All of the Football Positions, Explained

STACK offers a brief primer on every football position.

As in other team sports like soccer and baseball, football requires players to play distinct positions. Players in each position have different responsibilities and line up in different areas of the field. Thus, knowing the name and role of each football position is critical to learning the game. If you're a beginner, knowing the ins and outs of each football position can help you pick the one best suited for your skillset. For this article, we'll cover the basic football positions on both offense and defense.

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Offensive Football Positions

Offensive football positions are all aimed at achieving one goal—advancing the ball down the field and scoring a touchdown. That sounds simple enough, but each position has different responsibilities, which the players must carry out for the offense to be successful. Here's what a basic offensive set looks like.

Offensive Football Positions

Now let's break down each offensive football position.

Quarterback

Quarterback

How many are usually on the field: 1
Typical alignment: directly behind the center
Main responsibility: throwing the ball, handing off the ball

The quarterback is one of two players who touch the ball on every play (the other being the center.) To begin each play, the quarterback lines up behind the center and receives the ball when the center "snaps" it. How far the quarterback stands from the center depends on the formation. Once he receives the snap, the quarterback can either throw the ball or hand it off to another player (or run it himself).

Playing quarterback requires a high level of intelligence. You need to be know what every offensive player does on every play and occasionally adjust the play based on what the defense is doing. Speed is not essential to success at the quarterback position, but it certainly doesn't hurt. The typical quarterback is a tall, intelligent player with a good throwing arm and strong leadership qualities.

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Tailback/Halfback

Tailback/Halfback

How many are usually on the field: 1
Typical alignment: behind or next to the quarterback
Main responsibility: running with the ball

The running back position includes the tailback (or halfback) and fullback. The tailback usually lines up either directly behind or right next to the quarterback. His exact alignment depends on the formation. Tailbacks are typically the players who receive the handoff from the quarterback and run forward to try to gain yardage. Tailbacks are typically shorter, smaller players who are light on their feet and can maneuver through tight holes. Tailbacks are sometimes used as receivers out of the backfield. The typical tailback is a fast, agile player with good vision and the ability to break tackles and carry the ball effectively.

Fullback

Fullback

How many are usually on the field: 1
Typical alignment: directly in front of or next to the tailback
Main responsibility: lead blocking for the running back 

The other running back, called the fullback, usually lines up directly in front of or directly next to the tailback (which also puts him in close proximity to the quarterback). His exact alignment depends on the formation. For example, in certain offenses the fullback lines up right behind the line of scrimmage, an alignment in which the fullback is commonly referred to as the "H-Backs." The fullback is typically the player who lead-blocks for the tailback on running plays. They're usually strong, stocky players who can move defensive players out of the way to give ballcarriers room to run. Occasionally, fullbacks receive a handoff and run the ball themselves. This usually occurs when only a small amount of yardage is needed. They also occasionally go out for for a pass. The typical fullback is a tough, powerful player with above average size and a knack for blocking.

Wide Receiver

Wide Receiver

How many are usually on the field: 2 or more
Typical alignment: on or close to the line of scrimmage, the widest players on the field in terms of horizontal alignment
Main responsibility: catching passes

The wide receivers usually line up on or near the line of scrimmage. The width of their alignment depends on the formation, but they typically have the widest alignment of any offensive player. There are two wide receivers in a basic offensive formation. However, an offense can line up as many as five wide receivers, depending on the formation. Wide receivers are typically players of medium to above-average height, with a fair amount of speed and an ability to catch passes. There is a lot of variation in terms of size at the wide receiver position. For example, Antonio Brown is 5-foot-10, 186 pounds, and Calvin Johnson is 6-foot-5 and 236 pounds. Yet both have had a tremendous amount of success playing wide receiver. The typical wide receiver is a quick player who has a knack for catching the ball and has the balance and agility to run good routes.

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Center

Center

How many are usually on the field: 1
Typical alignment: directly over the football
Main responsibilities: snapping the ball, blocking

The center begins every offensive play by snapping the ball to the quarterback. Together with guards and tackles, the center is a part of the "offensive line." After he snaps the ball, the center's main job is to block defensive players. Exactly who and how he blocks depends on the opposing defensive alignment and the offensive play call. Centers are typically fairly tall, thick players with good levels of strength. They are usually one of the heavier players on the offense. A good center must have a high level of intelligence, since it's his job to communicate the defensive alignment to the other offensive lineman and inform them of their assignments. The typical center is a big, intelligent player who is good at snapping the ball and highly skilled at blocking.

Guard

Guard

How many are usually on the field: 2
Typical alignment: directly to the left and right of the center
Main responsibility: blocking

A standard football offense has two guards on the offensive line. One lines up directly to the left of the center, the other directly to the right. Fittingly, these players are known as the left guard and the right guard. Guards are typically similar to centers but bigger. The primary job of a guard is to block defensive players. The typical guard is a big player who is highly skilled at blocking.

Tackle

Tackle

How many are usually on the field: 2
Typical alignment: directly to the left of the left guard and directly to the right of the right guard
Main responsibility: blocking 

A standard football offense has two tackles on the offensive line. One lines up to the left of the left guard (and is known as the "left tackle"), and the other lines up to the right of the right guard (and is known as the "right tackle"). Tackles are typically the largest players on the field. Their primary job is to block defensive players. They are usually a tad quicker and stronger than the other offensive linemen since they often have to block defensive players in space with little or no help. Like the center, tackles need to be intelligent so they can analyze what the defense is doing and make the proper adjustments.The typical tackle is a large player who is highly skilled at blocking.

Tight End

Tight-End

How many are usually on the field: 1
Typical alignment: directly outside of the tackle
Main responsibilities: catching passes and blocking

The tight end is essentially a combination of an offensive lineman and a wide receiver. He's typically bigger and stronger than a wide receiver yet smaller and faster than an offensive lineman. While tight ends can line up virtually anywhere on the field, they are most often aligned directly next to the left or right tackle. Although it's common for one tight end to be on the field, it's becoming increasingly popular to have two tight ends on the field at the same time. The typical tight end is a tall player who's both a skilled pass-catcher and a serviceable blocker.

Defensive Football Positions

Defensive football positions are all designed to achieve one goal—stop the offense from gaining yards and scoring. That sounds simple enough, but players at each position have different responsibilities they must carry out for the defense to be successful. Here's what a basic defense looks like.

Basic Defensive Alignment

Now let's break down each defensive football position.

Defensive Tackle

Defensive Tackle

How many are usually on the field: 2
Typical alignment: across from the offensive center or guards
Main responsibilities: preventing runs up the middle, rushing the quarterback

Though the number of defensive tackles can change depending on the formation, most basic defenses have two defensive tackles on the field. Along with defensive ends, defensive tackles are part of a group of players known as the "defensive line." Defensive tackles line up next to each other in the middle of the defense across from the offensive center and guards. Defensive tackles are typically very large players who can hold their ground even when being double-teamed by two offensive linemen. The main job of the defensive tackle is to prevent the offense from running the ball up the middle and to put pressure on the quarterback in passing situations. The typical defensive tackle is a fairly tall, heavy player with great strength who can hold his ground against offensive linemen.

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Defensive End

Defensive End

How many are usually on the field: 2
Typical alignment: outside of the defensive tackles, across from the offensive tackles
Main responsibilities: preventing runs to their side, rushing the quarterback 

Though the number of defensive ends can change depending on the formation, most basic defenses have two defensive ends on the field. Their name likely derives from the fact that they "bookend" the defensive line. Their main job is to prevent the offense from running the ball to their side and to attempt to sack the quarterback on passing plays. Since their duties require them to cover more ground, defensive ends are typically lighter and faster than defensive tackles. The typical defensive end is a tall, strong player with the ability to hold his own against an offensive tackle and the speed and quickness to get to the quarterback or chase down a running back.

Middle Linebacker

Middle Linebacker

How many are usually on the field: 1
Typical alignmentt: 4 to 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage, directly across from the center
Main responsibilities: run defense, pass coverage, communicating assignments

The middle linebacker is often referred to as the "quarterback of the defense," because he needs to know every defensive player's assignment and occasionally make adjustments to the defense based on what the offense is doing. The middle linebacker is essentially a jack-of-all-trades—he must be able to stop the run and cover the pass effectively. The middle linebacker often finds himself in the middle of the action and usually leads the team in tackles. The typical middle linebacker is a strong, intelligent player who is a good tackler and can make plays both in space and in traffic.

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Outside Linebacker

Outside Linebacker

How many are usually on the field: 2
Typical alignment: 3 to 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage, about the width of the defensive end
Main responsibilities: run defense, pass coverage, blitzing

Most basic defenses have two outside linebackers on the field. Where they line up depends on the formation, but they're usually about 3 to 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage and either just inside or just outside the defensive ends. Outside linebackers are usually a bit more athletic than middle linebackers, because they're asked to blitz more and usually have tougher assignments in pass coverage. The typical outside linebacker is a long, strong athletic player who can make plays in space and is a solid tackler.

Cornerback

Cornerback

How many are usually on the field: 2
Typical alignment: across from the wide receiver
Main responsibilities: pass coverage

Though the number of cornerbacks can change depending on the formation, most basic defenses have at least two cornerbacks on the field. The cornerbacks typically line up across from the wide receivers. Cornerbacks are often similar physically to wide receivers, and their main job is to prevent passes from being completed. Many times, wide receivers who have issues catching the ball switch to cornerback. The typical cornerback is a small to average-sized player with great speed, acceleration, instincts and coverage skills.

RELATED: Become a Lockdown Cornerback With These Drills 

Free Safety

Free Safety

How many are usually on the field: 1
Typical alignment: deep in the middle of the defensive backfield
Main responsibilities: pass coverage

The free safety typically lines up in the middle of the defensive backfield at least 10 yards away from the line of scrimmage. Often, he does not have a specific responsibility and is free to follow the ball as the play develops—hence the title of "free" safety. The free safety is expected to help the cornerbacks defend against passes, especially deep balls. If the offensive formation employs more than two receivers, a free safety may be asked to cover one of the extra receivers. The typical free safety is a small to average-sized player with good speed, range, anticipation and ball skills.

Strong Safety

Strong Safety

How many are usually on the field: 1
Typical alignment: deep in the middle of the defensive backfield, either even with or slightly closer to the line of scrimmage than the free safety
Main responsibilities: pass coverage, run support

The strong safety typically lines up toward the middle of the defensive backfield, either even with the free safety or several yards closer to the line of scrimmage. The strong safety is usually a bit bigger and stronger than the free safety, because he plays a larger role in stopping the run. The strong safety often covers the tight end or extra receiver, depending on the formation. The typical strong safety is an average-sized tough, athletic player who is adept at pass coverage and tackling.

Read More About Football:

The Ultimate Football Off-Season Training Guide

How to Throw a Football - and Make it a Perfect Spiral Every Time

How Football Sizes Change at Each Level of the Sport

4 Football Conditioning Drills That Work


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: FOOTBALL | RUNNING | RECEIVER | SAFETY