What Is a Runback in Football? A Complete Guide

A football player prepares to runback the ball.

There are a lot of terms you’ll hear during a football game, and some of them are very common, like “touchdown” and “quarterback”, but others are less common, like “runback”. While runback may sound similar to the running back position, they’re completely different.

So, what is a runback in football?

A runback in football is when a player advances the ball towards the end zone after receiving a kick or intercepting the ball from the opposing team. There are three scenarios in which runbacks can happen: after a kickoff, after a punt, and after an interception.

Throughout this article, we’ll explain these three scenarios and what makes a good runback. So, make sure to stick around!

Different Runback Scenarios

There are three scenarios in which a runback can occur in a football game. Runbacks also don’t usually result in touchdowns, but they can.


The most common time that a runback happens in a football game is after a kick, either a kickoff which we’ll explain in this section, or a punt which we’ll explain in the next.

After a kickoff, the receiving team wants to advance the ball as far as possible, and when they advance the ball, it’s called a runback. For example, “player A had a 30-yard runback after the kickoff.”

There are a few alternatives to a runback after a kickoff. The ball is ruled dead, or the kick returner catches the ball and immediately takes a knee or calls for a fair catch. In these scenarios, there is no runback.

Here are the kickoff rules from the NFL Rulebook, which explain the kickoff scenarios we described above:

“(a) If a player of the receiving team catches or recovers the ball, he may advance.

(b) If the ball is declared dead while in the simultaneous possession of two opposing players, the ball is awarded to the receiving team.

(c) A player of the kicking team may legally touch, catch, or recover the ball if:

  1. it first touches a receiving team player; or
  2. it reaches or crosses the receiving team’s restraining line.

(d) The ball is dead if:

  1. it is caught or recovered by a player of the kicking team. If the catch or recovery is legal, the ball belongs to the kicking team at the dead-ball spot.
  2. it is not touched by the receiving team and touches the ground in the end zone (touchback).

(e) If the ball comes to rest inbounds after reaching the receiving team’s restraining line and no player attempts to possess it, the ball becomes dead and belongs to the receiving team at the dead-ball spot.

What Is a Good Runback on Kickoffs?

During the 2021 NFL season, the average kickoff return was 22.2 yards. Furthermore, the average punt return was 8.8 yards. The top 12 career kickoff return leaders all have an average kickoff return of over 27 yards.

With that in mind, a good kickoff return is more than the average of 22 yards, while an excellent kickoff return would be 30 or more yards. The best kick returners consistently have runbacks over 27 yards.


The next scenario in which a runback can occur is after a punt. A punt almost always happens on 4th down when the kicking team wants to get the ball far away from their end zone.

Like on kickoffs, the receiving team can run the ball back after a punt, which is a runback. Or, they can let the ball drop into the end zone for a touchback and start with it from the 25-yard line.

Also similar to the kickoff rules, the NFL rulebook states the following: If the receivers catch or recover any kick, they may advance.


The third and final situation in which a runback can occur is after an interception. After the defense intercepts the ball, they have the opportunity to run the ball back as far as they can.

If they end up scoring a touchdown on an interception, they have earned what is known as a “pick 6”.

Pick 6s are some of the most exciting plays in football, not only because they’re really rare but because they happen so quickly. Interceptions don’t happen very often, usually about once per game on average, if not less, so the odds that the player who intercepts the ball and scores is low.

Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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