Utility player

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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, 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 isn't good enough to be considered a specialist in one position.

Association football

For a more comprehensive list, see: Category:Association football utility players

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.

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. [1] 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.

In 1991, the Detroit Tigers' Tony Phillips was the first player to start ten games at five different positions in the same season. [2] César Tovar, [3] Cookie Rojas, [4] Bert Campaneris, [5] Shane Halter, [6] Don Kelly, Jose Oquendo [7] Scott Sheldon, [8] and Andrew Romine all played every position (including pitcher) during their respective careers, with Tovar, Camperanis, Halter, Sheldon, and Romine all doing it in one game.

Luis Sojo is considered to be the classic modern utility player in baseball, as he was a natural shortstop, but could also play 3rd base, 2nd base, 1st base, and even left field. It was said that in emergency situations, he could even play a bit of catcher.

In 2005 Chone Figgins started 48 games at third, 45 in center field and 36 at second, and finished 17th in American League Most Valuable Player balloting. [9]

Second baseman Ben Zobrist of the Chicago Cubs has played first, third, second, shortstop and outfield; José Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays has played first base, second base, third base, and outfield; and Josh Harrison of the Pittsburgh Pirates has played second base, shortstop, third base, outfield, and pitcher. All three have been named All Stars while playing multiple positions in their All-Star seasons. [10] Zobrist and Bautista both finished in the top 10 in MVP voting while starting at least 40 games at two different defensive positions.

In 2015, Brock Holt of the Boston Red Sox was the first player ever to be selected to the All Star Game after starting at seven or more positions before the break. [11]

Willians Astudillo of the Minnesota Twins has played every position except for shortstop in his brief major league career despite having less than a half season of cumulative experience.

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 Kentucky [12] [13] [14] [15] and McKay in 2017 with Louisville. [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] 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, [21] while McKay is currently being developed in the minor leagues as a two-way player. [22]

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. [23]


The term "utility player" is rarely used in basketball outside of fantasy basketball leagues. [24] 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.

American football

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.

1907 photograph of Bradbury Robinson, who threw the first legal forward pass and was the sport's first triple threat RobinsonThrowing2.jpg
1907 photograph of Bradbury Robinson, who threw the first legal forward pass and was the sport's first triple threat

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 [25] ). 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. Houston Texans 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 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 Houston Texans 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.

Ice hockey

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, [26] Christoph Schubert, Ian White and Chris Campoli. [27] Notable forwards who have played defence include Sergei Fedorov, [28] Mathieu Dandenault, Brooks Laich and Sami Kapanen. [29]

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. [30]

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.

Rugby league

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.

Rugby union

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).

Fantasy sports

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.

Related Research Articles

In gridiron football, not all players on offense are entitled to receive a forward pass. Only an eligible pass receiver may legally catch a forward pass, and only an eligible receiver may advance beyond the neutral zone if a forward pass crosses into the neutral zone. If the pass is received by a non-eligible receiver, it is "illegal touching". If an ineligible receiver is beyond the neutral zone when a forward pass crossing the neutral zone is thrown, a foul of "ineligible receiver downfield" is called. Each league has slightly different rules regarding who is considered an eligible receiver.

Quarterback Position in gridiron football

The quarterback, colloquially known as the "signal caller", is a position in gridiron football. Quarterbacks are members of the offensive team and line up directly behind the offensive line. In modern American football, the quarterback is usually considered the leader of the offensive team, 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, defence or defense 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.

Running back Position in American and Canadian football

A running back (RB) is a member of the offensive backfield in gridiron football. The primary roles of a running back are to receive handoffs from the quarterback to rush the ball, and block. There are usually one or two running backs on the field for a given play, depending on the offensive formation. A running back may be a halfback, a wingback or a fullback. A running back will sometimes be called a "feature back" if he is the team's starting running back.

Lineman (gridiron football) American football player who specializes in play at the line of scrimmage

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 wide receiver, also referred to as wideouts or simply receivers, is an offensive position in gridiron football, and is a key player. They get their name because they are split out "wide", farthest away from the rest of the team. Wide receivers are among the fastest players on the field. The wide receiver functions as the pass-catching specialist.

Outfielder defensive position in baseball

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.

Quarterback sack In gridiron football, tackling the quarterback for a loss before he/she is able to throw a forward pass

In gridiron football, a sack occurs when the quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage before he can throw a forward pass, when the quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage in the "pocket" and his intent is unclear, or when a passer runs out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage due to defensive pressure. This often occurs if the opposing team's defensive line, linebackers or defensive backs are able to apply pass pressure to quickly get past blocking players of the offensive team, or if the quarterback is unable to find a back to hand the ball off to or an available eligible receiver to catch the ball, allowing the defense a longer opportunity to tackle the quarterback.

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.

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.

The halfback option play is an unorthodox play in American and Canadian football. It resembles a normal running play, but the running back has the option to throw a pass to another eligible receiver before crossing the line of scrimmage.

Halfback (American football) Offensive position in American football

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.

American football positions Positions in American football

In American football each team has 11 players on the field at one time. The specific role that a player takes on the field is called their position. Under the modern rules of American football, teams are allowed free substitutions; that is, teams may change any number of players after any play. This has resulted in the development of three "platoons" of players: the offense, the defense, and the special teams. Within those platoons, various specific positions exist depending on what each player's main job is.

Alan D. Lowry is a former National Football League and college football coach, best known as the architect of the Music City Miracle. He coached for several teams over more than 25 years, winning one Super Bowl and going to another. Prior to coaching he played football at the University of Texas, where he won a national championship and three conference championships, was named to the All-Conference team twice at two different positions and was named the 1973 Cotton Bowl Offensive MVP.

Fullback (gridiron football) Position in American or Canadian football

A fullback (FB) is a position known as the best position in the game of football, in the offensive backfield in gridiron football, and is one of the two running back positions along with the halfback. Typically, fullbacks are larger than halfback and in most offensive schemes their duties are split between 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.

Players in the National Football League wear uniform numbers between 1 and 99, and no two players on a team may wear the same number. Rules exist which tie a player's number to a specific range of numbers for their primary position. Additionally, rules exist which limit who may handle the ball on offense: generally players who are designated as offensive lineman, who wear numbers 50-79, are not allowed to handle the ball during a play from scrimmage, though they are allowed to do so if they report to the referee as playing out of position for a tackle-eligible play.

In sports that require a player to play on offense and defense, such as basketball and ice hockey, a two-way player refers to a player who excels at both. In sports where a player typically specializes on offense or defense, like American football, or on pitching or batting, like baseball, it refers to a player who chooses to do both.


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Positions in American football and Canadian football
Offense (Skill position) Defense Special teams
Linemen Guard, Tackle, Center Linemen Tackle, End Kicking players Placekicker, Punter, Kickoff specialist
Quarterback (Dual-threat, Game manager, System) Linebacker Snapping Long snapper, Holder
Backs Halfback/Tailback (Triple-threat), 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)NomenclatureStrategy