This is where things can get a bit hairy, but stick with me and you'll come out the other side knowing a lot more about each of the positions and how to play the game.
Below you will find an illustration of the positions in one of the most common offensive and defensive formations. However, what makes the game so exciting is that teams will strategically design new plays that take advantage of their particular strengths and exploit their opponents' weaknesses.
Quarterback (QB): This player calls the play that the team will run, in the huddle. Then at the beginning of the play, the QB receives the ball from the Center ("the snap") and will either hand off the ball to a running back, throw it to a receiver, or run with it. This is one of the most strategic and challenging positions in football, because the QB has to call the appropriate plays to exploit the defense's weaknesses. Famous QBs include Tom Brady (New England Patriots), Peyton Manning (formerly Denver Broncos), Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers), and the dreamy Matty Saracen (Dillon Panthers, duh, check out Friday Night Lights).
Running Back (RB): Also called tailbacks or halfbacks. These players line up close to the QB to quickly receive the ball and run with it on running plays. Famous RBs include Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings) and Le'Veon Bell (Pittsburgh Steelers).
Fullback (FB): Similar to a RB, this player also lines up close to the QB and may run with the ball for short distances, but FBs are usually a bit larger than RBs and are used mostly for blocking. Famous FBs include Anthony Sherman (Kansas City Chiefs), Henry Hynoski (New York Giants), and Bruce Miller (San Francisco 49ers),
Tight End (TE): A player who lines up next to the Offensive Line and serves as either a receiver or a blocker. These guys are a unique combination of being huge and fast. Famous TEs include Rob Gronkowski ("Gronk," New England Patriots), Jimmy Graham (Seattle Seahawks), and Greg Olsen (Carolina Panthers).
Wide Receiver (WR): A player who lines up on the far ends of the line of scrimmage (hence "wide" receiver) and will run longer routes to try to escape the defense and catch the ball farther up the field. These are some of the fastest players on the field. Famous WRs include Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers), Demaryius Thomas (Denver Broncos), and Julio Jones (Atlanta Falcons).
The Offensive Line
Center (C): The player who snaps the ball to the quarterback. He is responsible for blocking and typically is the leader of the offensive linemen. Famous Cs include Maurkice Pouncey (Pittsburgh Steelers), Travis Frederick (Dallas Cowboys), and Nick Mangold (New York Jets).
Left Guard and Right Guard (LG / RG): Members of the offensive line who line up right next to the Center, they block for and protect the quarterback and ball carriers. Famous Guards include Zack Martin (Dallas Cowboys), Marshal Yanda (Baltimore Ravens), and Josh Sitton (Green Bay Packers).
Left Tackle and Right Tackle (LT / RT): The outer two members of the offensive line, who also block and protect the quarterback and ball carriers. For right-handed QBs, LTs are often more important than RTs because they will block the QB's blind side (aka the side where they have less visibility while throwing from the pocket). Famous Left Tackles include Joe Thomas (Cleveland Browns), Andrew Whitworth (Cincinnati Bengals), and Jason Peters (Philadelphia Eagles).
The Defensive Line
Defensive Tackle (DT): The inner two members of the defensive line, who stop the offense's running plays and try to break through gaps in the offensive line to tackle the QB. Famous DTs include Ndamukong Suh (Miami Dolphins), Aaron Donald (St. Louis Rams), Marcell Dareus (Buffalo Bills).
Defensive End (DE): The outer two members of the defensive line. They try to slip around the offensive line to tackle the QB or ball carrier. Famous DEs include J.J. Watt (Houston Texans), Calais Campbell (Arizona Cardinals), Sheldon Richardson (New York Jets).
Linebacker (LB): These 3 or 4 players line up behind the defensive linemen and call the defensive plays. They are usually some of the team's best tacklers, because they have to be ready to defend against the run and the pass. Famous LBs include Terrell Suggs (Baltimore Ravens), Justin Houston (Kansas City Chiefs), and Connor Barwin (Philadelphia Eagles).
Safety (S): The players are part of the secondary--in other words, the second line of defense after the defensive line and linebackers. They line up outside the defensive line and linebackers and they try to respond to adjustments in offensive plays. There are usually two safeties: a strong safety and a free safety.
Strong Safety: is exactly as it sounds, usually a bit bigger and stronger used to fill last minute holes in blocking on the quarterback's strong side. He usually lines up across from the tight end. Famous SSs include Kam Chancellor (Seattle Seahawks).
Free Safety: this player is usually a bit smaller and faster than the strong safety, and he will line up farther back from the line of scrimmage so that he can survey the field and quickly run to respond to pass plays. Famous FSs include Earl Thomas (Seattle Seahawks) and Tashaun Gipson (Cleveland Browns).
Cornerback (CB): These players are also part of the secondary and line up on the wide parts of the field, generally opposite the offensive wide receivers. They try to block and intercept long passes. They are some of the fastest and best athletes on the field because they have to respond to and out-pace the wide receivers' routes. Famous CBs include Richard Sherman (Seattle Seahawks), Darrelle Revis (New York Jets), Josh Norman (Washington Redskins), and Chris Harris, Jr. (Denver Broncos).
Special Teams (players specializing in kicking plays)
- The Kickoff
- Kicker (K): At the beginning of each half of the game, this player kicks the ball off a tee down the field towards the team that will begin on offense. He tries to kick the ball as far down the field as possible, so that the opposing team will have to advance the the ball for a longer distance in order to score. The K's 10 teammates will work on defense to try to stop the kick returner from advancing up the field.
- Kick Returner (KR): This player tries to catch the ball at the kick-off. He will decide whether to signal for a touchback (see "Flow of the Game" above) or run with the ball to try and advance it up the field. The KR's 10 teammates will work to try and block for him to enable him to run up the field.
- Field Goals
- Kicker (K): Usually the same player as the kicker above, he will try to kick the ball from where it was last stopped on 4th down, through the upright goal posts to score 3 points for the team on offense. Meanwhile, the 11 defensive players will be working hard to try to block the kick or defend against a fake field goal.
- Holder (H): This player catches the ball from the Long Snapper and will hold it in place for the Kicker.
- Long Snapper (LS): This player begins the play, by snapping (or throwing) the the ball back to the Holder.
- Punter (P): This player will dropkick the ball from where it was last stopped on 4th down, towards the opposing team. Similar to a kickoff, he tries to kick the ball as far down the field as possible, so that the opposing team will have to advance the the ball for a longer distance in order to score. The P's 10 teammates will work on defense to try to stop the kick returner from advancing up the field.
- Punt Returner (PR): This player tries to catch the punted ball. He will decide whether to signal for a fair catch or touchback (see "Flow of the Game" above), or run with the ball to try and advance it up the field. The PR's 10 teammates will work to try and block for him to enable him to run up the field.