.
Offensive Tackle Numbers
Offensive tackles have to choose between 20 different jersey numbers when playing in the NFL. They can choose between 60-79, but they also have to share those numbers with offensive guards, centers, defensive ends, defensive tackles, and nose tackles on their team.
Most offensive tackles in today’s game elect to choose a number between 70-79. You won’t find many offensive tackles wearing 60-69, though it is possible. Most of it comes down to the player and what they prefer, but it also depends on what numbers are available when they sign.
Best Offensive Tackles of All Time
The offensive tackle is one of the most important offensive players, both to the running game and passing game. Finding a quality tackle isn’t easy, especially one that knows their quarterback well and can be trusted as the team’s left tackle (blocking the QBs blind spot).
Here are some of the best offensive tackles — both left and right — of all time, in no particular order:
- Jim Parker – Baltimore Colts
- Jonathan Ogden – Baltimore Ravens
- Anthony Munoz – Cincinnati Bengals
- Walter Jones – Seattle Seahawks
- Ron Yary – Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams
- Forrest Gregg – Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys
- Joe Thomas – Cleveland Browns
- Mike McCormack – New York Yanks, Cleveland Browns
- Joe Stydahar – Chicago Bears
- Rayfield Wright – Dallas Cowboys
It won’t be easy for an offensive tackle today to make their way on that list. The most recent player to make it was Joe Thomas, who retired in 2018. Some of the best offensive tackles right now include Mitchell Schwartz, Ryan Ramczyk, Ronnie Stanley, David Bakhtiari, Trent Williams, Lane Johnson, and Tyron Smith.
Offensive Tackle vs Guard
The main difference between an offensive tackle and an offensive guard is where they line up on the football field. Offensive tackles line up on the outer edge of the offensive line, while offensive guards line up on the inside of the offensive line. Of course, they also have different roles.
An offensive tackle is usually bigger and quicker, that way they can match up against the opposing defensive end. An offensive guard is usually smaller and stronger, that way they can match up against the defensive tackle and nose tackle. Either way, they both have to block.
There are two starting offensive tackles and two starting offensive guards on the field for each snap. Sometimes an extra offensive lineman will enter the equation, but not always. Teams usually elect to have around 4 or 5 backup offensive linemen, both tackles and guards.
Along with the center and offensive tackles, the offensive guards make up the offensive line. They’re vital to the team’s success when running and passing the ball, which are the two main ways a team scores. A quality offensive guard can do a lot to solidify your offensive line.
There are two starting offensive guards on the field for each team, one on the left and one on the right. Teams also elect to have 2-3 offensive guards as backups, just in case an injury happens to one of their starters. When a team finds a good one, they like to keep them around long-term.
What Do Offensive Guards Do in Football?
An offensive guard is largely tasked with protecting the inside of the offensive line from incoming defenders, whether that be a defensive tackle, nose tackle, or linebacker. They need to block defenders from getting to the quarterback via an inside rush but also create holes for the running back.
The better an offensive guard is at their job, the more likely the quarterback and running back can do their jobs. Giving the quarterback more time to make a decision gives them a greater opportunity at completing a pass. Creating holes for the running back makes it easier to gain yards on the ground.
Where Do Offensive Guards Line Up?
An offensive guard lines up on the inside of the offensive line, in-between the center and offensive tackle. There are two that line up as starters, one as the left guard and one as the right guard. Once the ball is snapped, they might shift over to the opposite side to load up blockers.
Offensive Guard Size
Most offensive guards are smaller in height and weight when compared to offensive tackles, but they are much stockier than their counterparts. This is because they’re matched up with defensive tackles and nose tackles — who are wider and heavier — opposed to defensive ends.
With that said, most offensive guards are 6’2’’-6’5’’ and weigh 300-315 pounds. You can find them taller and heavier, but they usually end up transitioning to an offensive tackle at that point. At the end of the day, it’s whatever’s best for the team overall.
Offensive Guard Numbers
Much like an offensive tackle, an offensive guard only has 20 numbers to choose from when wearing a jersey. They can select from 60-79, so long as it’s not taken by another member of their team. Some like a number in the ’60s, while others prefer a number in the ’70s.
Offensive guards share these numbers with defensive tackles, nose tackles, and defensive ends — in addition to offensive tackles. With that said, it usually comes down to which one is available, opposed to which one they prefer. It’s more a game of luck with these players.
Best Offensive Guards of All Time
Of all the offensive players on a football team, the offensive guard usually receives the least amount of attention and praise. With that said, it’s not easy for an offensive guard to ‘wow’ the fans and separate themselves as one of the greatest to ever do it at their position on the field.
With that said, here are some of the best offensive guards of all time, in no particular order:
- John Hannah – New England Patriots
- Gene Upshaw – Oakland Raiders
- Bruce Matthews – Houston Oilers, Tennessee Titans
- Tom Mack – Los Angeles Rams
- Mike Munchak – Houston Oilers
- Larry Allen – Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers
- Randall McDaniel – Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Joe DeLamielleure – Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns
- Larry Little – San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins
- Dick Stanfel – Detroit Lions, Washington Redskins
None of the players listed above are still playing in the league today, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t quality offensive guards out there. Some of the modern guards to raise eyebrows in the league are Marshal Yanda, Richie Incognito, Joe Thuney, Zack Martin, Quentin Nelson, David DeCastro, and Joel Bitonio.
Defensive Football Positions
Now that we know everything there is to know about the offensive positions in football, let’s take a look at the defensive side of the ball. Much like the offense, 11 players make up the starting defense. Their job is to limit the opponent from gaining yards and scoring points.
The defense is normally made up of four defensive linemen, three linebackers, two cornerbacks, and two safeties. In some cases, a team elects to play three defensive linemen and four linebackers. Let’s take a closer look at each position on the defensive side of the ball!
A defensive tackle is a member of the defensive line and does a majority of his work down the inside. These players are usually wider than they are tall. They want to take up as much space as possible, that way it’s difficult for the offensive line to create space for the QB or RB.
The defensive tackle position isn’t the most popular defensive player among the fans, but they are often some of the most respected players in the locker room. A lot of the work they do goes unnoticed by fans, but it sets the tone for everything on defense.
What Do Defensive Tackles Do in Football?
Defensive tackles have two primary roles on the defense. The first is to limit the running back and the second is to limit the quarterback. For the most part, they do this by wreaking havoc down the inside and pushing the offensive linemen backward — limiting the number of holes.
On a run play, the defensive tackle will either have one gap or two gaps to cover. If they’re given one gap to cover, their primary role is to cover that gap and tackle the running back if he chooses that gap. If they’re given two gaps, they need to push the offensive lineman back and wait to make their move until the running back makes a move.
On a pass play, it works the same way. If they’re given one gap to cover, their goal is to run through that gap and put some pressure on the quarterback. If they’re given two gaps to cover, they need to push the offensive linemen backward, choose a gap, and rush the quarterback.
Where Do Defensive Tackles Line Up?
Defensive tackles line up on the defensive line. In a 4-3 defense, there are two defensive tackles on the play and they line up on the inside of the defensive line. In a 3-4 defense, there is one defensive tackle on the play and they line up in the center — this is also called a nose tackle.
If the defensive tackle is given two gaps to cover, they will usually line up head-on with an offensive guard. They’ll use their leverage to push the offensive guard backward. If given one gap to cover, they usually line up on the offensive guard’s shoulder — in an offset pattern.
Defensive Tackle Size
The defensive tackle is one of the biggest players on the defensive side of the ball. They usually absorb the most blocks from the offensive line, so it’s a physically demanding position, to say the least. While they’re usually shorter than defensive ends, they put on much more weight.
A typical defensive tackle is generally around 6’1’’ to 6’3’’ and weighs around 300 to 325 pounds. Some are strong, some are fast, and some are a combination of the two. While they need to be big, they also need to be athletic, fast, and quick enough to run down the RB or QB on any play.
Defensive Tackle Numbers
A defensive tackle has a wide range of numbers to choose from when selecting a jersey number. Not only can they select between 60-79, but they can also choose anywhere between 90-99. Of course, they need to make sure that number is available before making it official.
The other players allowed to wear the numbers 60-79 are the offensive line — the center, guards, and tackles — and the rest of the defensive line — nose tackle and defensive ends. In addition to that, the numbers 90-99 can be worn by the rest of the defensive line and linebackers.
Most defensive tackles today decide to wear the numbers 90-99, some of them choose 70-79, and very few select 60-69.
Defensive Tackle vs Defensive End
Both the defensive tackle and defensive end make up the defensive line. Their primary goals are stopping the running back during a run play and applying pressure on the quarterback during a pass play. With that said, the main difference between the two is where they line up on each play.
A defensive tackle lines up on the inside of the defensive line and generally matches up with an offensive guard. A defensive end lines up on the outside of the defensive line (on the ends) and generally matches up with an offensive tackle. Either way, they’re both on the line of scrimmage.
Another major difference between a defensive tackle and a defensive end is their size. A defensive end is usually taller and slimmer with more athleticism. The defensive tackle is usually shorter, wider, and stronger. Both players receive a lot of blowback from the offensive line.
Best Defensive Tackles of All Time
Defensive tackles aren’t always running up the stat sheet with tackles and sacks, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t productive. There has been a wide range of defensive tackles that have separated themselves from the rest as some of the greatest to ever do it.
Here’s a list of some of the greatest defensive tackles of all time, in no particular order:
- Bob Lilly – Dallas Cowboys
- Joe Greene – Pittsburgh Steelers
- Merlin Olsen – Los Angeles Rams
- Randy White – Dallas Cowboys
- Warren Sapp – Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Oakland Raiders
- Arnie Weinmeister – New York Yanks, New York Giants
- Cortez Kennedy – Seattle Seahawks
- Buck Buchanan – Kansas City Chiefs
- John Randle – Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks
- Curley Culp – Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans, Detroit Lions
Although none of the players listed above are still in the league, it doesn’t mean there won’t be some newer players that crack that list. For example, Geno Atkins and Aaron Donald are next in line and will likely be named as some of the greatest at the position when their careers are over.
Some of the others include Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Chris Jones, Fletcher Cox, Akiem Hicks, Cameron Heyward, and Kawann Short.
Although defensive tackles and defensive ends are both found along the defensive line, it’s the defensive ends that often receive the most praise from the fans. A large reason for this is due to the defensive ends being the ones with a majority of the sacks, tackles, big hits, and big plays.
They’re usually taller, more built, and more athletic in terms of speed, but that doesn’t mean they’re any more important than the defensive tackle to the team’s success. A good and effective defensive line is made up of both good defensive ends and defensive tackles.
What Do Defensive Ends Do in Football?
The defensive end’s job is similar to that of a defensive tackle, in the sense that they must stop the opposing offense from gaining yardage — both through the run game and pass game. The main difference is they’re tasked with defending the outside of the line of scrimmage, not the inside.
The defensive end largely bases their motive on how the offensive tackle sets up to block. If the offensive tackle comes out for a hard block, it’s most likely a run play. If the offensive tackle is a little more passive once the ball is snapped, then it’s likely a pass play. Either way, the defensive end has to be ready.
That’s why defensive ends need to be quick off the ball and quick with their decisions. During a run play, the goal is to not give up their position and read the running back to stop them dead in their tracks. During a pass play, the goal is to apply pressure and sack the quarterback.
Where Do Defensive Ends Line Up?
Defensive ends line up on the end of the defensive line. There are two defensive ends on all defensive plays, one on the right end and one on the left end. Whether it’s a 4-3 defense or 3-4 defense, there are always two defensive ends. Depending on the formation of the offense, one of these ends is known as a strong defensive end and the other a weak defensive end.
The strong defensive end will generally match up with the tight end since this is the side with the most offensive blockers — the strong side. Meanwhile, the weak defensive end will match up with the offensive tackle or end lineman since there are fewer blockers — the weak side.
Defensive End Size
Defensive ends are normally taller than defensive tackles or the nose tackle, but won’t weigh as much because they’re usually slimmer and more built. This is largely due to the speed that’s needed when getting past the offensive tackle and chasing down either the quarterback or running back.
On average, a defensive end should be anywhere between 6’4’’-6’6’’ and weigh anywhere between 270-280 pounds. With that said, some defensive ends come in as tall as 6’7’’ or 6’8’’ and can weigh as much as 290 pounds, due to the growing evolution of football players.
Defensive End Numbers
Much like the other members of the defensive line, defensive ends are given a total of 30 numbers to choose from when selecting their jersey number. These include any number between 60-79, as well as any number between 90-99. Most players choose between 90-99.
The only other players allowed to select between 60-79 are centers, offensive guards, offensive tackles, nose tackles, and defensive tackles. As far as numbers 90-99, they can also be worn by nose tackles, defensive tackles, and linebackers.
Best Defensive Ends of All Time
Defensive ends are some of the most popular and fun to watch players on the defensive side of the ball. They’re known for big hits, sacks, and tackles for losses — all of which can lift the spirits of the rest of the team, as well as the crowd. That’s what makes them so exciting to watch.
Here are some of the greatest defensive ends of all time, in no particular order:
- Reggie White – Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers
- Deacon Jones – Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers, Washington Redskins
- Bruce Smith – Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins
- Gino Marchetti – Dallas Texans, Baltimore Colts
- Doug Atkins – Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints
- Lee Roy Selmon – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- J.J. Watt – Houston Texans, Arizona Cardinals
- Jack Youngblood – Los Angeles Rams
- Michael Strahan – New York Giants
- Carl Eller – Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks
Due to how popular this position is, there are a lot of names that aren’t on this list. Howie Long, Ed Jones, Julius Peppers, Richard Dent, Dwight Freeney, Jared Allen, and Michael Bennett are some of the names you might recognize. Some new-age players that will eventually crack the list are Khalil Mack, TJ Watt, Nick Bosa, Joey Bosa, Chandler Jones, and Myles Garrett.
Nose tackles are often confused with defensive tackles because they have a similar role on the defensive side of the ball. They’re both interior defensive linemen. The main difference is defensive tackles play in a 4-3 defense and nose tackles play in a 3-4 defense.
When a nose tackle lines up, they generally match up with the center — opposed to a defensive tackle that lines up with an offensive guard. The nose tackle’s main job is to take up as much space as possible since there’s only one of them on the field in a 3-4 system — opposed to two defensive tackles in a 4-3 system.
Where defensive linemen are tasked with controlling the line of scrimmage, the linebackers are largely tasked with controlling the middle of the field. With that said, they’re some of the most versatile players on the defense because they have a lot of ground to cover at all times.
Depending on the defense, there are either three, four, or in rare situations two linebackers on the field at once. They receive a lot of attention from the fans because they usually get the most tackles on the defense. They’ll also get sacks, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, and interceptions — filling up the stat sheet on most occasions.
What Do Linebackers Do in Football?
Linebackers need to be versatile when playing defense. They need to be excellent tacklers, have speed, be extremely intelligent, and have strong leadership skills. They’re usually the ones that are calling the plays and keeping everyone on the same page — especially middle linebackers. That’s why linebackers are usually called the quarterbacks of the defense.
While the defensive linemen are asked to take on the blockers, the linebackers are asked to fill in the gaps that are left. Any gap that’s left open is the linebacker’s job to fill. A good defensive line will limit the number of gaps, that way the linebackers have an easy decision to make.
During a run play, the main goal is to stop the running back no matter what gap the back chooses to run through. During a pass play, their role varies. Sometimes they’ll be asked to rush the quarterback and apply pressure, sometimes they cover an area of the field (zone), and sometimes they cover a man (usually tight end or running back).
Where Do Linebackers Line Up?
Linebackers line up in-between the defensive line and the secondary (usually safeties). In a 4-3 defense, there are three linebackers — one in the center and two on the sides. In a 3-4 defense, there are four linebackers — two on the inside and two on the outside. They normally don’t match up with a player, but rather a gap.
In a 4-3 defense, the two side linebackers are called the strong-side linebacker and weak-side linebacker. The strong-side linebacker lines up on the side of the tight end, while the weak-side linebacker lines up on the opposite side. The middle linebacker is always in the middle of the field.
For the most part, the size of a linebacker isn’t as important as it is with other positions. Whether they’re short or tall, wide or slim, the main thing is that they’re skilled and intelligent. With that said, they need to be strong and fast enough to take on running backs, tight ends, and offensive lineman.
With that said, most linebackers in today’s game are 6’1’’-6’3’’ and weigh between 220-240 pounds. Normally, your strong-side linebacker is taller because they are often taking on the linebacker in coverage. Some linebackers are as tall as 6’5’’ and weigh 250 pounds.
A linebacker has 20 different numbers to choose from when selecting a jersey number. They can either select between 50-59 or 90-99. A strong majority of linebackers today will choose 50-59 and steer away from the 90-99 — which are usually worn by the defensive line.
The only other players allowed to wear 50-59 are centers, so those numbers usually aren’t taken — except for one or two per team. As for 90-99, those numbers can be worn by nose tackles, defensive tackles, and defensive ends.
Best Linebackers of All Time
Since linebackers do a little bit of everything on the field, they’re generally some of the most popular and recognized players on the defense — especially when it comes to middle linebackers. Reliable linebackers aren’t easy to find, but they are out there.
Here are some of the best linebackers of all-time, in no particular order:
- Lawrence Taylor – New York Giants
- Derrick Thomas – Kansas City Chiefs
- Dick Butkus – Chicago Bears
- Ted Hendricks – Baltimore Colts, Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders, Los Angeles Raiders
- Derrick Brooks – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Bobby Bell – Kansas City Chiefs
- Bill George – Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Rams
- Chuck Howley – Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys
- Jack Ham – Pittsburgh Steelers
- Joe Schmidt – Detroit Lions
Although none of those linebackers listed above are still playing to this day, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been any quality linebackers in recent years. More modern players you might recognize include Ray Lewis, Junior Seau, Brian Urlacher, Mike Singletary, Cornelius Bennett, Luke Kuechly, Patrick Willis, DeMarcus Ware, James Harrison, and London Fletcher.
What Is an Inside Linebacker?
An inside linebacker is one of four linebackers that are featured in a 3-4 defensive scheme. There are two on the field at one time and they normally fill the gaps between the nose tackle and defensive ends. With that said, one is found on the inside right and one on the inside left.
Inside linebackers are important during run plays when controlling the inside of the defensive line, as well as maintaining the middle of the field during a pass play.
What Is a Middle Linebacker?
A middle linebacker is one of three linebackers that are featured in a 4-3 defensive scheme. There’s only one on the field at any given point and they are almost always the leader of the defense — calling plays and keeping the rest of the defensive players on the same page.
The middle linebacker is versatile and intelligent. They’re asked to fill gaps in the run defense, rush the quarterback, cover the running back during a pass play, and cover the middle of the field in zone coverage. They’re usually the most important player on a 4-3 defensive scheme.
What Is an Outside Linebacker?
An outside linebacker is one of four linebackers featured in a 3-4 defensive scheme. There are two of them on the field at once, along with two inside linebackers. They usually line up on the outside shoulder of the two defensive ends and are responsible for controlling the edge.
If the running back is running to the outside, the outside linebacker is usually the one to tackle them. The defense will normally have one of these players in coverage and one blitzing the quarterback on the edge during a pass play.
What Is a Sam Linebacker?
A ‘Sam’ linebacker is the strong-side linebacker featured in a 4-3 defensive scheme. They’re one of three linebackers on the field at once in this scheme. Since they line up on the strong side of the offense, they will be on the same side as the tight end and are usually matched up with them.
Since these linebackers need to be able to keep up with a tight end, whether running or blocking, a Sam linebacker is usually bigger than other linebackers — though they’re still athletic in their own right.
What Is a Will Linebacker?
A ‘Will’ linebacker is the weak-side linebacker featured in a 4-3 defensive scheme. They’re one of three linebackers featured in this scheme and line up on the weak side of the offense — the opposite of the Sam linebacker. The Will linebacker usually ends up in pass coverage, whether it be man (running back, slot receiver) or zone.
What Is a Mike in Football?
The ‘Mike’ is the middle linebacker in a 4-3 defensive scheme. They are the quarterback of the defense and are the ones receiving direction from the coach via a headset in their helmet. They lead the defense and ensure everyone’s in the right position before the snap.
The cornerback is the player that receives the most praise when a pass defense is playing well, but they also receive the most criticism when a pass defense is underperforming. They need to be able to quickly shake off a bad play, otherwise, the quarterback will continue to tear them apart.
There are usually two cornerbacks on the field at once, but some defensive schemes allow for a third cornerback when a slot receiver is present — also known as the nickel cornerback. Every good defense needs at least one-star cornerback to limit the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver.
What Do Cornerbacks Do in Football?
Cornerbacks are the most important players during a pass play. A good cornerback can make the opposing quarterback’s job extremely difficult by eliminating his options when dropping back to pass. Cornerbacks line up directly with a wide receiver, but can also blitz and stop the running back.
The main goal of the cornerback is to intercept the ball and force a turnover when their receiver is targeted. At the very least, they need to get the receiver out of position, make it difficult for them to catch the ball, or bat the ball away before the receiver has a chance to catch it.
Some cornerbacks excel in press and man coverage, some excel in zone coverage, and some excel in a combination of both. Ideally, you want a cornerback that can do both, but having a specialty cornerback isn’t the end of the world — so long as you know how and when to use them.
What Is a Nickelback?
A nickelback is a specialty type of cornerback. They’re generally the No. 3 cornerback on the roster. While the No. 1 and No. 2 cornerbacks cover the X and Z receivers, the nickelback corner is usually matched up with the slot receiver, though they can also blitz to confuse the defense.
The nickelback gets his name because they’re the fifth defensive back in the secondary — a nickel is worth five cents. The other four defensive backs are the two starting cornerbacks and the two starting safeties. The nickelback isn’t listed as a starter, even if he’s used often.
A good nickelback is key to a good pass defense, especially in today’s game where most teams line up with three receivers each play. The nickelback generally replaces a linebacker, but some defenses will keep a linebacker out there and replace a defensive lineman instead.
Where Do Cornerbacks Line Up?
Cornerbacks line up head-to-head with a wide receiver, normally on the outside of the field near the sideline. Sometimes they’ll line up in press coverage, which involves being right up in the wide receiver’s grill. Other times, they’ll line up in off-man coverage and give the receiver some space.
Once the ball is snapped, the cornerback is generally in man coverage or zone coverage. In man coverage, they must follow the receiver step-by-step and not give him any space to do what they do best. In zone coverage, they’re more responsible for a select area of the field, no matter what receiver is in that area.
If it’s man coverage, the cornerback follows the wide receiver if they’re put in motion. Either way, they need to be quick off the ball to ensure their receiver doesn’t gain an advantage. A good receiver can quickly take advantage of soft or weak coverage.
Cornerbacks need to be extremely fast and are often the fastest players on the defense. While they can be tall, they can’t give up any speed in the process and are usually slim in build. They don’t need to be the strongest player, but they need to have good hands and excellent tackling.
With that said, most cornerbacks should be at least 6’0’’ tall, though some of them are as short as 5’10’’ and others are as tall as 6’3’’. As far as weight, they should come in at around 180-190 pounds. They don’t need to be the same size as the receiver, so long as they can time their jumps properly.
A cornerback has 30 different numbers to choose from when selecting their jersey number, though they must first make sure that number isn’t already taken by another player on the team. The numbers they can choose from are anything from 20-49, giving them more than enough choices.
The only other players that are allowed to wear 20-49 are running backs and safeties. A majority of cornerbacks choose to wear 20-29, but you’ll also find some cornerbacks wearing 30-39.
Best Cornerbacks of All Time
Since cornerbacks are often matched up with high-ego wide receivers, they generally have a bit of ego themselves. This gives them quite the personality and brings a lot of attention their way, but only if they can match that personality with quality play — which not all can do.
Here are some of the cornerbacks that have made a name for themselves as some of the best to ever do it, in no particular order:
- Deion Sanders – Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens
- Rod Woodson – Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders
- Mike Haynes – New England Patriots, Los Angeles Raiders
- Charles Woodson – Oakland Raiders, Green Bay Packers
- Willie Brown – Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders
- Mel Blount – Pittsburgh Steelers
- Aeneas Williams – Phoenix Cardinals, Arizona Cardinals, St. Louis Rams
- Darrell Green – Washington Redskins
- Richard Sherman – Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers
- Mel Renfro – Dallas Cowboys
Of course, that list doesn’t even begin to explain all of the cornerbacks that define the position. For example, some names that were left off include Champ Bailey, Dick Lane, Darrelle Revis, Patrick Peterson, Ty Law, Ronde Barber, Dick LeBeau, Aqib Talib, and Albert Lewis.
Safeties make up the other half of starting defensive backs, along with the two cornerbacks. There are two safeties on the field at one time, one named the strong safety and one named the free safety. In some instances, the defense will elect to only have one safety on the field.
A free safety usually has the better hands of the two. In man coverage, they’re matched up with the quarterback and are usually free to double up a receiver to help the cornerback. Since they’re assigned to the quarterback, they’re also asked to blitz in certain instances.
Strong safety is usually the bigger and stronger of the two. While free safety is more effective in pass defense, strong safety is more effective in run defense. They’re usually assigned to the strong side of the offense, which is wherever the tight end lines up.
What Do Safeties Do in Football?
Safeties are defensive backs that are primarily responsible for helping cornerbacks limit the quarterback’s options during a pass play. Where the cornerbacks generally cover the outside and sideline, the safeties are more responsible for covering the middle of the field.
The safeties are generally known as the last line of defense. While free safeties are better catchers and strong safeties are better at run defense, they both need to be excellent tacklers in case an offensive player gets through the rest of the defense. If not tackled by the safety, it’s usually a touchdown.
Where Do Safeties Line Up?
Safeties usually line up about 10-15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, which is why they’re usually considered the last line of defense on the field. In some cases, the two safeties line up side by side, but in other cases, the strong safety will line up closer to the line of scrimmage to help defend the run.
When the safeties are in a Cover-2 scheme, they’ll divide the field into left and right. The free safety covers the weak side, while the strong safety covers the strong side. In most other schemes, the free safety is further back and the strong safety is further up on the line of scrimmage.
Safeties come in a wide range of different sizes, but most prototypical safeties should be above 6’0’’ and weigh around 200 pounds. Free safeties are usually faster, which usually means they’re slimmer. Strong safeties are usually stronger and more built of the two.
Much like cornerbacks, the two safeties are given the choice between 30 different numbers when selecting a jersey number. They can wear anything between 20-49, though most safeties elect to wear anything between 20-29. You’ll see some wear 30-39 and very few wear 40-49.
Best Safeties of All-Time
While cornerbacks have the bigger ego and are usually more popular among fans, safeties receive quite a bit of attention too. They usually work better in tandem, but some safeties throughout history have made a name for themselves as some of the best to ever do it.
Here’s a list of some of the greatest safeties of all time, in no particular order:
- Emlen Tunnell – New York Giants, Green Bay Packers
- Ken Houston – Houston Oilers, Washington Redskins
- Ronnie Lott – San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, New York Jets
- Ed Reed – Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, New York Jets
- Brian Dawkins – Philadelphia Eagles, Denver Broncos
- Yale Lary – Detroit Lions
- Cliff Harris – Dallas Cowboys
- Troy Polamalu – Pittsburgh Steelers
- Eric Berry – Kansas City Chiefs
- John Lynch – Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Denver Broncos
- Rodney Harrison – San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots
While those players are definitely at the top of the list, there are several younger and modern players that are making a name for themselves as well. These include Derwin James, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Tyrann Mathieu, Jamal Adams, Kevin Byard, Anthony Harris, Harrison Smith, and Marcus Williams.
Special Teams Positions
Now that we’ve broken down the offensive and defensive football positions, there’s only one more position group to detail — special teams. This group consists of the kicker, punter, long snapper, holder, kick returner, and gunners. They don’t receive as much playing time, but they’re just as important.
Players on special teams are essential to helping their team gain a good field position, limiting the field position of the opposing team, and getting points when the offense is unable to do so. A team without a good special teams, also known as the third phase, will have a hard time winning.
The kicker is usually one of the most popular and highest-paid special teams players on the team. A large reason for this is because they can turn an uneventful drive into three points on the scoreboard. In many cases, this is the difference between a win and a loss in football.
With that said, they also receive the most criticism on the team, next to the quarterback. One bad kick could be enough for a team to seek a new kicker, so each kicker must be accurate and consistent. In today’s game, teams go through kickers more than any other player.
What Do Kickers Do in Football?
Kickers do exactly what their name suggests — they kick the ball. Most of the time, they’re kicking the ball for field goals, which are equal to three points on the scoreboard. This is an important part of the game, especially when an offensive moves the ball down the field, but doesn’t score a touchdown.
For the field goal to count, the kicker must kick the ball in between the two field goal posts. The field goal sits at the end of each end zone. Most kickers should be able to hit a 15-39 yard field goal with ease. Anything above 40 yards starts to become a little more difficult — especially when there’s wind, rain, or snow involved.
While most kickers also kick the ball for the opening kickoff and after their team scores, this job can also be given to the punter.
Where Do Kickers Line Up?
When a kicker is lining up for a field goal, the ball is usually snapped to the holder 7-8 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Before the snap, a kicker will take three long steps behind the holder and two medium steps to their left (or right if they’re a left-footed kicker). This means the kicker is standing even further back (and offset) than the holder.
As soon as the ball is snapped, the kicker starts to make their way to the holder. By the time they get to the holder and are ready to kick, the holder needs to have the ball in a ready position. This needs to be timed perfectly, or else it allows the defense to block the kick.
The size of a kicker varies more than any other position in football. Since they aren’t really asked to run, catch, tackle, or block, it doesn’t matter how big or small they are. The main thing that matters is that they have strong legs and can kick the ball well and consistently.
With that said, kickers are anywhere from 5’9’’-6’5’’ and are usually slim players that weigh no more than 225 pounds. It should be noted that they’re often the last line of defense during a kick return, so having a bit of size to them for tackling is usually a big plus to the team.
A kicker has 20 different numbers to choose from when selecting their jersey number. They can choose anything between 1-19, but most kickers end up choosing between 1-9 (single-digit numbers). While you can find a kicker wearing 10-19, it’s not as common or popular.
The only other players allowed to wear the numbers 10-19 are punters, quarterbacks, and wide receivers.
Best Kickers of All Time
Kickers used to be much easier to find in the NFL, but today’s game has completely changed. Quality and consistent kicker is very rare, so teams usually try to keep them around as long as possible once they find one. With that said, there are a few that stand out over the history of the game.
Here’s a list of some of the greatest kickers of all time, in no particular order:
- Justin Tucker – Baltimore Ravens
- Adam Vinatieri – New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts
- Morten Andersen – New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings
- Jason Hanson – Detroit Lions
- Gary Anderson – Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings, Tennessee Titans
- Jan Stenerud – Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings
- Stephen Gostkowski – New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans
- Lou Groza – Cleveland Browns
- George Blanda – Chicago Bears, Baltimore Colts, Houston Oilers, Oakland Raiders
- Jim Bakken – St. Louis Cardinals
That list is just the beginning. Some honorable mentions include Matt Stover, Matt Prater, Phil Dawson, Matt Bryant, Graham Gano, Jason Elam, and John Carney. Some other kickers are making a name for themselves, such as Harrison Butker, Josh Lambo, Robbie Gould, Wil Lutz, Chris Boswell, Dan Bailey, Mason Crosby, and Jake Elliott.
Much like the kicker, a punter won’t see a lot of playing time in football. They’re used very rarely and won’t be asked to do a lot of running, catching, or tackling — unless a trick play is called. With that said, a productive offense will make sure their punter isn’t used at all during a game.
Punters usually line up about 15 yards behind the long snapper. They punt the ball down the field and try to pin the opposing offense as close to the opposite end of the field as possible. The only time a punter is used is when the team isn’t in a good enough position to attempt a field goal.
For the most part, punters are at least 6’0’’, with a few exceptions. Some are more 5’11’’, while others are as tall as 6’6’’ or 6’5’’. They’re usually slimmer players and weigh 205-215 pounds. As long as they can punt the ball, a team will sign them.
Much like a kicker, the punter has 20 different numbers to choose from when selecting a jersey number. They can choose any number between 1-19, so long as it’s not already taken by another player on the team. Most punters choose a number in the single digits, between 1-9.
The only other players allowed to wear 1-19 are quarterbacks, kickers, and wide receivers.
Best Punters of All Time
Since a punter won’t see a lot of game action, it’s much more difficult for them to make a name for themselves. Keep in mind, the main goal for a team is to never use their punter and always score points on the drive. Of course, there have been some punters that are better than others.
Here’s a list of some of the greatest punters of all time, in no particular order:
- Shane Lechler – Oakland Raiders, Houston Texans
- Yale Lary – Detroit Lions
- Ray Guy – Oakland Raiders, Los Angeles Raiders
- Sammy Baugh – Washington Redskins
- Sean Landeta – New York Giants, Los Angeles Rams, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles
- Jerrel Wilson – Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots
- Reggie Roby – Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Houston Oilers, Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers
- Johnny Hekker – St. Louis Rams, Los Angeles Rams
- Andy Lee – San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals
- Pat McAfee – Indianapolis Colts
Of those players, Johnny Hekker and Andy Lee are the only two players that are still playing in the league today. Some honorable mentions to include on that list are Thomas Morstead, Jeff Feagles, Donnie Jones, Dave Jennings, Don Chandler, and Glenn Dobbs.
A long snapper is often a kicker and punter’s best friend. Without a good long snapper, neither of those two players can do their job effectively. Kicking field goals would be extremely difficult and kicking a good punt would be near-impossible. It’s not an easy job, though it may look easy.
The long snapper is usually the forgotten player among the fans. In some cases, the long snapper is a member of the offensive line, but only if that player is good enough. Most teams elect to save an extra roster spot for a specialty long snapper that’s only used in that situation.
What Do Long Snappers Do in Football?
A long snapper is essentially a center that can snap the ball long distances. They’re either snapping the ball to the place holder during an extra point or field goal, which would be a 7-8 yard snap or snapping the ball to the punter, which would be about a 15-yard snap.
Accuracy is important here. If the long snapper can’t snap the ball right where the player needs it, the entire kick or punt could be thrown off guard. This is often the difference between a blocked kick/punt and a successful kick/punt. They practice snapping the ball to the player all day long.
Of course, the other responsibility of the long snapper is to block incoming traffic at the line of scrimmage once the ball is snapped, similar to what a center does for the offense.
Where Do Long Snappers Line Up?
Long snappers line up wherever the ball is placed on the line of scrimmage. Since they’re the ones snapping the ball to the punter or place holder, they’re the only ones allowed to touch the ball before it’s snapped. You’ll never find the long snapper line up anywhere else unless they’re a member of the offensive line (and not the center).
Long Snapper Size
Long snappers need to have a bit of size to them, much like a center or offensive guard. Most long snappers are around 6’2’’ or 6’3’’ and weigh anywhere from 225-245 pounds. The main thing is that they can snap the ball accurately, but size helps when blocking incoming traffic.
Long Snapper Numbers
Most long snappers can wear a wide range of different numbers. It largely depends on how their team has them listed. For example, some long snappers are listed as an extra tight end and some are listed as a member of the offensive line — even if they never see a snap as either one.
Best Long Snappers of All Time
Long snappers don’t receive a lot of attention or praise for the work they do, but they’re just as important to the team as any other special teams’ player. While it’s not the flashiest position, there are a few players that have separated themselves from the rest of the pack throughout history.
Here are some of the best long snappers to ever play the game, in no particular order:
- Justin Snow – Indianapolis Colts, Washington Redskins
- Ethan Albright – Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins, San Diego Chargers
- Tanner Purdum – New York Jets
- Kevin Houser – New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, Baltimore Ravens
- Jeff Robinson – Denver Broncos, St. Louis Rams, Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks
- Dave Moore – Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills
In addition to these players listed above, who also spent time in other positions, some of the best long-snappers of all time include Cullen Loeffler, Patrick Mannelly, Lonie Paxton, David Binn, D.D. Lewis, and Vic Lindskog.
The place holder has a very important role on a team’s special teams unit, but they don’t see a lot of action — especially if the team doesn’t attempt many field goals. They need to have good chemistry with the long snapper and the kicker, so it often takes a lot of practice to master.
For the most part, the holder is either the backup quarterback or the punter. They like to use the backup quarterback because it gives them the option of running a trick play — since punters aren’t always good passers.
What Do Holders Do in Football?
The holder is responsible for catching the snap from the long snapper and preparing the ball to be kicked by the kicker. They are only featured when their team is attempting a field goal, so you won’t see them often. When preparing the ball for the kicker, they need to make sure the laces are out and the smooth side of the ball is facing the kicker.
In some instances, the holder will be the main person involved in a trick play. Once the ball is snapped, they quickly get up and attempt to run or pass the ball. This is generally done during a long field goal or in bad weather conditions.
Where Do Holders Line Up?
The holders line up 7-8 yards behind the line of scrimmage and are a little offset from the center. The kicker likes to have the ball lined up directly with the center, so the holder usually crouches down to the side to leave room for the kicker. They don’t have a lot of time from the moment the ball is snapped to the moment the ball is kicked.
The size of the holder has no bearing on the holder’s ability to do his job well. With that said, the holder is usually a punter or backup quarterback, so they’re usually 6’0’’-6’5’’ and weigh 210-245 pounds. It truly depends on who’s holding the ball for the kicker.
While there’s no real designation as to what number a holder should wear on his jersey, they normally wear between 1-19 since it’s usually a punter or backup quarterback. You usually won’t find any numbers outside of those.
Best Holders of All Time
As long as a holder doesn’t screw up the whole ‘laces out’ debacle, they’ll be considered a good holder. With that said, there haven’t been a lot of players that have made a name for themselves at the holder position. There have, however, been a few that stand out throughout the history of the game.
Here are some of the best holders of all time, in no particular order:
- Nolan Cromwell – Los Angeles Rams
- David Humm – Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Colts, Los Angeles Raiders
- Brad Maynard – New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns
- Paul Krause – Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings
- Dave Whitsell – Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints
- Bill Troup – Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Colts, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Green Bay Packers
- Sam Koch – Baltimore Ravens
Some other notable names that are worth mentioning here are Bob Chandler, Hunter Smith, Eddie Meador, Joe Theismann, Jeff Feagles, John Hadl, Steve Dils, Koy Detmer, and Brian Baschnagel.
The kick returner is very important to a team’s special teams unit. A good kick returner will give the offense a solid field position after a kickoff, which can do so much for the outcome of the drive. For example, a good kick return makes it easy to get three points on the scoreboard, at the very least.
Since kick returners are usually wide receivers or running backs, they’re generally very popular players and also get a lot of opportunity on the offensive side of the ball. At the same time, many kick returners are specialty players that find themselves on the wrong end of the offensive depth chart.
What Do Kick Returners Do in Football?
A kick returner is a player that returns a kickoff both at the start of a game and the start of the second half. They also return a kick every time the opponent scores a field goal or touchdown. It might seem easy, but the kicks travel far and high, making it very hard to catch. Not only that, but they have 11 players running full-speed directly at them trying to tackle them.
In addition to the kick returner, teams have a punt returner. While this is often the same player, not all kick returners are good punt returners. If they do both, they’re called a return specialist. Punt returners do the same thing as a kick returner, except they do it on a punt rather than a kick.
The main goal of a return specialist is to gain as many yards as possible to put their offense in a good position. The best outcome for a return specialist is to score a touchdown.
Where Do Kick Returners Line Up?
The kick returner usually lines up at his team’s goal line, since most kickers are trying to kick it as close to the goal line as possible. As long as the ball doesn’t land in the end zone, the kick returner will almost always run the ball out, allowing the gunners to tackle him inside the 20-yard line.
Most teams will have two returners on a kickoff and they stand side-by-side. One returner is responsible for a kick that goes left and the other to the right. The moment the ball is kicked, they follow the ball to its landing spot — one player catches and runs, while the other prepares to block.
Kick Returner Size
Size doesn’t really matter when you’re a kick returner, though most return specialists tend to be shorter and slimmer than most players. That’s because the main thing that matters is speed and elusiveness. Usually, smaller players are faster and harder to tackle, making them good returners.
Since most returners are wide receivers, running backs, or defensive backs, they range anywhere from 5’10’’-6’3’’ and weigh anywhere from 190-225 pounds.
Kick Returner Numbers
There’s no designated jersey number for a kick returner. Since most kick returners are wide receivers, running backs, and defensive backs, they normally wear anything from 10-49 and 80-89. It all depends on which player they have designated as the return specialist.
Best Kick Returners of All Time
When you find a quality return specialist, they usually have a spot on the team regardless of whether they play on offense or defense. They give your team the best chance at starting each drive off on the right foot, which is very important when setting yourself up for a victory.
Here are some of the best kick returners of all time, in no particular order:
- Joshua Cribbs – Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts
- Rick Upchurch – Denver Broncos
- Brian Mitchell – Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants
- Gale Sayers – Chicago Bears
- Devin Hester – Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Seattle Seahawks
- Desmond Howard – Washington Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions
- Mel Gray – Los Angeles Express, New Orleans Saints, Detroit Lions, Houston Oilers, Tennessee Titans, Philadelphia Eagles
- Abe Woodson – San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Cardinals
- DeSean Jackson – Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams
- Dante Hall – Kansas City Chiefs, St. Louis Rams
In addition to the names listed above, some honorable mentions that are worth mentioning include Terrence McGee, Ollie Matson, Deion Sanders, Herschel Walker, Tim Brown, and Allen Rossum.
Gunners, also known as shooters, flyers, headhunters, and kamikazes, are very important to a team’s special teams unit. They’re usually players that don’t receive a lot of opportunities on normal offensive or defensive plays, so it’s generally their first chance at impressing a coach.
A gunner is present on both kickoffs and punts. They’re on the team that’s doing the kicking and punting. They need to be fast, but they also need to be excellent tacklers. Some players are so good at this that they are signed exclusively to be gunners for the team — and nothing else.
What Do Gunners Do in Football?
A gunner is a player that lines up for the kicking team during a kickoff. Their main goal is to fly down the field as fast as possible so they can have an opportunity to tackle the kick returner before they gain a lot of yards. As fast as they are, they need to be smart so they don’t get deeked out by the returner.
During a punt, there aren’t many gunners because a majority of the players must first block the incoming traffic. This is essential to giving the punter enough room to do what they do best. If the gunners can’t tackle the punt returner, it becomes the rest of the team’s responsibility to tackle them as soon as possible.
Where Do Gunners Line Up?
A gunner lines up on the line of scrimmage and is usually spread out to the sideline. During a punt, they’re the widest players out and are technically considered wide receivers. They’re the only players allowed past the line of scrimmage before the ball is punted. There are two gunners on most punt plays, one on each side of the field.
During a kickoff, the gunners are also found near the sidelines and there are also two on the field at one time — one on the right and one on the left. The rest of the players have the same job, but usually, line up on the inside of the gunner.
The size of the gunner doesn’t matter so long as they’re fast, smart, and a good tackler. With that said, most gunners are wide receivers, cornerbacks, and safeties. They normally range anywhere from 5’11’’-6’2’’ and weigh around 190-220 pounds.
Since a gunner doesn’t have a specific number to choose from when selecting their jersey number, it 100% correlates to what position that gunner plays on the offense or defense. Since they’re generally defensive backs or receivers, they can range from 10-49 and 80-89.
Best Gunners of All Time
Special team’s gunners never receive the attention or praise they deserve. For example, the hands-down greatest gunner of all time — Steve Tasker — is 100% worthy of being named to the Hall of Fame for his work as a gunner (and wide receiver) but is overlooked every single year.
In addition to Steve Tasker, here’s a list of some of the greatest gunners of all time, in no particular order:
- Vince Papale – Philadelphia Eagles
- David Tyree – New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens
- Kassim Osgood – San Diego Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers
- Ed Reed – Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, New York Jets
- Hank Bauer – Dallas Cowboys, San Diego Chargers
- Ivory Sully – Los Angeles Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions
- Bill Bates – Dallas Cowboys
To be a quality gunner in the NFL, you need to be an extremely hard worker and must be ready to receive little credit for what you do — at least from the fans. With that said, you’re often one of the coach’s favorite players because you put your head down and work every single day.