How Do NFL Depth Charts Work?
NFL depth charts are charts that show a team's roster by how players are used. They show who the starting players are at each position for a particular team, while also showing who the backups are and in what order. They allow for easy access to a team's rankings in every position from whether a player is a starter, backup, second string, etc. The NFL states that depth charts “must include 11 offensive positions and 11 defensive positions a team considers to be in its base units, and it must list expected starts and backups at each of those positions.”
What Are the Different Positions on an NFL Roster?
The quarterback is the controller of an NFL offense. Every play runs through the player who is often the headline act for an NFL team. The quarterback is the signal-caller who the ball is snapped to on every play who then throws the ball, runs with it, or hands it off to a positional player. Famous players include Tom Brady, Dan Marino, and Patrick Mahomes.
Running backs are players who specialize in running the football and often line up in the backfield beside a quarterback. In the modern NFL, running backs have to have wider skills than simply running the football with players now also being asked to be a pass catcher and pass protector. You may also see them be called halfbacks. Famous players include Derrick Henry, Jim Brown, and Barry Sanders .
Fullback is a position that isn’t regarded with as much importance in the modern NFL. Fullbacks are blockers for running backs, creating gaps and space for a running back to have success in.
Wide receivers are a team's primary pass catchers, whose job it is to catch passes from the quarterback. Wide receivers either line up on the outside or in the slot position and they run routes to create separation and catch balls. Famous players include Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, and Justin Jefferson.
Tight ends are seen as all-around players who are expected to block and catch passes. They have the ability to be a receiver or blocker and often line up next to the offensive line. Tight ends are usually bigger and stronger than traditional NFL wide receivers and have the ability to be difference-makers on a team's offense. Famous players include Travis Kelce, Rob Gronkowski, and Tony Gonzalez.
The offensive tackles play on the offensive line as blockers and are the two players on the edges. You have both a left tackle and a right tackle, and they help stop a quarterback from being sacked by defensive players and block for runners from the backfield. Famous offensive tackles include Trent Williams, Andrew Whitworth, and Joe Thomas.
Guards are interior offensive linemen who line up between the offensive tackle and center. You have a right guard and a left guard, and their jobs are to protect a quarterback when throwing the football but also to create gaps and running lanes for running backs. Famous guards include Marshal Yanda, Zack Martin, and Will Shields.
The center plays in the middle of the offensive line to start every play. They snap the ball to the quarterback while protecting the pocket the QB is working in. Centers are widely expected to call out adjustments that will help the quarterback in analyzing the opponent’s defensive scheme. Famous centers include Jason Kelce, Travis Frederick, and Mike Webster.
A defensive tackle lines up in the interior of the defensive line often over the offensive guard or center. Their job is to stop running backs getting through the line and to disrupt the passer. Famous players include Aaron Donald, Bob Lilly, and Warren Sapp.
Defensive ends play on the edge of the defensive line. They can sometimes be called edge rushers, which is a combination of a defensive tackle and linebacker and depends on strategy. The primary objective of the defensive end is to get after the quarterback on passing plays, causing sacks. They are also responsible for stopping running backs getting past them. Famous defensive ends include J.J. Watt, Reggie White, and Nick Bosa.
There are many variations of linebackers. They operate in the second level of a defense, filling the space between the defensive line and defensive backs. The roles of linebackers drastically change depending on the types and what the offense is doing. Depending on scheme and coverage, they can be tasked with stopping running backs, rushing the passer, and covering pass catchers. Famous players include Bobby Wagner, Ray Lewis, and Dick Butkus.
Cornerbacks are defensive backs primarily tasked with preventing passes from being completed. They often lineup covering receivers and attempt to break up passes or intercept them to halt an offense's momentum. Famous cornerbacks include Jalen Ramsey, Charles Woodson, and Deion Sanders.
A safety is a defensive back and is often the last line of defense who protects against the passing and running game. You find safeties usually come under two brackets; free safety and strong safety. Typically, free safeties are used more in covering passes and covering tight ends. A strong safety traditionally is more of a run defender, who is stronger than a free safety and protects against the run. Famous safeties include Troy Polamalu, Tyrann Mathieu, and Jamal Adams.
There are also specialist players on an NFL roster who are on special teams. Special teams center around the kicking game and consist of kickers, punters, long snappers, holders, kick returners, and punt returners. A team also allocates gunners who are responsible for getting downfield as quickly as possible following a punt.
How Often Do Depth Charts Change?
Depth charts can change weekly throughout the NFL season. The NFL insists that teams release their first depth chart before the first week of preseason. Then, they must be updated weekly through to the end of the NFL season.
The NFL says that teams must produce a “credible” weekly depth chart. The NFL also states that “listing players at each position on the depth chart in alphabetical order is prohibited,” just in case some NFL teams decide to be sneaky.
How Many Players Are on a NFL Team?
An NFL roster is made up of 53 players split across offense, defense, and special teams.
Of the 53-man roster, 48 are allowed to dress for game day, and only 11 can be on the field at any one time.
On any play, an NFL team must have 11 players on the field no matter if they’re on offense, defense, or special teams. A team can make any number of substitutions throughout a game as long as the ball is not in play.
On offense, a team must include five offensive linemen, while the other six positions are made up of a quarterback and then a mixture of receivers, running backs, and tight ends, depending on play-calling.
During the preseason, a team can have up to 90 players on their roster before they have to cut them down prior to the start of the regular season, usually a week before the NFL season.
What Is the Practice Squad?
A practice squad is a collection of players who are contracted by the team but are not a part of the 53-man roster. The practice squad is generally used by young players to aid their development.
Practice squad members are not allowed to participate in games or travel with the team, but they are allowed to practice with the team throughout the week. They often help prepare the active core roster for game day by replicating what teams are expecting to see from the opponent on any given week during practice sessions.
Players on the practice squad can be signed or upgraded to the active roster at any time during the NFL season, providing there is room.
Players can also be signed to another team's roster at any time without having to provide compensation in return, should a team call them up. Teams can protect themselves against this by allocating four players every week who cannot be signed from their practice roster to another NFL team.
How Many Players on the Practice Squad?
Each team is allowed 16 practice squad players.
Of the 16 practice squad members, only six are allowed no restrictions on their NFL experience. Meanwhile, the other 10 have to have had less than two years of NFL experience.
Players on practice squads generally earn much less than players on active rosters. The NFL minimum for practice squad members in 2023 is $12,000, which will steadily increase through 2030.