The American Football Positions – Everything you should know

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 American football is a game of strategy, skill, and teamwork. With 11 players on the field for both the offense and defense, each player plays a specific role or position crucial for the team’s success. In this guide, we’ll look into the intricate world of American football positions, breaking down the responsibilities and skills required for each role.

In this football, every player on the field has a specific role and specialized set of skills. For example, the quarterback is the only one to throw the ball. Receivers catch it; offensive linemen don’t. All these positions have to work together for the intricate plays designed by the coaches to work.

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American Football Positions


The offense, composed of 11 players, aims to move the ball down the field and score touchdowns (6 points) or field goals (3 points). Here’s a breakdown of their key roles:

  • Quarterback (QB): The field general, directing plays and calling the shots. QBs receive the snap from the center, hand off to running backs, or throw passes to wide receivers and tight ends. They need exceptional leadership, decision-making, and throwing skills.
  • Offensive Linemen (OL): The unsung heroes, forming a protective wall around the QB. These five brutes block defenders, allowing the QB and running backs time to operate. They prioritize strength, communication, and teamwork.
  • Running Back (RB): The workhorse of the offense, carrying the ball on rushing plays and catching passes out of the backfield. RBs need speed, agility, and vision to navigate the defense and gain yards.
  • Fullback (FB): A hybrid of offensive lineman and running back, primarily blocking for the RB but also occasionally carrying the ball or catching passes. Fullbacks prioritize strength, blocking technique, and versatility.
  • Tight End (TE): A mismatch nightmare, blending the size and blocking ability of an offensive lineman with the receiving skills of a wide receiver. TEs excel at catching passes, blocking defenders, and creating space for other offensive players.
  • Wide Receiver (WR): The speed demons of the offense, catching passes thrown by the QB. WRs need exceptional route running, agility, and hand-eye coordination to outmaneuver defenders and haul in passes.

The Defense

The defense, also with 11 players, aims to prevent the offense from scoring by tackling ball carriers, intercepting passes, and forcing turnovers. Let’s meet the defensive warriors:

  • Defensive Linemen (DL): The anchors of the defense, occupying blockers and disrupting plays at the line of scrimmage. DLs are typically powerful and athletic, adept at tackling, pressuring the QB, and collapsing the pocket.
  • Linebacker (LB): The versatile linebackers roam the middle of the field, stopping runs, covering receivers, and blitzing the QB. They need a blend of speed, tackling prowess, and coverage skills to adapt to various offensive schemes.
  • Cornerback (CB): The lockdown artists, shadowing the offense’s best receivers and preventing them from catching passes. CBs require exceptional speed, agility, and tackling technique to stay with their assignments and disrupt passing plays.
  • Safety (S): The last line of defense, patrolling the deep zones and preventing big plays. Safeties need good speed, tackling ability, and awareness to cover large areas of the field and make crucial defensive stops.

Special Teams

Beyond offense and defense, special teams come into play for kickoffs, punts, and field goals. Here are the key contributors:

  • Kicker (K): The sharpshooter, booting the ball off the ground on kickoffs, field goals, and extra points. Ks need accuracy, power, and consistency to send the ball soaring through the uprights.
  • Punter (P): The master of hang time, kicking the ball high and far on fourth downs to give the defense an advantageous field position. Punters require precision and directional control to maximize the distance and hang time of their kicks.
  • Kick Returner (KR) and Punt Returner (PR): The daredevils of the game, catching kicks and punts and attempting to return them for touchdowns. KRs and PRs need exceptional speed, agility, and vision to navigate traffic and break away for big gains.
  • Long Snapper: The silent operator, snapping the ball on punts and field goals with pinpoint accuracy. Long snappers need precision, timing, and a strong arm to deliver the ball perfectly for the kicker or punter.
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  • Snap: The moment the center hands the ball to the quarterback, starting the play.
  • Huddle: A brief meeting where the offense discusses the upcoming play.
  • Playbook: A collection of offensive and defensive plays used by a team.
  • Formation: The arrangement of players on the field before the snap.
  • Blitz: This is known as an aggressive defensive play where multiple players rush the quarterback.
  • Interception: When a defensive player catches a pass thrown by the offense.

The Structure of the NFL league

The 32 teams are divided into two conferences — the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). 

The 16 teams in each conference are grouped into the East, North, South, and West divisions; every division has four teams.

While the NFL’s structure might be interesting for comparison, this section strays from the CFL’s story. Let’s delve deeper into the CFL’s unique league format to enrich the narrative.

The CFL’s Divisional Rivalry

The Canadian Football League (CFL) boasts a well-defined structure that fosters both intense rivalries and a sense of national unity. 

Divided into two conferences, the Eastern and Western Divisions, the CFL pits nine active teams against each other in a thrilling battle for gridiron glory.

Each conference houses four teams, geographically distributed to create a natural East-West rivalry. 

The Eastern Division features the Toronto Argonauts, Montreal Alouettes, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and Ottawa Redblacks, all established franchises with passionate fan bases concentrated in Ontario and Quebec. 

The Western Division boasts the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, BC Lions, Calgary Stampeders, Saskatchewan Roughriders, 

And Edmonton Elks, representing the football fervor across Manitoba, British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

This divisional structure fosters intense rivalries. Regular season games often see teams within the same conference clashing head-to-head, creating a heated battle for divisional dominance and a coveted playoff spot.

 Fans become fiercely loyal to their local teams, igniting a passionate atmosphere in stadiums across the country.

However, the CFL doesn’t solely rely on divisional rivalries. Inter-divisional games are sprinkled throughout the season, allowing fans to witness exciting matchups between Eastern and Western titans. 

This broader competition adds another layer of intrigue and unpredictability to the race for the Grey Cup, the CFL’s ultimate prize.

Through this balanced structure, the CFL achieves a unique synergy. Regional rivalries provide a constant source of excitement, while inter-divisional games foster a sense of national cohesion, uniting fans across Canada in their shared love for the sport.

The Difference Between the AFC and the NFC

Both AFC and NFC were created as part of the 1970 NFL merger with the rival American Football League (AFL), with all ten of the former AFL teams and three NFL teams made up of the AFC while the remaining thirteen NFL clubs made up the NFC.

The Canadian Football League (CFL) and the National Football League (NFL) might share the same core concept of American football, but beneath the surface lie distinct differences that shape the game and fan experience.

The CFL boasts a larger playing field compared to the NFL. CFL fields stretch 110 yards long compared to the NFL’s 100 yards, offering more space for offensive strategies and explosive plays. 

This additional space allows for formations with more receivers and running backs, potentially leading to higher-scoring games and a faster pace.

The Three-Down Gamble:  

In the CFL, teams have three downs to gain 10 yards for a first down, compared to the NFL’s four downs. 

This emphasis on urgency forces creative offensive playcalling and a more aggressive approach, keeping fans on the edge of their seats. 

Teams need to be strategic about their rushing and passing attempts, with fewer opportunities to convert a crucial third down.

An Extra Player on the Field:  Each CFL team is allowed to dress 12 players on the field during a play compared to the NFL’s 11. 

This additional player, often a Canadian import, adds another dimension to both offensive and defensive formations. 

On offense, it could be an extra receiver to stretch the defense, while on defense, it could be a hybrid player offering more flexibility in tackling and coverage schemes.

More Ways to Score: While touchdowns hold the same value in both leagues, the CFL offers a few unique scoring opportunities.  

Successful “single” (one point) and “convert” (two points) attempts after touchdowns add another layer of strategy to the scoring game. 

Additionally, the “rouge” awarded when a defensive player punts the ball out of their end zone – adds another exciting element to the scoring system.

These are just a few key differences that distinguish the CFL from the NFL. The wider field, three-down format, extra player, 

Unique scoring opportunities contribute to a more wide-open, fast-paced, and often higher-scoring brand of football enjoyed by CFL fans.


Outside linebackers are given different names based on their role and the philosophy of the team. Some of the teams keep their outside linebackers on the same side of the field at all times while others are defined as playing on either the “strong side” (SLB) or the “weak side” (WLB).

The Canadian Football League (CFL) boasts not only a thrilling brand of football but also a unique set of defensive positions compared to its American counterpart, the National Football League (NFL). 

While the core principles of defense remain the same, stopping the opposing offense from scoring – the CFL’s distinct structure and wider field necessitate a slightly different approach. Let’s delve deeper into the defensive personnel that patrol the gridiron in the CFL.

Defensive Linemen

Similar to the NFL, the CFL features a defensive line that anchors the defense. These powerful players are tasked with disrupting the opposing team’s running game and pressuring the quarterback.  

However, due to the wider CFL field, defensive linemen often need to possess a blend of strength and agility to cover more space and contain elusive running backs.

The Linebackers

Linebackers are the backbone of the CFL defense, tasked with stopping the run, dropping back into coverage, and rushing the passer. 

Unlike the NFL, where outside linebackers are often categorized as strong-side (SLB) or weak-side (WLB) depending on their alignment, CFL outside linebackers generally have more fluid roles. This is due to the wider field and the ability of the offense to spread the ball out more easily.

The Defensive Backs: The Last Line of Defense

The CFL defensive secondary also differs slightly from the NFL. While both leagues utilize cornerbacks and safeties, the wider CFL field often necessitates an extra defensive back.

 This could be a “halfback” who plays a hybrid role between safety and cornerback, offering more flexibility in coverage against spread formations.

Special Teams

Similar to the NFL, the CFL features special teams units that play a vital role in the outcome of the game. These units handle punting, kicking, kickoffs, and punt and kickoff returns. 

Standout special teams players can significantly impact the game by pinning the opposing team deep in their territory, generating turnovers, or delivering game-changing returns.

Understanding these defensive positions and their roles allows for a deeper appreciation of the strategic chess match that unfolds on the CFL gridiron.

 Each defensive player contributes a unique skill set, working together to stymie the opposing offense and secure victory for their team.

The Most Paid Position In The NFL

  •  Quarterback – Joe Burrow, $55 Million
  • Quarterback – Joe Burrow, $55 Million. Source: Getty.
  • Justin Herbert, $53.3 million.
  • Lamar Jackson, $52 million.

FAQs about American Football Positions

1. What are the different positions in American football?

  • There are two main teams on the field: offense and defense. Each team has 11 players with specific roles like quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive lineman, linebacker, etc.

2. The goal of the offense?

  • The offense aims to move the ball down the field and score points by either crossing the end zone for a touchdown (6 points) or kicking the ball through the uprights for a field goal (3 points).

3. The goal of the defense is what?

  • The defense aims to prevent the offense from scoring by stopping them from moving the ball and tackling ball carriers, intercepting passes, and forcing turnovers.

4. What are some key terms to know in football?

  • Snap, huddle, playbook, formation, blitz, interception, AFC, NFC, division, etc.

5. In what ways does a quarterback help the team?

  • The quarterback directs the offense, calls plays, throws passes, and hands off the ball to running backs. They need leadership, decision-making, and throwing skills.

6. What is the role of a running back?

  • The running back carries the ball on rushing plays and catches passes out of the backfield. They need speed, agility, and vision to navigate the defense.

7. What is the aim of a receiver?

  • The wide receiver catches passes thrown by the quarterback. They need exceptional route running, agility, and hand-eye coordination.

8. What does a defensive lineman do?

  • The defensive lineman rushes the quarterback, disrupts plays, and tackles ball carriers. They need strength, athleticism, and tackling prowess.

9. What does a linebacker do?

  • The linebacker covers receivers, stops runs, and blitzes the quarterback. They need a blend of speed, tackling ability, and coverage skills.

10. What is the sole purpose of a kicker?

  • The kicker boots the ball on kickoffs, field goals, and extra points. They need accuracy, power, and consistency.


But by understanding the roles and responsibilities of each player, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the athleticism, strategy, and teamwork that fuel this captivating sport. Whether you’re a seasoned fan or a curious rookie, remember that football is a symphony of movement, where each position plays a vital note in the melody of the game.