A Quick Guide to American Football Positions

Everyone loves watching a game of American football.  Seeing your favorite teams score a touchdown and rooting for the best players to bet on are all part of the fun of football season.

Yet, there are so many players on the field, and for newbies to American football, understanding who is who and what position does what is no easy feat. However, it need not be so tricky. 

One of the simplest things to understand about American football is that there are two primary components to each team: offense and defense. The offense tries to work their way down the field with the ball to the other team's end zone to score a touchdown. The defense attempts to stop their opposition from scoring. 

It is really simple when you become familiar with it, and we will make it easier for you by explaining the offensive and defensive positions on every American football team.  

Offensive positions

The offense controls possession of the football and moves the ball down the field towards the opposition's end zone in order to score, either via a touchdown or by kicking a field goal. 


The quarterback is the leader of the offense and is considered the focal point of the team. You could say they call the shots as they call the plays in the huddle. They will call signals at the line of scrimmage and then receive the ball from the center.  Once he has the has the ball, the QB will hand off the ball to a running back, throw it to a receiver, or run with it themselves. 


The center is the player who snaps the ball to the quarterback at the line of scrimmage. They handle the ball on every single play and block for the quarterback and running backs. 

Running back

The running back is a player who will run with the football. They are also sometimes referred to as tailbacks, halfbacks and rushers. 


A fullback is a player who is responsible for blocking for the running back. They are also responsible for pass-blocking in order to protect the quarterback too. They are generally bigger than running backs.  They may also carry the ball on short yardage plays. 

Wide receiver

A wide receiver is a player who uses their speed and agility to elude the opposition's defenders and catch the football. Teams will often use as many as two, three or four wide receivers on every play. They are usually tall and fast, and their main job is to run pass routes and find an open spot on the field to catch passes, although they may occasionally be called on to block. They are generally lined up split wide near the sidelines at the start of a play. 

Tight end

The tight end is a player who will serve as a receiver and as a blocker. This player will line up beside the offensive tackle on either side of the quarterback. Tight ends are often considered to be hybrid players, as they are a cross between a wide receiver and an offensive lineman. They help with blocking on running plays and serve as an extra receiver on passing plays.

Left guard and right guard

The left and right guards are two inner members of the offensive line. It is their job to protect the quarterback and the ball carriers.  They not only protect the quarterback from incoming defensive linemen during pass plays, but also create openings for the running backs to head through.

Left tackle and right tackle

The left and right tackles are the two outer members of the offensive line. Their job is basically to protect and to block, keeping defenders away from the offensive player who has possession of the ball, thus enabling him to advance the football down the field in order to score.

Defensive positions

The defense in American football attempts to prevent the opposing offense from scoring points by intercepting the ball, tackling runners and generally stopping them from moving the ball closer to the end zone and creating a scoring opportunity. 

Defensive tackle

The defensive tackles are the inner members of the defensive line. It is their job to hold their ground in order to stop a running play, or to run through a gap in the offensive line and pressure the quarterback, or disrupt the backfield.   

Defensive end

The defensive ends are the outer members of the defensive line. Their job is to power through the blocking of the offensive linemen to tackle either the ball carrier or the quarterback.  On running plays to the outside, they are responsible for forcing the running back out of bounds or back inside towards their defensive teammates. 


Linebackers are the players who line up behind the defensive linemen.  They are typically considered the team's best tacklers and one of them usually calls the defensive formations before each play. Depending on the defensive line formation, most teams will employ around three or four linebackers on each play. They will divide their responsibilities in defending the run and the pass. 


Safeties are players who will line up the deepest in the secondary and serve as the last line of defense. There are free safeties and strong safeties.  Their primary role is to defend the deep pass, with the strong safeties helping out on run plays. 


The cornerbacks are players who line up on the wider parts of the field, typically opposite the offensive receivers. They cover the receivers, defend against the pass and make tackles. They may also blitz the quarterback and defend against offensive running plays such as sweeps and reverses. They can create turnovers through hard tackles, interceptions, and deflecting quarterback passes.

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