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Every year, we witness new and exciting football players make a name for themselves in the National Football League (NFL). To most fans, it might seem like there are an unlimited amount of football players in the league, but this number is much smaller than most people think. Football teams are only allowed to play a specific number of players each game.
So, how many players are on a football team?
Football teams in the NFL are allowed a maximum of 53 players on their roster at any given point in time, but can only dress 47 of the players on game day. They’re also allowed 12 players on their practice squad, but there are specific rules in play when promoting these players to the active roster.
Of course, these rules only apply in the NFL and are subject to change each year as the league executes new deals with players in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). For a more detailed explanation of NFL rosters, as well as college and high school rosters, continue reading.
How Many Players Are on the Field in Football?
Although most NFL teams have 53 players on their active roster each week, that doesn’t mean all 53 players see playing time. Most of these players are only on the field for a few plays each game — if any. With that said, it’s 100% up to the coach to determine who plays and when.
Before the ball is snapped, each team must have a maximum of 11 players on the field at any given time. This means there are never more than 22 players total on the field at once.
While you aren’t penalized for having less than 11 players on the field, a team is penalized for having more than 11 players on the field. When called on the offense, the play is called dead and a five-yard penalty is enforced. When called on the defense, the play continues and the penalty is enforced after the play ends.
On offense, the 11 players generally consist of one quarterback, five offensive linemen, a running back, a fullback, two wide receivers, and one tight end. This can change throughout the game. For example, some teams may elect to have more running backs, tight ends, wide receivers, or linemen to confuse the defense.
NFL Active Roster Rules
The active roster in the NFL is the 53-man roster a coach uses when designating their game-day roster. Any player on this active roster is available to suit up, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that player will suit up. Of those 53 players, only 47 are allowed to suit up.
A typical 53-man active roster generally consists of two quarterbacks, four running backs, six wide receivers, three tight ends, nine offensive linemen, nine defensive linemen, seven linebackers, 10 defensive backs, one punter, one kicker, and one long-snapper.
As we mentioned above, teams are allowed to dress 48 of those players, so long as eight of those players are offensive linemen. That is why most teams are starting to dress 48 players instead of 47 players, that way they can take advantage of having an extra offensive lineman on the sideline.
Any player that suits up is a player you’ll likely see on the field at some point during the game. Coaches aren’t forced to use every player that suits up, but those that don’t see regular action come in handy when injuries occur or during special teams plays.
With the 2020 NFL CBA in place, NFL teams could potentially have 55 players on their active roster by elevating two players from their practice squad. These players are available to suit up on game day, but must be sent back down to the practice squad within one business day of the game ending. They’re also not subject to clearing waivers before being sent back down.
While the maximum number of players allowed on an active roster is 53 (or 55 if taking advantage of the new practice squad rules), the NFL has also placed a minimum of 44 active roster players at any given time. Most teams won’t willingly have that few players, but some circumstances do call for it.
What Is the Practice Squad in the NFL?
The practice squad in the NFL is a group of players that are under contract and practice with a specific NFL team. Every team has one and each group consists of 12 players. These players are generally not good enough to make the active roster but are worth keeping to develop for future use.
It should be noted that this practice squad used to consist of eight players, but eventually was raised to 10 players and most recently 12 players under the current CBA. There was even another recent change to 16 players, but this was only for the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are specific rules that apply when designating players to the practice squad. Let’s first take a look at some of the requirements that make a player eligible to be named to the practice squad (they must meet at least one):
Does the 53 Man Roster Include the Practice Squad?
An NFL team’s 53-man active roster consists of players that are available to suit up for a game. This roster doesn’t consist of any practice squad player, especially since practice squad players are not eligible to play with the team — they can only practice with the team each week.
With that said, a practice squad player can make their way to the 53-man active roster if — and only if — the team has space for them on that roster. If so, the player’s practice squad contract comes to an end and they must sign a new NFL contract with that team.
Once signed from the practice squad, the NFL team must pay them a minimum of three week’s pay according to their new contract, whether or not they play three weeks with the team. If that player is no longer needed on the active roster, the team must release them or place them on waivers.
How Many Players Are on A High School Football Team?
When building a high school football team, coaches are given a lot more leeway as far as how many players they roster at one time. There are absolutely no restrictions to the roster size, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) — which is used by 48 states in the United States.
With that said, there is a rule that restricts a high school football team from having two players on the field at once with the same number on their jersey. Since players can only have 0-99 on their jersey, coaches would need to be careful when substituting if they have more than 100 players on their roster (some players would be forced to have duplicate numbers).
How Many Players Are on a Youth Football Team?
Youth football is very similar to high school football in terms of roster size. There are no real limitations or restrictions when building your team, but there are common occurrences that most coaches follow. At the end of the day, it’s 100% up to the coach to determine who makes the team.
A lot of this comes down to how many players decide to sign up for tryouts. Some coaches decide to roster up to 50 players, but other coaches say that high of a roster creates a world of headaches. With that said, most coaches have anywhere from 25-35 youth football players on their team.
While having too many youth football players can create headaches, so can having too little. In some cases, youth football teams are forced to shut down due to not having enough players to roster — or simply having too small of a team. This makes for some tough decisions by the coach.
What Is a Two Way Player in Football?
Growing up, many football players are extremely skilled at multiple positions. That’s why you’ll often find youth and high school football players that play both offense and defense. It not only gives them more playing time, but it increases their IQ by seeing the field from two different angles.
For example, a quarterback on offense in high school might also play safety on defense. Since safeties are often trying to read the opposing quarterback, safeties have a unique perspective in that they play quarterback. They can read the opposing quarterback much easier than anyone else.
A two-way football player is much more common in youth and high school football — compared to the NFL and college football. You won’t find any two-way football players in today’s NFL because most players are focused on one position and one position only. It also increases the player’s chances of being injured in a game, which no coach wants.
What Is the PUP List?
Once training camp and preseason starts in the NFL, one of the most common and confusing terms that get thrown around is the NFL “PUP list”. It’s a list no NFL player wants to be on, but it is much better than being placed on the Injured Reserve List, which we’ll dive into a little bit below.
There are two different PUP lists you must know — the Active/PUP and the Reserve/PUP lists. The main difference between the two is that the Active/PUP list is utilized during the preseason and the Reserve/PUP list is utilized during the regular season.
PUP stands for Physically Unable to Perform and it is used for football-related injuries. These players are allowed to meet with the team and work out with the team, but they can’t practice or play with the team.