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A running back (RB) is a member of the
offensive backfieldThe offensive backfield is the area of an American football field behind the line of scrimmage. The offensive backfield can also refer to members of American football positions#Offense, offense who begin Play from scrimmage, plays behind the line, ty ...
in
gridiron football Gridiron football,"Gridiron football"
''Encyclopædia Britannica''. Retrie ...
. The primary roles of a running back are to receive handoffs from the
quarterback The quarterback (commonly abbreviated "QB"), colloquially known as the "signal caller", is a position in . Quarterbacks are members of the offensive and mostly line up directly behind the . In , the quarterback is usually considered the leader ...

quarterback
to
rush Rush(es) may refer to: Places United States * Rush, Colorado * Rush, Kentucky * Rush, New York * Rush City, Minnesota * Rush Creek (Kishwaukee River tributary), Illinois * Rush Creek (Marin County, California), a stream * Rush Creek (Mono County, ...
the ball, to line up as a receiver to catch the ball, and
block Block or blocked may refer to: Arts, entertainment and media Broadcasting * Block programming, the result of a programming strategy in broadcasting * W242BX, a radio station licensed to Greenville, South Carolina, United States known as ''96.3 t ...
. There are usually one or two running backs on the field for a given play, depending on the offensive formation. A running back may be a halfback (in certain contexts also referred to as a "tailback" ⁠ ⁠—  see
below Below may refer to: *Earth *Ground (disambiguation) *Soil *Floor *Bottom (disambiguation) *Less than *Temperatures below freezing *Hell or underworld People with the surname *Fred Below (1926–1988), American blues drummer *Fritz von Below (1853 ...
), a wingback or a fullback. A running back will sometimes be called a "feature back" if he is the team's starting running back.


Halfback/tailback

The halfback (HB) or tailback (TB) position is responsible for carrying the ball on the majority of running plays, and may frequently be used as a receiver on short (or sometimes long, depending on the system) passing plays. In the modern game, an effective halfback must have a blend of both quickness and
agility Agility or nimbleness is an ability to change the body's position efficiently, and requires the integration of isolated movement skills using a combination of balance Balance may refer to: Common meanings * Balance (ability) in biomechanics * ...

agility
as a runner, as well as sure hands and good vision up-field as a receiver. Quarterbacks depend on halfbacks as a safety valve or checkdown receiver when primary targets downfield are covered or when they are under pressure. Occasionally, halfbacks line up as additional
wide receiver A wide receiver (WR), also referred to as a wideout, historically a split end, is an eligible receiver in gridiron football. A key skill position of the offense (American football), offense, WR gets its name from the player being split out "wi ...

wide receiver
s. When not serving either of these functions, the primary responsibility of a halfback is to aid the offensive linemen in blocking, either to protect the
quarterback The quarterback (commonly abbreviated "QB"), colloquially known as the "signal caller", is a position in . Quarterbacks are members of the offensive and mostly line up directly behind the . In , the quarterback is usually considered the leader ...

quarterback
or another player carrying the football. If a team uses a
Wildcat formation Wildcat formation describes a formation for the offense in football in which the ball is snapped not to the quarterback but directly to a player of another position lined up at the quarterback position. (In most systems, this is a running back, b ...
, often the halfback is the one who receives the snap directly instead of the quarterback. As a trick play, running backs are occasionally used to pass the ball on a
halfback option playThe halfback option play is an unorthodox play Play most commonly refers to: * Play (activity), an activity done for enjoyment * Play (theatre), a work of drama Play may refer also to: Computers and technology * Google Play, a digital content serv ...
or halfback pass. The difference between halfback and tailback is the position of the player in the team's offensive formation. In historical formations, the halfback lined up approximately halfway between the line of scrimmage and the fullback (similarly, quarterbacks lined up a quarter of the distance between the line of scrimmage and the fullback). Because the halfback is usually the team's main ball carrier (while the fullback is primarily a blocker), modern offensive formations have positioned the halfback behind the fullback (at the "tail end" of the formation), to take advantage of the fullback's blocking abilities. As a result, some systems or playbooks will call for a tailback as opposed to a halfback. In Canadian football, the term tailback is often used interchangeably with running back, while the use of the term halfback is often exclusively reserved for the
defensive halfback The halfback in Canadian football, and most commonly the Canadian Football League, currently refers to the defensive back rather than the running back, as in American football. The defensive halfback lines up inside covering the slotback. They are ...
, which refers to the defensive back halfway between the linebackers and the cornerbacks.


Fullback

In most modern college and professional football schemes, fullbacks (FB) carry the ball infrequently, instead using their stronger physiques as primary "lead blockers." On most running plays, the fullback leads the halfback, attempting to block potential tacklers before they reach the ball carrier. When fullbacks are called upon to carry the ball, the situation typically calls for gaining a short amount of yardage, such as scoring from the goal line, as the fullback can use his bulkiness to avoid being tackled early. While fullbacks do act as an
eligible receiver In gridiron football, not all players on offense are entitled to receive a forward pass. Only an eligible pass receiver may legally catch a forward pass, and only an eligible receiver may advance beyond the neutral zone if a forward pass crosses ...
, most plays call for the fullback to remain in the backfield and block any defensive players that make it past the offensive line, a skill referred to as "blitz pickup". Fullbacks are technically running backs, but today the term "running back" is usually used in referring to the halfback or tailback. Although modern fullbacks are rarely used as ball carriers, in previous offensive schemes fullbacks would be the designated ball carriers. In high school football, where player sizes vary greatly, fullbacks are still frequently used as ball carriers. In high school and college offenses, the
triple option The triple option is an American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport A team sport includes any sport Sport pertains to any for ...
scheme uses the fullback as a primary ball carrier. The fullback plays a unique role by establishing an inside running threat on every play. College teams such as
Georgia Tech * The Georgia Institute of Technology, commonly referred to as Georgia Tech or, in the state of Georgia, as Tech, is a public In public relations Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing and disseminating information from a ...
and Air Force have employed the triple option scheme. While in years past the fullback lined up on the field for almost every offensive play, teams often opt to replace the fullback with an additional
wide receiver A wide receiver (WR), also referred to as a wideout, historically a split end, is an eligible receiver in gridiron football. A key skill position of the offense (American football), offense, WR gets its name from the player being split out "wi ...

wide receiver
or a
tight end The tight end (TE) is a position in American football, arena football, and Canadian football, on the offense (sports), offense. The tight end is often a hybrid position with the characteristics and roles of both an offensive lineman and a wide re ...
in modern football. Fullbacks in the
National Football League The National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport A team sport includes any s ...
today rarely carry or catch the ball since they are used almost exclusively as blockers. Fullbacks are also still used occasionally as rushers on plays when a short gain is needed for a first-down or touchdown or to surprise the defense since they are usually not expecting a full back to run or catch the ball.
Pro Football Hall of Fame The Pro Football Hall of Fame is the hall of fame for professional football (gridiron), professional American football, located in Canton, Ohio. Opened in , the Hall of Fame enshrines exceptional figures in the sport of professional football, in ...
members
Jim Brown Jim or JIM may refer to: * Jim, a diminutive form of the given name James * Jim, a short form of the given name Jimmy * OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism * ''Jim'' (comics), a series by Jim Woodring * ''Jim'' (album), by soul artist Jamie ...

Jim Brown
,
Marion Motley Marion Motley (June 5, 1920 – June 27, 1999) was an American professional football Football is a family of team sport A team is a fullback and linebacker for the Cleveland Browns in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) and Na ...
,
Franco Harris Franco Harris (born March 7, 1950) is an American former professional American football, football player who was a Fullback (gridiron football), fullback in the National Football League (NFL) for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks. Aft ...
,
John Riggins Robert John Riggins (born August 4, 1949), nicknamed "the Diesel" and "Riggo", is an American former professional American football, football player who was a Fullback (gridiron football), fullback in the National Football League (NFL) for the N ...

John Riggins
, and
Larry Csonka Larry Richard Csonka (; born December 25, 1946) is a former professional American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport played by two teams ...
were fullbacks.


Characteristics of a running back


Height and weight

There is a diversity in those who play at the running back position. At one extreme are smaller (5'4"–5'10"), shiftier players. These quick, agile, and elusive running backs are often called "scat backs" because their low center of gravity and maneuverability allow them to dodge tacklers. Running backs known for their elusiveness include
Red Grange Harold Edward "Red" Grange (June 13, 1903 – January 28, 1991), nicknamed "The Galloping Ghost" and "The Wheaton Iceman", was an American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also ...
,
Hugh McElhenny Hugh Edward McElhenny Jr. (born December 31, 1928) is a former professional American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport played by two te ...
,
Gale Sayers Gale Eugene Sayers (May 30, 1943September 23, 2020) was an American professional football Football is a family of team sport A team is a halfback and return specialist in the National Football League (NFL). In a relatively brief but ...

Gale Sayers
, and
Barry Sanders Barry Sanders (born July 16, 1968) is an American former professional football Football is a family of team sport A team is a [group (disambiguation), group of individuals (human or non-human) working together to achieve their goal. ...

Barry Sanders
. At the other extreme are "power backs:" bigger, stronger players who can break through tackles using brute strength and raw power. They are usually slower runners compared to other backs, and typically run straight ahead (or "North-and-South" in football terminology) rather than dodging to the outside edges of the playing field. Hall of Famers Earl Campbell, Bronko Nagurski,
John Riggins Robert John Riggins (born August 4, 1949), nicknamed "the Diesel" and "Riggo", is an American former professional American football, football player who was a Fullback (gridiron football), fullback in the National Football League (NFL) for the N ...

John Riggins
, and
Larry Csonka Larry Richard Csonka (; born December 25, 1946) is a former professional American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport played by two teams ...
, as well as NFL all-time leading rusher
Emmitt Smith Emmitt James Smith III (born May 15, 1969) is a former American football running back who played in the National Football League (NFL) for 15 seasons, primarily with the Dallas Cowboys. Among other accolades, he is the List of National Football ...

Emmitt Smith
, were considered power running backs.
Derrick Henry Derrick Lamar Henry Jr. (born January 4, 1994) is an American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport played by two teams of eleven players on ...

Derrick Henry
,
Mark Ingram Mark Valentino Ingram II (born December 21, 1989) is an American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport played by two teams of eleven player ...

Mark Ingram
,
Carlos Hyde Carlos Dawon Hyde (born September 20, 1990) is an American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport A team sport includes any sport ...

Carlos Hyde
,
Nick Chubb Nicholas Jamaal Chubb (born December 27, 1995) is an American football running back for the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at Georgia Bulldogs football, Georgia and was drafted by the Browns in ...

Nick Chubb
,
Kareem Hunt Kareem AJ Hunt (born August 6, 1995) is an American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport played by two teams of eleven players on a recta ...

Kareem Hunt
, and
Leonard Fournette Leonard Joseph Fournette III (born January 18, 1995) is an American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport played by two teams of eleven playe ...

Leonard Fournette
are all examples of current NFL power runningbacks. More recently the NFL has turned to running backs who combine those traits such as Atlanta Falcons' Todd Gurley, Dallas Cowboys'
Ezekiel Elliott Ezekiel Elijah Elliott (born July 22, 1995) is an American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport played by two teams of eleven players on a r ...

Ezekiel Elliott
, Minnesota Vikings’ Dalvin Cook, and New York Giants'
Saquon Barkley Saquon Barkley ( ; born February 9, 1997) is an American football running back for the New York Giants of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at Penn State Nittany Lions football, Penn State for three seasons. He total ...

Saquon Barkley
. These backs combine elusiveness with power and patience as well as receiving ability and blocking to become an all around, three-down backs.


Receiving ability

Over the years, NFL running backs have been used as receivers out of the backfield. On passing plays, a running back will often run a "safe route," such as a hook or a flat route, that gives a quarterback a target when all other receivers are covered or when the quarterback feels pressured. Hall of Famer
Lenny Moore Leonard Edward Moore (born November 25, 1933) is an American former professional football player who was a halfback in the National Football League (NFL) for the Baltimore Colts from 1956 to 1967. He played college football College foo ...
was a halfback who played primarily as a pass receiver.
Christian McCaffrey Christian Jackson McCaffrey (born June 7, 1996) is an American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport played by two teams of eleven players on ...

Christian McCaffrey
, a running back for the Carolina Panthers is one of few players to have 1000 yards rushing and 1000 yards receiving in the same season in 2019. Some teams have a specialist "third down back", who is skilled at catching passes or better at pass blocking and "picking up the blitz," and thus is often put in the game on third down and long. It can also be used to fool the defense by making them think it is being put into the game for a pass play, when the play is actually a run.
James White
James White
of the
New England Patriots The New England Patriots are a professional American football team based in the Greater Boston area. They compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the league's American Football Conference (AFC) AFC East, East division ...
is used as a third-down back, or as an extra
wide receiver A wide receiver (WR), also referred to as a wideout, historically a split end, is an eligible receiver in gridiron football. A key skill position of the offense (American football), offense, WR gets its name from the player being split out "wi ...

wide receiver
. His receiving statistics exceed his rushing statistics, with 3,184 yards and 25 receiving touchdowns on 369 receptions, compared to 1,240 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns on 309 carries.


Blocking

Running backs are also required to help the offensive line in passing situations, and, in the case of the fullback, running plays. Running backs will often block blitzing linebackers or safeties on passing plays when the offensive line is occupied with the defensive linemen. On running plays, the fullback will often attempt to create a hole in the offensive line for the running back to run through. Effective blocking backs are usually key components for a running back's success. On passing plays, a running back will stay back to help block and pick up the blitz


Goal line backs

Many teams also have a running back designated as a "goal line back" or "short yardage specialist". This running back comes into the game in short yardage situations when the offense needs only a little bit of yardage to get a first down or a touchdown. Normally when an offense gets inside the 5-yard line it sends in its goal line formation, which usually includes eight blockers, a quarterback, a running back, and a fullback. The closer it is to the goal line the more likely it is to use this formation. If a certain running back is used often near the goal line he may be called the "goal line back." Short yardage and goal line backs often are power backs who are not prone to fumbling, who muscle through or push a large mass of defenders to get the first down or touchdown.


As kick and punt returners

Running backs are sometimes called upon to return
punt Punt or punting may refer to: Boats *Punt (boat), a flat-bottomed boat with a square-cut bow developed on the River Thames *Falmouth Quay Punt, a small sailing vessel hired by ships anchored in Falmouth harbour *Norfolk Punt, a type of racing ding ...
s and kickoffs, a role usually filled by
wide receiver A wide receiver (WR), also referred to as a wideout, historically a split end, is an eligible receiver in gridiron football. A key skill position of the offense (American football), offense, WR gets its name from the player being split out "wi ...

wide receiver
s and
defensive back In gridiron football Gridiron football,"Gridiron football"
''Encyclopæ ...
s, such as cornerbacks, who are generally among the fastest players on the team. A running back, Brian Mitchell, currently holds the NFL records for career kickoff return yards (14,014 yards) and career punt return yards (4,999 yards).


References


External links


Football 101: Basic Football positions
{{Authority control American football positions