A Beginners Guide To The NFL – The Key Positions of NFL Players

As part of our NFL Beginners Guide series, we have continued to help those new to the game understand what’s actually going on!

In this feature we will focus on those key positions within an NFL roster, as well as some made-up nicknames which we feel represent those positions quite well.

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Let’s begin with the Offensive positions.

There are a number of key offensive positions within a full-roster and these include:


Quarterback (QB) – ‘The play caller’ they call the shots in the huddle and decide whether to throw downfield to a receiver or hand the ball to the Running Back or run it themselves. A key trait of any good quarterback is remaining cool and calm under pressure to instil confidence in your teammates.


Running Back (RB) – ‘The workhorse’ of a team comes in many forms including power runners who run through the defence and speedy backs who use their lightning pace to slip away from any threat to completing the run.


Wide Receiver (WR) – ‘The pass catchers’ take pre-assigned routes called by the Quarterback and catch that ball! They also assist in blocking for running backs on running plays. Speed, solid hands and a good leap are a must in this position.


Tight End (TE) – ‘Mr. Versatile’ is a role that is always changing. They get involved in the passing game as another option for the Quarterback to throw downfield and also attach themselves as an extra blocker to the line of scrimmage when involved with the running plays.


Offensive Line (OL) – ‘The spear and shield’ are responsible for opening up the way for running backs during running plays and to protect the quarterback at all costs when he elects to throw. They must act as one unit and follow their blocking assignments to the letter to give their teammates as much time as possible to get downfield.


“Offenses may win games but Defences win Championships” is a phrase you will become very accustomed to watching American football. Their job is to contain the offense and limit them to less than 10 yards per set of downs. To achieve this they must contain most explosive weapons in the game!

Now it’s time for the Defensive positions.

On the other side of the ball, below are the key defensive positions and these include:

Defensive End – ‘The walls’ job is ‘simple’ get after that quarterback before he has a chance to release that ball! A job that isn’t for the feint hearted a combination of strength and speed is needed to sack that quarterback as early as possible.


Defensive Tackle – ‘The muscle’ are the guys in the middle lining up opposite the center and guards. They must beat the offensive lineman and then get after the quarterback or block the running backs. Sometimes described as a mini car wreck every play this truly is a testing position.


Linebacker – ‘The hammers’ are the big hitters of the defence. They must stop running backs and also cover potential passing plays. Line-backer’s require good instincts to read the attacking play and make that tackle.


Cornerback – ‘The shadows’ cover wide receivers to prevent them catching on a passing play. Speedy and athletic with a keen eye to anticipating which route the receiver is making to make those all-important interceptions.


Safety – ‘Last chancers’ are thought of as the last line of defence. They make the big plays for the defence including covering the downfield throws and also coming to the line and making tackles. They must stay alert at all times as a mistake in this position can be devastating.

The NFL is designed with a competitive balance in mind. All 32 teams are limited to a salary cap and share the revenue the sport generates evenly. There is also an annual NFL draft that starts with the team with the worst record having the first pick of players coming up from the college ranks. These measures help prevent team’s stock-piling talent or buying their way to a championship – nobody wants that!


Keep up-to-date with the NFL Beginners Guide series and get in the know before, and throughout, the upcoming NFL season.

Post Author: Matt "Stats"

Stats, Analysis and International Series writer for IntoTheEndZone. Arizona Cardinals fan and can be found tweeting at @Matt_ITEZ

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