In sports, a utility player is one who can play several positions competently. Sports in which the term is often used include association football, gridiron football, baseball, rugby union, rugby league, softball, Ice hockey, and water polo.
The term has gained prominence in all sports due to its use in fantasy leagues, but in rugby union and rugby league, it is commonly used by commentators to recognize a player's versatility.
The use of this term to describe a player may in some circumstances be a backhanded compliment, as it suggests the player is not good enough to be considered a specialist in one position.
In football, like other sports, a utility player can play in several positions in the outfield.
The most common dual role is when a central defender is played in the left or right fullback position. This often occurs due to injuries to the starting fullback players. As central defenders are usually taller, slower, and less technically adept in crossing & attacking play, such a player position change is often accompanied by a tactical shift designed to ensure the player remains in a more defensive posture than the regular fullback would be in. Another common dual role is for faster attacking players to be used as a forward/striker and winger, or combining the two roles into a wide attacker known as a "wing-forward".
A good example is the Real Madrid player Nacho Fernández, a utility player who is used as a centre back as well as right back and left back, he played a fundamental part in Zinedine Zidane's successful era at Real Madrid from 2016 to 2018. Manchester United player Phil Jones has been used as a right back and centre back as well as taking up both defensive and more attacking midfield roles. Danish centre-back Bjørn Paulsen is equally adept on the central midfield and has also successfully taken the role of striker, especially if his team is losing. The former Bulgarian international and Sporting Lisbon player Ivaylo Yordanov has played in all three outfield roles. Former Scottish international and Rangers captain Lee McCulloch also played in every outfield role for the club. Former Dutch international and Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven and Milan player Ruud Gullit played as a defender, midfielder and striker, changing his position even within a single game to accommodate the gaps caused by substitutions. Current Liverpool player James Milner has played in numerous outfield positions including central midfield, wide midfield, right back, left back, winger and striker.
Perhaps an early example (though before the term gained popular usage) was England 1966 World Cup winner Martin Peters, who famously scored in that final. He played in every position – including briefly as a goalkeeper – for West Ham United. Another is Crystal Dunn, who plays in a forward position for her club team North Carolina Courage and as a wingback for international duty. Dunn is also known to play in the midfield.
A few outfield players have also made competent substitute goalkeepers, for example Phil Jagielka, Jan Koller (originally trained as a goalkeeper before converting into a striker) and Cosmin Moți.But in the case of goalkeepers playing as outfield players, it is extremely rare; David James for Manchester City in 2005 match against Middlesbrough for one instance. Some may be free kick and penalty specialists (Rogério Ceni, José Luis Chilavert and Jorge Campos), but they do not hold a role in the outfield. John O'Shea, a former Manchester United player, is a famous example for playing in all positions in his United career.
In baseball, a utility player is a player who can play several different positions. In general, each Major League Baseball team has at least one player who can be described as a utility player.
Most professional teams have two types of utility players. There are "utility infielders", who usually play all of the infield positions (plus occasionally catcher). Utility outfielders or "fourth outfielders" tend to play all three outfield positions at various times. Occasionally, there will be players who perform a combination of the two duties. Utility players tend to be players who come off the bench, though this is not absolute. Often, players who do not have high prospects to be a major league star will learn additional positions so they can look more attractive to major league clubs as bench talent.
A third type of utility player is often seen in youth baseball, and occasionally in college baseball—a player talented enough as a pitcher and position player to play in both roles. The term "utility player" is not typically used to describe such an individual, with "two-way player" used instead. Two recent examples of two-way players in modern college baseball are A. J. Reed and Brendan McKay, both of whom were consensus national players of the year while playing regularly as first basemen and starting pitchers—Reed in 2014 with Kentuckyand McKay in 2017 with Louisville. Both players would win the John Olerud Award as the best two-way college player, with McKay winning the award three times (the only player to win this award more than once). Reed would ultimately become exclusively a first baseman, while McKay is currently being developed in the minor leagues as a two-way player.
Even more rarely, a player can have the talent to play both roles at the top professional level. Babe Ruth began his career as a pitcher, but proved to be such a strong hitter that he briefly alternated in the two roles until becoming a full-time position player. A current example is Shohei Ohtani, who made the Best Nine of Japan's Pacific League as both a pitcher and a hitter in 2016, and is a designated hitter / starting pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels.
The term "utility player" is rarely used in basketball outside of fantasy basketball leagues.Instead; basketball uses the terms tweener and swingman to refer to a player who can play two or three different positions, with more specific terms being combo guard, forward-center, and stretch four.
In American football, the utility player is often capable of playing multiple positions, and often they may play both offense and defense. The concept was far more common in the early days of football, when pro teams used their best athletes in as many ways as possible, and substitutions were far more restricted, meaning players had to stay on the field for offense, defense, and "special teams". This was known as the one-platoon system.
The triple threat man, who could run, pass, and kick, was particularly popular during the early days of football from the time the forward pass was invented to the World War II era (see, for instance, Bradbury Robinson, Tommy Hughitt, Sammy Baugh, and, during his college years, Johnny Unitas). Most levels of football lifted the substitution restrictions during the post-World War II era in the late 1940s, beginning with "platooning" (use of different offensive and defensive units) and eventually transitioning to complete free substitution. Chuck Bednarik, a center and linebacker, was the last full-time two way player in the NFL, having retired in 1962. Despite this, the American Football League of the 1960s frequently used players at multiple positions, particularly kickers and punters (e.g. George Blanda, Paul Maguire, Cookie Gilchrist, Gino Cappelletti, and Gene Mingo, a running back who became the first black placekicker in modern professional football, among others). Because of increased injury risk awareness, since the AFL-NFL merger these types of players are increasingly rare, and true utility players usually end up specializing in one position (for example, Lane Johnson played quarterback, tight end, defensive end and offensive tackle through college but was tagged specifically at offensive tackle when drafted into the NFL, and Lorenzo Alexander, who earned a reputation as a "one-man gang" for his ability to play multiple positions, had settled in as a linebacker for most of his career in the NFL). Those that do play multiple positions for any extended period of time are mostly backups (e.g. Guido Merkens and Brad Smith) or career minor-league players (e.g. Don Jonas, Eric Crouch, and Charles Puleri). It is still very common in smaller high schools to see top players play two or even three ways (offense, defense, and special teams), in multiple positions, but in college and pro ball, where rosters are larger and the talent pool is more elite, the injury risk outweighs potential benefits.
In the National Football League, Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots uses the utility player frequently. Belichick has used his linebackers, including Bryan Cox and Mike Vrabel, as H-backs on offense, and Belichick has doubled his wide receivers (e.g. Troy Brown and Randy Moss) as cornerbacks and safeties. Arizona Cardinals defensive end J. J. Watt has also been utilized in multiple positions. Watt lined up at tight end in special goal-line packages in 2014, catching three touchdown passes. The 6' 5" Watt played tight end in high school and his first year of college at Central Michigan before becoming a full-time defensive player. Likewise, Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams played sparingly as a fullback in the last two years of his career, catching a pass, rushing for a touchdown, and blocking for another. William "The Refrigerator" Perry, a defensive tackle for the Chicago Bears, famously played as a fullback to score a touchdown in Super Bowl XX.
The tackle eligible is a special form of utility player. Examples of those who used this play notably include Jason Peters, Warren Sapp, Jumbo Elliott, Mitch Frerotte, Anthony Muñoz, Joe Staley, and Donald Penn. In such a situation, a player who is lined up in the offensive tackle position is eligible to catch a forward pass. Another example of a type of utility player is the halfback option play, in which a running back performs the passing duties of a quarterback. Walter Payton, LaDanian Tomlinson, and, most recently, Ronnie Brown have used this play multiple times, and this type of play has spawned an entire offensive scheme. Note that generally, a player who plays one regular position as well as special teams is usually not considered a utility player, nor are hybrid running back/wide receivers such as Reggie Bush; only those who play two distinct offensive and/or defensive positions are considered such, as are those who play an offensive or defensive position and in addition kick or punt.
The "offense/offensive weapon" (also known as OW) is an offensive player that can play multiple offensive positions. The OW role contains, but is not limited to, players that can play quarterback, running back, tight end, and wide receiver. Kordell Stewart was the first player to be used in this role back in the 1990s, but it became popular in the early 2010s. Back when Stewart played this role, it was known as the "Slash" role. The Jacksonville Jaguars' OW Denard Robinson was the first to be officially an OW. Other current examples of the OW position include New York Giants quarterback Joe Webb and New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill. Webb has also played wide receiver throughout his career, while Hill has lined up at every offensive position with the exception of offensive lineman. Hill also plays special teams as a gunner and kick returner.
The Arena Football League, for many years, made almost all of its players, with the exception of two players on each side (always a quarterback, a kicker (the quarterback and kicker were never on the field at the same time) and usually a wide receiver and two defensive backs), play both sides of the ball; this was known as "ironman". The "ironman" concept was dropped in 2007.
With the exception of the now defunct NFL Europe, almost all European American Football leagues have players that play offense, defense, and special teams. Especially when the number of "American" players is limited, they are often on the field for as many snaps as possible, both on offense and defense.
In Ice hockey, it is common for centres and wingers to play either position in certain situations. Depending on need, a team may use a natural centreman on the wing if they have too many centres or, conversely, a winger may be pressed to play centre because of a lack of suitable players in that area. Because of the frequency of forwards playing both positions, the term utility player tends to refer not to a player that plays more than one forward position, but to a player that can play both defence and forward. Teams may use a defenceman as a forward, or vice versa, for a variety of reasons.
Sometimes a natural defenceman who struggles on the defensive side of the game but possesses strong offensive qualities may be used as a winger. Marc-Andre Bergeron and Kurtis Foster, for example, have proven to be quality offensive defencemen who struggle in defending their own zone. As such, they have dressed as forwards so their teams can continue to use their offensive abilities on the powerplay while still using the standard six defencemen during even strength.
An extra defenceman may also be pressed to play forward in an emergency situation, where a team has a rash of injuries to their forwards and do not have time to summon a replacement player from a farm team.
It is very common for teams to use a forward on "the point" during the powerplay to provide a greater offensive threat. Though the forward is playing defence in this situation, they are not necessarily seen as true utility players.
Along with Bergeron and Foster, other notable defencemen that have played forward at some point in their careers include Phil Housley, Brent Burns, Mark Streit,Christoph Schubert, Ian White and Chris Campoli. Notable forwards who have played defence include Sergei Fedorov, Mathieu Dandenault, Brooks Laich and Sami Kapanen.
In some cases a player has made a full-time conversion from one position to the other and experienced success. Hockey Hall of Famer Red Kelly spent the first half of his career as an offensive defenceman for the Detroit Red Wings before finishing his career as a strong two-way centreman for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Wendel Clark was a star defenceman in junior before converting to left wing and scoring over 300 goals and 500 points in 15 NHL seasons. (Some junior hockey teams have a tendency to put their best offensive players on defence instead of as forwards, since defencemen generally have more time on the ice.) Dustin Byfuglien is an example of a current player who has made the switch from forward to defence full-time. Jonathan Ericsson of the Detroit Red Wings is another example of a player who converted from forward to defense.
It is extremely rare for goaltenders to play any position other than goaltender; likewise, it is just as rare for non-goaltenders to suit up in goal, because of the significant difference in skills and equipment required for the position.
The use of utility in rugby league is more expansive because not only would a player play only at backs' (or forwards') positions, some may play in forward and back positions with similar roles (e.g. halfback/hooker), or even play so many different positions as injury cover. Lance Hohaia is a prime example of this as he played in six different positions in his NRL career.
Utility player is a term used mostly in New Zealand. In rugby union, it comes in a form of utility back. It is mostly a back who can cover at least two positions. Notable examples in New Zealand include Daniel Bowden, Luke McAlister and Cory Jane, but Australia also has many utility backs like Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale and Matt Giteau. A South African example is François Steyn. Example of English utility backs include Austin Healey, who played for England as a scrum-half, fly-half, wing and full back, and Mike Catt, who was capped as a fly-half, centre and full back.
Despite that, there are forwards who are capable of covering multiple positions. Many players in the back row of the scrum (flankers and number eights) will frequently switch between the two positions. Notable players in English rugby have made the transition between back row to the back line as they possess transferable skills and are usually the quicker and more mobile of the pack, less often a player may also be capable of playing lock as well as a back-row position, with several modern examples being Sébastien Chabal, Steven Luatua, Kieran Read, and Maro Itoje, all with international caps in both rows of the scrum. However, this description never applies to props who can play both ends of the front row (i.e. Numbers 1 & 3), unless the player has the ability to cover as a hooker (e.g. John Afoa, a prop who could cover as a hooker, or John Smit, primarily a hooker but also capped internationally at both prop positions).
In fantasy baseball and basketball, a utility player is a player (specifically a batter in baseball) who accumulates statistics without being assigned to a particular position. The batter can play any position; he need not actually be a utility player (for example, if a fantasy manager has two first baseman, he can assign one to the first base position and one to a utility slot). Similarly, a person assigned a utility slot in fantasy basketball need not be a tweener or swingman.
The quarterback, colloquially known as the "signal caller", is a position in gridiron football. Quarterbacks are members of the offensive platoon and mostly line up directly behind the offensive line. In modern American football, the quarterback is usually considered the leader of the offense, and is often responsible for calling the play in the huddle. The quarterback also touches the ball on almost every offensive play, and is the offensive player that almost always throws forward passes. When the QB is tackled behind the line of scrimmage, it is called a sack.
In many team sports, defense or defence is the action of preventing an opponent from scoring. The term may also refer to the tactics involved in defense, or a sub-team whose primary responsibility is defense. Similarly, a defense player or defender is a player who is generally charged with preventing the other team's forwards from being able to bear down directly on their own team's goalkeeper or goaltender. Such positions exist in association football, ice hockey, water polo and many other sports.
In gridiron football, a lineman is a player who specializes in play at the line of scrimmage. The linemen of the team currently in possession of the ball are the offensive line, while linemen on the opposing team are the defensive line. A number of NFL rules specifically address restrictions and requirements for the offensive line, whose job is to help protect the quarterback from getting sacked for a loss, or worse, fumbling. The defensive line is covered by the same rules that apply to all defensive players. Linemen are usually the largest players on the field in both height and weight, since their positions usually require less running and more strength than skill positions.
A linebacker is a playing position in gridiron football. Linebackers are members of the defensive team, and line up approximately three to five yards behind the line of scrimmage and behind the defensive linemen. The represent the "middle ground" of defenders, playing closer to the line of scrimmage than do the defensive backs, but further back than do the defensive linemen. As such, linebackers play a hybrid role and are often the most versatile players on the defensive side of the ball; they can be asked to play roles similar to either a defensive lineman or a defensive back. How a linebacker plays their position depends greatly on the defensive alignment, the philosophy of the coaching staff, and the particular play the offense may call.
A wide receiver (WR), also referred to as a wideout, formerly a split end, is an eligible receiver in gridiron football. A key skill position of the offense, it gets its name from the player being split out "wide", farthest away from the rest of the offensive formation.
An outfielder is a person playing in one of the three defensive positions in baseball or softball, farthest from the batter. These defenders are the left fielder, the center fielder, and the right fielder. As an outfielder, their duty is to catch fly balls and/ ground balls then to return them to the infield for the out or before the runner advances, if there is any runners on the bases. As an outfielder, they normally play behind the six players located in the field. By convention, each of the nine defensive positions in baseball is numbered. The outfield positions are 7, 8 and 9. These numbers are shorthand designations useful in baseball scorekeeping and are not necessarily the same as the squad numbers worn on player uniforms.
Strategy forms a major part of American football. Both teams plan many aspects of their plays (offense) and response to plays (defense), such as what formations they take, who they put on the field, and the roles and instructions each player are given. Throughout a game, each team adapts to the other's apparent strengths and weaknesses, trying various approaches to outmaneuver or overpower their opponent in order to win the game.
Gameplay in American football consists of a series of downs, individual plays of short duration, outside of which the ball is dead or not in play. These can be plays from scrimmage – passes, runs, punts, or field goal attempts – or free kicks such as kickoffs and fair catch kicks. Substitutions can be made between downs, which allows for a great deal of specialization as coaches choose the players best suited for each particular situation. During a play, each team should have no more than 11 players on the field, and each of them has specific tasks assigned for that specific play.
American football positions have slowly evolved over the history of the sport. From its origins in early rugby football to the modern game, the names and roles of various positions have changed greatly, some positions no longer exist, and others have been created to fill new roles.
A formation in football refers to the position players line up in before the start of a down. There are both offensive and defensive formations and there are many formations in both categories. Sometimes, formations are referred to as packages.
In sports, a starting lineup is an official list of the set of players who will participate in the event when the game begins. The players in the starting lineup are commonly referred to as starters, whereas the others are substitutes or bench players.
A trick play, also known as a gadget play, gimmick play or trickeration, is a play in gridiron football that uses deception and unorthodox tactics to fool the opposing team. A trick play is often risky, offering the potential for a large gain or a touchdown if it is successful, but with the chance of a significant loss of yards or a turnover if not. Trick plays are rarely used not only because of the riskiness, but also to maintain the element of surprise for when they are used.
In baseball, a utility player is a player who typically does not have the offensive abilities to justify a regular starting role on the team but is capable of playing more than one defensive position. These players are able to give the various starters a rest, or replace a starter due to injury, or play late in a game to provide improved defense when their team is winning.
A halfback (HB) is an offensive position in American football, whose duties involve lining up in the backfield and carrying the ball on most rushing plays, i.e. a running back. When the principal ball carrier lines up deep in the backfield, and especially when that player is placed behind another player, as in the I formation, that player is instead referred to as a tailback.
In American football, the specific role that a player takes on the field is referred to as their "position." Under the modern rules of American football, both teams are allowed 11 players on the field at one time and have "unlimited free substitutions," meaning that they may change any number of players during any "dead ball" situation. This has resulted in the development of three task-specific "platoons" of players within any single team: the offense, the defense, and the so-called 'special teams'. Within these three separate "platoons", various positions exist depending on the jobs that the players are doing.
The triple option is an American football play used to offer several ways to move the football forward on the field of play. The triple option is based on the option run, but uses three players who might run with the ball instead of the two used in a standard option run.
A fullback (FB) is a position in the offensive backfield in gridiron football, and is one of the two running back positions along with the halfback. Fullbacks are typically larger than halfbacks and in most offensive schemes the fullback's duties are split among power running, pass catching, and blocking for both the quarterback and the other running back.
The following terms are used in American football, both conventional and indoor. Some of these terms are also in use in Canadian football; for a list of terms unique to that code, see Glossary of Canadian football.
In sports that require a player to play on offense and defense, a two-way player refers to a player who excels at both. In sports where a player typically specializes on offense or defense, or on pitching or batting, it refers to a player who chooses to do both.
|Positions in American football and Canadian football|
|Offense (Skill position)||Defense||Special teams|
|Linemen||Guard, Tackle, Center||Linemen||Tackle, End, Edge rusher||Kicking||Placekicker, Punter, Kickoff specialist|
|Quarterback (Dual-threat, Game manager, System)||Linebacker||Snapping||Long snapper, Holder|
|Running backs||Halfback/Tailback (Triple-threat, Change of pace), Fullback, H-back, Wingback||Backs||Cornerback, Safety, Halfback, Nickelback, Dimeback||Returning||Punt returner, Kick returner, Jammer, Upman|
|Receivers||Wide receiver (Eligible), Tight end, Slotback, End||Tackling||Gunner, Upback, Utility|
|Formations (List) — Nomenclature — Strategy|