Football slang has some pretty strange terms. Many of the terms have meanings outside of football, such as bye, scramble, and shotgun. But within the game – especially to coaches, players, and serious fans – the football slang terms take on meaning. Here is our collection of some of the more interesting football jargon.
Common Football Slang Terms
Here are some terms that most football fans will know. But, if you’re new to the game, they may be unfamiliar.
A route where a receiver runs a specific distance before quickly turning and looking for the ball. This route attempts to show the defensive back that the receiver is running a deep route, but instead, the receiver is running a short or mid-range route.
A week off in the regular season. In the NFL, each team gets one week off during the regular season, and the top seeds get another bye for the first round of the playoffs. Instead of showing a game, the schedule shows up as a “bye.”
People on the sideline assist with moving the chains on the first down marker. They mark where a team begins a series and how far they need to go to get a first down. This is where the term “move the chains” comes from.
The Chain Gang YouTube Video
At the initial coin toss to see who receives the ball first, a team that wins the call of heads or tails can elect to “defer” the decision to the second half. That leaves the team who lost the coin toss to decide whether they want to choose to receive the ball first or pick the side of the field they prefer. Most always, when a team defers, it will receive the ball first at the beginning of the second half. The other team will start by receiving the kick-off.
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A downhill runner is a running back who runs straight through the middle. These players may not pick up as many yards as most running backs, but they are important players because they are reliable in short-yardage situations. They may also be called north and south runners.
A quarterback who has a great ability to run and throw the ball. This is difficult to defend because a dual-threat QB can pick up yards either way.
This is a foul that is called because a player has crossed the line of scrimmage prior to the football is snapped.
A designation that a team can put on a player scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. As long as certain conditions are met, the player will remain with the team for a minimum of one more year.
Go For It
When a team decides to run a normal play from scrimmage on fourth down instead of punting or trying a field goal. This is especially popular when teams are down late in the game and when teams are within a yard or two of a first down.
Another name for a football field. Earlier football fields resembled a cross-hatched gridiron, earning the nickname gridiron due to its similarities.
Good Football Slang Meme
If you’ve watched some football highlights and a few games, many of these football terms will be familiar.
He can make all the throws
A quarterback who has the ability to complete a high percentage of difficult passes. This quarterback would likely be among the elite players at whatever level he competes at.
High Football IQ
To be able to successfully understand, adjust and manage a game as it happens. It is especially important for quarterbacks to have a high football IQ because they make so many crucial decisions each game.
A player who never stops working. This player has endless energy and doesn’t take plays off. High-motor guys don’t have to be the most technically gifted players, but they are the hardest workers on the team.
Locker Room Guy
A player who is great in motivating his team. This player has a great team-first attitude and is the most approachable player on a team. This player isn’t necessarily the best player on the team, but they do usually have a few years of experience under their belt.
Mike is a term used for the middle linebacker position in football. Sam is the strong-side linebacker. And Will is the weak side.
Organized Team Activities. This is a voluntary 10-day camp during the NFL offseason where players are permitted to hold meetings and conduct drills as long as there is no live contact. No fans are permitted.
An interception that leads to a touchdown. Pick-sixes have turned the tide of many a football game.
Another name for football. The original footballs were made with bladders from animals, including pigs, which didn’t last long, with vulcanized rubber taking over. Modern footballs are made with cowhide leather, but the pigskin nickname still remains.
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We’ve mixed a few abbreviations into the mix here because what organizations don’t love them?
A player who has the ability to play and do well. This term is especially popular in fantasy football, where a fantasy football team can get a player and plug him into the lineup, hoping he will play well and get your fantasy team a lot of points.
A play from a kickoff where the kicker intentionally kicks the downfield before it spikes into the ground, making it difficult for the returner to handle. This kick is designed to force an untraditional kick returner, usually a blocker, to return it. Also called a squib kick.
Physically Unable to Perform List. This is for players who enter training camp injured. They are split into two different PUP lists, either active or reserve. The active/PUP list is for players who won’t be out for long. Reserve/PUP list is for players with injuries that will keep them out through the first six weeks of the NFL regular season. Once returning to practice, teams have a five-week period to decide whether to activate, waive or add reserve/PUP players to the injury list.
Quarterback Rating. A measure between 0 and 158.3 of the performance of quarterbacks. This is calculated using a quarterback’s passing yards, completions, attempts, touchdowns, and interceptions. The higher the passing rating, the better the rating.
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A designation of delay in eligibility is given to a player in college to give them another year of eligibility in the future. This allows a player to train more or recover from injury without losing a year of eligibility.
This term refers to the area between the 20-yard line and the goal line of the end zone for the offensive team that is attempting to score a TD. If a team is in the red zone, it usually indicates a prime scoring opportunity. Teams that are able to convert their red zone opportunities into touchdowns typically have strong offenses.
A defensive player who specializes in guarding the offensive team’s best player. A rover is usually either a cornerback or a linebacker. Rovers are more common in college football and other leagues where there is a greater discrepancy between talent.
When a player picks up a live ball and runs it in for a touchdown. Most commonly occurring on a fumble, a scoop, and score can be scored by either team. A squib quick return is also considered a scoop and score.
Good Football Lingo
Here are some of our favorites.
An improvised and unplanned move by the quarterback to avoid a sack. The QB may end up running for positive yardage, completing a pass, or throwing the ball away to avoid the pressure.
The last line of defense is known as the defensive backfield. They protect against the pass. This consists of cornerbacks and safeties.
Shoot the Gap
When a defensive lineman finds an opening between offensive linemen. These gaps are called gaps A-D. Gap A is the gap closest to the center, and Gap D is the gap furthest away.
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An offensive formation where the quarterback lines up several yards behind the center rather than directly under the center. This formation is mostly used for passing plays, though you can still run the ball from the shotgun formation.
A violent collision between two players. This term was created because slobber may fly out of a player’s mouth as a result of the big hit.
* Editor’s favorite!
An illegal tackling technique where the tackler leads with the crown of their helmet with their bodyweight powering them forward. This technique is very dangerous and has resulted in many life-altering injuries to the head and spinal cord.
The spread offense is an offensive scheme where the quarterback lines up in shotgun with a minimum of three wide receivers spread out. This forces the defense to spread out as well, isolating the receivers and opening up more space for them to work in.
Taking a Knee
When a player, most often the QB, takes a knee, they are intentionally downing the football in order to keep the clock running. This is done to avoid hand-offs or passes that have the risk of a turnover while keeping the clock running. This is frequently done at the end of the first half and at the end of the game. At the end of the game, this maneuver is usually implemented only by the team that is leading on the scoreboard.
The area around the line of scrimmage where most of the blocking takes place. Tons of physical play happens in the trenches in each play.
A team that gets into the postseason without winning their conference or division. They are essentially the ‘next best.’ They usually begin the postseason by playing one of the top seeds or playing another wildcard team.
Football slang and lingo continue to be added to the playbook each year. A team’s play, an analyst’s take, or a coach’s defensive concept may be the next addition to our football slang collection. The terms can come from many sources. Be on the lookout as you watch football games.
By Nathan Dunn with Mike O’Halloran
Nathan is a sportswriter based in Kansas City, Missouri, and Mike is the founder of Sports Feel Good Stories.
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