How many players are on an NFL team?
New rules have been introduced for the 2021 NFL season but the number of players allowed on the pitch at any one time has remained the same since 1880.
A handful of changes have been made to the NFL rule book ahead of the 2021 season but one rule which has remained constant since it was first introduced in 1880 is the number of players who are allowed on the field of play at any one time.
Changes to American Football team sizes over the years
The very first American Football game took place on 6 November 1869 between Rutgers University and Princeton, in New Jersey with 25 players on each side. The sport developed and teams were whittled down from 25 players to 20 in 1873, then to 15. US College Football rules were standardised in 1880 with a further reduction from 15 players to 11, proposed a couple of years earlier by Walter Camp - a seven-man line and a four-man backfield comprising a quarterback, two halfbacks, and a full-back.
Penalties are given if a team has more than 11 players in the formation prior to the snap or free kick: Loss of five yards from the succeeding spot. However, it is not a foul if a team has fewer than 11 players in the formation on the field of play or the end zone when a snap, free kick, or fair- catch kick is made.
NFL roster rules
NFL teams are allowed 53 players on their roster but only 46 can suit up for a game since the active roster rules were changed in 2011. Another recent change was the decision to increase practice squads from 10 players to 16. NFL teams are allowed to poach practice squad players from other teams for their rosters as long as they take someone out by either trading them, waiving them or placing them on the PUP list.
Also new for this season is the new limit on jersey numbers which must correspond to a player’s position. The 2021 rule book states: "All players must wear numerals on their jerseys in accordance with Rule 5, Section 4, Article 3, Item 3. Such numerals must be by playing position".
Quarterbacks, punters, and placekickers: 1–19;
Defensive backs: 1–49;
Running backs, fullbacks, tight ends, H-backs, and wide receivers: 1-49 and 80-89
Offensive linemen: 50-79
Defensive linemen: 50-79 and 90-99
Linebackers: 1-59 and 90-99
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