The National Football League stands as one of the most prominent and recognized entities in sports. Its games, teams, other activities and players capture expansive media attention. Those who occupy an NFL roster potentially earn millions from salaries and endorsements and fame. Learn below the tasks, skills, training and experience required for those who aspire to their dream of playing in the NFL.
NFL Player Job Overview: What Does a NFL Player Do?
The three hours of a game captures only one part of the NFL player job description. Beyond games, practice and preparation consume the vast majority of an NFL player’s time. Players, especially high-profile ones, also appear on billboards, television, radio and other media platforms to promote their teams and the league.
NFL Player Job Duties
- Prepare for games through practices, drills, film study and other sessions as directed by team
- Study and learn playbook, formations and terminology for plays and offensive, defensive and specialized schemes
- Execute plays or defense as instructed or taught by coaches
- Perform techniques or functions consistent with position, such as quarterback, placekicker, linebacker, receiver
- Participate in off-season strength and conditioning, mini-camps and other organized team activities
- Maintain proper diet and fitness
- Observe league rules on personal conduct, including, but not limited to, domestic violence, theft, substance abuse, fraud, disorderly conduct, use of performance-enhancing drugs
- Participate in media interviews
The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement may limit the extent of especially off-season activities. For instance, teams may not conduct contact drills during off-season sessions. Further, the league may suspend players for violations of the personal conduct policy even in the absence of a criminal conviction.
NFL Player Job Essential Skills
Analytical. Within the NFL player job description lies the ability to analyze formations to predict the opponent’s actions. Defense players need to recognize the likelihood of a pass or run play. For the quarterback, analysis means determining blitzes or where receivers may be open.
Athleticism. Depending on the position or play, an NFL player must be able to leap, jump, stretch arms or legs, spin and throw. Athletic skills also include speed, strength and the ability to squat and lift.
Decision-making. Offensive and defensive formations, or changes in them, and the quick pace of action often call for quick, split-second decisions. Quarterbacks may need to audible, or change plays, based on looks by the defense and call plays with diminishing time on the play or game clock.
Discipline. Unfocused or thoughtless actions, such as late hits, taunting, and false starts destroy good field position and momentum. Being disciplined also means sacrificing personal preferences for team goals, listening to coaches and avoiding reckless, criminal or improper conduct both on and off the field.
Endurance. NFL players must exhibit stamina during the games as a whole and, especially for defensive players, during long offensive drives. Players may have their endurance tested especially in hot or humid conditions.
Becoming a NFL Player Professional
The path to an NFL career is highly competitive. Each of the 32 teams carries a 53-man roster. On an annual basis, the NFL averages 300 openings for players. Within each position, the competition for a roster spot becomes even more intense. For example, teams typically carry at most three quarterbacks.
Teams evaluate draft prospects through recordings of players’ games, the NFL’s National Scouting Combine, “pro days” and preseason practices and games. At the combine, players are weighed and measured by height and wingspan. Bench presses measure strength, while 40-yard dashes afford an indication of the player’s speed. Some players can choose to workout for scouts at “pro days” held at their college campuses. Regional Scouting Combines operate as “open tryouts” for prospects.
Education and Training
Entry into the NFL does not require a formal degree. However, the NFL requires draft prospects to be at least three years removed from high school and deplete their college eligibility. The league may and does grant requests from underclassmen and those who graduate early to enter the draft.
To assist prospects deciding whether to exit college early, the NFL has in place a College Advisory Committee. Through this device, team scouts advise prospects whether they are likely to be drafted and their likely position. With this feedback, players can make an informed decision that could impact their eligibility in college.
Specific qualifications differ especially by position. For example, quarterbacks must have strong arm strength and height. In some cases, a team may take a less than tall quarterback who exhibits mobility along with the ability to throw and see the field. Strength constitutes a significant factor for lineman, while receivers and running backs should exhibit speed across long distances.
Teams train players through off-season and preseason camps. Shortly following the draft, rookies attend mini-camps or “rookie camps.” At these sessions, rookies learn their teams’ offensive and defensive systems and perhaps some veterans. In the NFL’s Rookie Transition Program, rookies are exposed to league history, rules of play and behavior, obligations in dealing with media and resources available for players and their families. As part of the program, the league emphasizes differences in college and NFL game rules.
To develop a body of work for scouts, prospective NFL players need prior playing experience mainly in college. Those who play in FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) programs, especially the higher-profile ones, gain significant attention from sports media. As a result, their work is more readily visible than those from lower-level football programs. In limited cases, players in the Canadian Football League or Arena Football League might catch the eye of NFL scouts and make an NFL roster.
During the season, NFL players generally spend eight to ten hours at the facility in preparation for the upcoming game. The itinerary includes conditioning, meals, necessary medical attention or body rehabilitation, meetings and practice. Game day involves warm-ups, final walk-throughs, the game and post-game interviews.
In addition to the Sunday afternoon slots, regular season games are played and broadcast on Sunday nights, Monday nights and Thursday nights. The Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys host Thanksgiving Day games, while some Saturday games take place in the final weeks of the season.
NFL rules curtail the hours spent in off-season team activities. Normally, these activities cannot exceed four to six hours per day. Depending on the phase of off-season work, the sessions are limited to two to four weeks.
Job Outlook & Advancement Opportunities
With approximately 300 openings each year for NFL players, the outlook is highly limited and insecure. Age and declining skills of players leads to frequent turnover and fuels competition with younger and more skilled players for limited roster spots.
NFL players can advance to becoming starters, getting more playing time, or more lucrative contracts through performance throughout the season. Highly-drafted rookies, even at quarterback, may compete in training camp for and win starting positions. Of course, the needs of the team and the player’s perceived value will dictate to an extent the size of the contract and the amount of playing time.
Current and prospective NFL players undergo substantial and intense training, preparation and scrutiny from coaches, scouts, media and the public. These professionals must demonstrate physical skills and mental acumen to help their franchises win and build value. Players face strong competition each year to earn and retain roster spots.