11 vs. 11: A Quick Look At Football Positions

Now that you know the object of the game and how to score points, let’s break down the many positions and players on a football team!

You may remember that each team has 11 players on the field at any given point during a game, which means 11 players on offense and 11 players on defense. Here’s a breakdown of which positions exist in each group:

A three-column chart of the three main pillars on a football team: Offense, Defense, and Special Teams. Offense is quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, and offensive lineman. Defense is defensive tackle, defensive end, linebacker, cornerback, and safety. Special Teams is kicker, punter, long snapper, kick returner, and punt returner.

Starting on offense: people usually consider the quarterback to be the most important position on the team. Quarterbacks, or QBs, get the ball on almost every play. They then either hand it off to a running back, pass it (to a running back, receiver, or tight end), or run it themselves. They have to be careful though, because the players on defense are doing everything they can to get to the QB before any of that happens.

Chicago Bears quarterback hands the ball off to Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery

Running backs, or RBs, usually run the football, but sometimes they also catch passes from the quarterback, or block defenders. Speaking of blocking, we can’t forget about the offensive line! They’re the big bodies up front who do most of the blocking, slowing down defenders so other players on offense can move the ball forward. It’s a tough job, but luckily they almost always have a little help from the Tight End (TE), a hybrid player who combines an offensive line's blocking ability with a wide receiver's catching skills. Wide receivers receive! Specifically, they receive the ball when the quarterback passes it. Teams can have up to 5 pass-catchers on the field, at any given moment - a combination of wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends.

Miami Dolphins Offensive Linemen Robert Hunt and Connor Williams prepare to block for a play, along with Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki.

The defense is trying to tackle the player with the ball – usually the quarterback, running backs, and wide receivers. Defenders will also try to intercept passes and force fumbles. Fumbles happen when an offensive player drops the ball on the ground, at which point it can be recovered by either team. Since footballs are bouncy and ovoid-shaped, they can bounce pretty much all over the place, making fumbles a pretty risky business!

Detroit Lions Defensive End Aidan Hutchinson lines up before a play.

The defense starts ‘up front,’ with the defensive line, which matches up with the offensive line. Defensive line players have a few jobs, but the main ones are to either try to get to the quarterback before the ball is thrown, or try to bring down a running back either at, behind, or near the line-of-scrimmage. Remember: they don’t want the offense to advance the ball.

Chicago Bears cornerback Josh Blackwell breaks up a pass intended for Cleveland Browns receiver Michael Woods II.

Behind the defensive line are the linebackers, who will try to tackle any ballcarriers that make it past the defensive line. Sometimes linebackers have to cover potential pass-catchers, similar to the main job of cornerbacks and safeties. Between linebackers, cornerbacks, and safeties, the main goal is to match up against possible receivers and try to knock down or intercept the quarterback’s passes, or tackle receivers if they have made a catch.

Dallas Cowboys safety Israel Mukuamu (number 24) tries to tackle Los Angeles Chargers running back Joshua Kelley (number 25).

That’s the basic setup for a football game: offense vs. defense, 11 players matched up against 11 players, one group trying to score and the other group trying to prevent a score. If you’re still a little lost, don’t worry - Nickelodeon’s got more in-depth position explanations coming your way!