What’s the difference between a running back, half back, tail back and full back in American football? (Detailed Explanation!)

Last Updated on May 6, 2022 by Jim Kein Kein

Running back is a wide term for fullbacks, halfbacks, and tailbacks all arrange as a running back. Fullbacks are usually greater, more slower, and better at blocking while usually arranging as a lead blocker for the halfback. Halfback and tailbacks are practically interchangeable terms and roles, usually, these are the players that generally do the running.

Running back

Running back

A running back is a member of the offensive backfield in football. The basic roles of a running back include; lining up as a receiver to catch the ball, and blocking and receiving handoffs from the quarterback to rush the ball. There are usually one or two running backs on the field, depending on the offensive formation.

Characteristics of a running back

  • Height and weight

There is a variety in those who play at the position of the running back. These quick, agile, and elusive running backs are often referred to as “scat backs” because of their maneuverability and low center of gravity which allow them to dodge tacklers. Running backs known for their elusiveness include Hugh McElhenny, Red Grange, Barry Sanders, and Gale Sayers.

  • Receiving ability

For recent years now, NFL running backs have been playing receivers out of the backfield. On passing plays, a running back will often make a “safe route,” such as a flat route or hook, when the quarterback feels pressured or other receivers are covered. Lenny Moore, a Hall of Famer, was a halfback who played primarily as a pass receiver.



The halfback (also called the tailback) position is responsible for carrying the ball on the majority of running plays, and may sometimes be used as a receiver on short (or sometimes long, depending on the formation) passing plays.

In the modern game, an effective halfback/tailback must have a blend of both agility and quickness as a runner, as well as good vision up-field and sure hands as a receiver. Quarterbacks depend on halfbacks as a safety checkdown receiver when when they are under pressure or their primary targets downfield are covered.

Characteristics of a halfback

  • Running

No position in football can perform his duties successfully without the help of other skillful players. Like the wide receiver, who cannot make big plays/touchdown without the quarterback passing him the ball, the halfback also needs good the offensive line to do a good block and fullback to successfully gain yardage. 

  • Blocking

Halfbacks are also needed to help the offensive line in a passing situations, and, in the case of the fullback, running plays. Halfbacks will often block blitzing safeties or linebackers on passing plays when the offensive line is occupied with the defensive linemen. On running plays, the fullback will often try to create a space in the defensive line for the halfback to make a run through. Effective blocking are usually key components for a running back’s success.



In most recent professional and  college football, fullbacks  possesses  the ball infrequently, instead they deploy their stronger physiques as primary lead blockers. On most run plays, the fullback leads the halfback, with intention to block potential tacklers before they reach the intended ball carrier.

Characteristics of fullbacks

  • Speed and agility

Fullbacks are typically known for less for agility and speed but more for muscularity and the ability to block tackles. In some years past, fullbacks, while occasionally used as ball carriers, basically a lead blocker to allow running backs to get to the opposing team’s defense. Years later, many teams used blocking fullbacks, such as Vonta Leach, Tony Richardson, and Lorenzo Neal, which yield great success. 

  • Blocking

Technically running backs, typically fullbacks are primarily valued for their blocking in most recent offense play. The most common and simple technique —the dive and the blast—both use the fullback as the primary blocker for the halfback to make a run.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are they called full back?

Formations began to favor by placing the fullback (the back most trusted with blocking for the running back) closer to the line of scrimmage than the running back. These blocking backs earned and retained the name “fullback” even though they are closer to the offensive line than the halfback.

What is the difference between a halfback and fullback in football?

Halfback, fullback, and running back are altogether classes of the running backs. The key is to think of a fullback as a blocker, while halfbacks or running backs fill in as the chief ball-runner. A fullback ensures the running back or halfback  goes about as a blocker.

What is the duty of a fullback in football?

Commonly, the fullbacks are bigger than the halfbacks and in most hostile situation their obligations are part between pass getting, power running, and obstructing for both other running back and quarterback.

Do NFL football team still use fullbacks?

As at recent, many NFL football team have no obvious fullback at all on their lineup, and even when they do, he is seeing fewer and fewer play. Much of the time, football team have been going to the adaptable H-back instead of a fullbacks.  Football teams are additionally spreading to utilize more running behind two-tight end arrangements or one-back three-wide sets.


Running back, half back, tail back and full back are all important position in American football. Halfbacks utilize speed to rush to either stopping point, or past the end run, or behind the tackle off tackle. The fullback must run through the center of the contradicting line by utilizing his strength. This should be possible effectively just if end-running or past passing plays made the safeguard debilitate the focal point of the line to strengthen their flanks. On the other hand, a poor  “draw play” by a fullback may “set up” a flanking passing play or running. Something else, a fullback might be a blocker for a halfback who needs to hurry aside or quarterback who needs to pass.

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