How Many Players On a Football Team? Learn The Players

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: February 12, 2024

When watching American football, either college football or the National Football League, it can be overwhelming with how many players are on the field. Each player on the field has a specific job they must accomplish each play. So, how many players are on a football team?

There are 53 players on a football team that stand on the sideline. During the game, only 11 players on offense and 11 players on defense can be on the field at one time. There can be no more than 22 players on the field at once.

In this article, we will show you what each position in American football is responsible for and how they contribute to the overall success of the offense & defense.

How Many Players On A Football Team?

NFL Team roster only allows 53 players to be on an active roster. Any NFL team that has more than 53 players must cut them or trade them.

In football, 11 players on the offense and 11 on the defense make up the 22 players on the field during play.

The offense uses its 11 players to score points against the 11 defensive players. All 11 players are treated differently, as each player on both the offense and the defense has a particular role and task they must do each play. If you’re interested in learning more about football, we have multiple football resources here.

For youth football, teams are often capped at 30-40 players.

High school football teams typically don’t have cuts. If they have cuts, teams will carry about 100 players on their entire roster.

College football teams will often carry 100-120 players on their roster. It may vary based on coaches and programs.

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Offensive Positions In Football

Below is a table of all the offensive players on the football field and the names often referred to by announcers and fans.

PositionAlso Known As
Running BackRB, T, Tailback, F
Full BackFB
Tight EndH, Y
Wide Receiver (1)WR, X, Wide Out
Wide Receiver (2)WR, Z, Flanker
Left Offensive TackleLT
Left Offensive GuardLG
Right Offensive GuardRG
Right Offensive TackleRT

Quarterback (QB)

One of the most critical players on the field, the quarterback, starts the play. They are responsible for either handing the ball off, running, or throwing it to another player.

The quarterback is crucial to an offense because of the calm and poise to deliver the football to the appropriate player.

While most of us take for granted the passes that Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers make, this position is highly skilled. It requires the brain to process information fast but with fast reflexes and proper decision-making.

Quarterbacks who often make poor decisions will more likely than not lead their team to a losing record.

Learn More About Quarterbacks Here

Running Back (RB)

Teams will often feature one or two running backs in their offense. It depends on what kind of system they run and how they want to attack the opposing defense.

The running back position is often next to or behind the quarterback. This player is responsible for running the football and receiving the quarterback’s hand-off.

This player is often one of the fastest and toughest players on the field, as when they run the football, they are almost certain to get tackled by the defense. These players must absorb physical contact and continue to run the ball.

They are also responsible for taking fakes from the quarterback, such as play-action fakes.

Examples of running backs in the NFL are Ezekiel Elliot and Christian McCaffrey.

Learn More About Running Backs Here

Wide Receivers (WR)

The wide receiver position is becoming increasingly popular as more teams throw the football. The benefit of throwing the football down the field is it forces defenses to cover the entire field.

Wide receivers are often taller (or smaller) players with both speed and catching ability. These players must catch the football without the fear of getting hit by a defensive player.

A wide receiver and a slot receiver are also responsible for catching the football but line up closer to the offensive line.

Learn the difference between running backs and wide receivers here.

Learn More About Wide Receivers Here

Tight End (TE)

The next offensive position is a tight end. A tight end is a hybrid between an offensive lineman and an offensive tackle.

They need to be big enough to block defensive linemen and athletic enough to catch the football and run away from linebackers.

While this is a rare body type, players like Rob Gronkowski have flourished in the position and consistently give defenses trouble.

Learn more about the tight-end position here.

Offensive Line (OL)

The offensive line will have five players in the same spot pretty much every time. These players are responsible for protecting the quarterback.

Offensive line positions are broken down by offensive tackle, offensive guard, and center. The center is the position that puts his hand on the ball to snap it to the quarterback. The center is responsible for starting the play and protecting the quarterback.

The offensive guards are located on both sides of the center. The tackles are located outside of the guards. The guard and tackle positions are instrumental for an offense to be effective.

They must protect the quarterback and move defensive tackles and defensive ends off the football to make room for the running back.

Learn More About Offensive Linemen Here

Defensive Positions In Football

Below is a table of all the offensive players on the football field and the names often referred to by announcers and fans.

Defensive PositionsAlso Known As
Defensive EndDE
Defensive TackleDT, 3-tech
Nose GuardN, Nose tackle, Shade
Defensive EndDE
Mike LinebackerM, Middle
Sam LinebackerS, Jack, Strong Side, Nickel
Will LinebackerW, Weak Side
Strong SafetySS,
Free SafetyFS

Defensive Tackles (DT)

Defensive tackles are defensive players who play either against the guards or the center. These players are responsible for getting after the quarterback and disrupting the running back.

Defensive tackles are often more prominent in stature, as they can clog up gaps and force the offense to run the ball to the outside.

Defensive tackles differ based on the defensive scheme that the defensive coordinator plays. Often, teams running a four-defensive lineman set will have two defensive ends, a nose guard, and a defensive tackle.

Learn More About Defensive Line Here

Defensive Ends (DE)

Defensive ends are also part of the defensive line (along with the defensive tackles). These players often line up head up or outside of the offensive tackles. They are responsible for attacking the quarterback from outside of the offensive line.

Defensive ends are essential because they force offenses to stretch the ball farther to the sideline. In the passing game, defensive tackles ensure the quarterback stays in the pocket and doesn’t scramble.

Popular defensive ends in the NFL are Von Miller & Chase Henry, who significantly impact the game.

Learn More About Defensive Line Here

Linebackers (LB)

Linebackers are often known as the captain of the defense. These players get their names for where they line up, in the back of the defensive line.

Linebackers are responsible for playing both the run and the pass. These players need to be well versed in tackling and covering wide receivers.

Ray Lewis exemplified what it means to be a linebacker. Tough, hard-hitting, and leadership are the few words that come to mind when thinking of ideal traits for a linebacker.

The linebackers are often broken into the Mike Linebacker, Sam Linebacker, and Will Linebacker.

Learn More About Linebackers Here

Cornerbacks (CB)

The following two positions are often grouped as “defensive backs.” The first defensive back is the cornerback. The cornerback is the player that lines up closest to the sideline.

This player is often the fastest on the defense and is responsible for covering speedy wide receivers.

Cornerbacks are often tasked with playing man-to-man coverage or even zone coverage.

Although the cornerback position is one of the easiest positions to learn, it’s one of the most challenging to play football.

Learn More About Defensive Back Here

Strong Safety (SS)

The next defensive back position is safety. The two safety positions are often broken into two types: strong safety and free safety. Learn more about what a DB in football is here.

Strong safety is a mix between a linebacker and free safety. This player must be agile enough to play defensive back, hard-hitting, and tough enough to play linebacker.

Teams will use a strong safety position if they feel like they have a player who fits the mold.

Learn More About Safeties In Football

Free Safety (FS)

The next position is the free safety. This player is responsible for making sure no big plays happen. They are essentially the safety valve of the defense. If the running back on the offense makes a few players missing by chance, it’s up to the safety to tackle him.

Safeties play a vital role, as the defense’s safety insurance ensures the offense doesn’t score a touchdown.

Keep Learning

NFL Teams are constantly rotating rosters to stay under the 53 player limit. Injuries happen frequently which cause teams to keep more or less position players.

The more versatile players are (like offensive linemen), who can play multiple positions, the more valuable they are to the team.

If you like learning about football, we recommend you check out our Beginners Guide To Football below. It has everything you need to grow your Football IQ!

Learn more about football rules in the articles below.

The Complete Beginners Guide To American Football

How Long Is a Football Field? Field Dimensions Explained

How Many Points Is A Touchdown Worth In Football?

There are 11 offensive players and 11 defensive players on the field at one time in football.

These 22 players are the maximum number of players on the football field.

Each of the 11 players has a specific role and responsibility to succeed in their defense or offense.

If you want to learn more about football, we’ve completed the complete guide to learning American football here.

About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.