What Is a DB In Football? Defensive Backs Explained

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: February 12, 2024

American football has 11 positions on the field. These positions are often labeled in position groups, as coaches can talk about a set of players rather than one player. This is the same on offense and defense. But what is a db in football and why are they important?

The DB in football is the defensive back. They are responsible for covering wide receivers and stopping the pass.

This article will explain what a DB in American Football is and why their positions are important.

DB In Football

A DB in American Football is short for a defensive back. These players are often the fastest players on the defensive side of the ball, as they are tasked with covering wide receivers.

They are called defensive backs because they are often the last line of defense, the back of the defense.

Positions are often grouped in American football, as it’s easier to control a chunk of players than individual positions.

For instance, it’s easier to say the D-Line instead of every defensive line position. Instead of naming every linebacker type, it’s easier to say “the linebackers.”

This is the same for the DBs, as they are often the 4 (or 3) players included in the defensive backfield. Let’s learn all the players that are considered defensive backs.

Defensive Backs

The defensive back grouping is split into 2 groups, the safeties, and cornerbacks. There are different types of safeties and corners that are broken into subcategories.

First, let’s start with the cornerbacks.


A cornerback is responsible for covering wide receivers. The cornerback is often the widest player on the field, covering the widest receiver on the field.

These players are often tall and long players or short and fast players. Playing cornerback takes a tremendous amount of athleticism, as the player needs to work both forward and backward.

NFL players such as Stephon Gilmore and Darrelle Revis are masters at their craft. These players shut down some of the top wide receivers in the league.

Playing cornerback requires extreme patience and ball skills to track it through the air. Zone coverage, as well as man coverage, are two skill sets that the defensive back needs to have. They are typically taller, bigger players who can read the quarterback and break up passes.

Strong Safety

The strong safety position is also part of the DB groupings. Strong safety is found within most defenses, although coaches may choose not to use a strong safety.

Strong safeties are often too small to be linebackers but can still hit and track the football like a defensive back. These players are responsible for covering the pass and playing the run.

They call them strong safeties because the player must play the run and play the pass. These players often line up on the strong side of the formation.

The strong side of the formation includes either the running strength (where there are more tight ends and fullbacks) or passing strength (where there are more eligible receivers).

It requires toughness and athleticism to play this defensive back position.

Free Safety

Free safety is a defensive back position found in every defense.

They call it safety because it’s the last line of defense. These players ensure the offense doesn’t score if an explosive play happens.

An explosive play is often a run or a pass play that results in 15 or more yards. If an offense can gain 15 or more yards on a run or pass play, it will be a long day for the defense.

If the defensive line or the linebackers miss a tackle, it’s up to the safety to make a tackle. Often, if the safety misses a tackle, the offense scores a touchdown.

The safety position is one of the most critical defensive backs on the field, as they are the safety valves of the defense.

If you’re interested in learning more about positions in American Football, read here.

Is a DB The Same As a CB?

A cornerback is a defensive back. A defensive back is a name for the grouping of defensive players. These defensive players include cornerbacks and safeties. There are often 3 or 4 defensive backs on the field at all times.

Defensive backs are often the fastest players on the field, as they need to cover the wide receivers on offense.

Football has transitioned more to a speed game rather than a power game. The speed on the offensive side of the ball needs to be matched by the speed on the defensive side of the ball.

This is why DBs are important to defense and play an essential role in shutting down the offense.

Keep Learning

Defensive backs in football are responsible for covering the wide receiver to their side. They will line up 1-5 yards from the line of scrimmage.

Each team will have two cornerbacks who are often the best athletes on the team. The DB attempts to shut down the other team’s wide receivers.

The safety must have the most football knowledge on the team, as they need to be able to see routes develop and tackle the ball carrier in space. Great defensive backs all have high football IQ and cover defenders easily.

Some of the best defensive backs to play the game include Deion Sanders (CB), Ed Reed (Safety), Charles Woodson (CB), and Ronnie Lott (Safety).

If you liked learning about defensive backs, we recommend checking out our Defensive Back University. It will help you greatly increase your football IQ.

Below are more articles to help you learn about defensive backs.

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What Does A Safety Do In Football? Learn Here

Defensive backs are tall and longer players or shorter and faster players. This all depends on the coach’s preference and what type of player he wants to play in that defensive back position.

DBs have one of the hardest positions on the field physically but one of the easiest mentally. The defensive back position is often the least physical position, as players are rarely tackling and involved in physical plays.

Defensive backs require more athleticism and ball skills to catch or knock away the football when thrown.

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.