A utility player in football is a player whose athletic ability allows them to play more than one position. Generally, utility players in football are on the offensive side of the ball and play a combination of the wide receiver and running back positions.
The NFL has grown more creative in recent years with offenses trying a wide number of strategies in order to find a competitive edge. One of these strategies involves getting the ball in the hands of the best players regardless of how you do it.
Previously NFL players were more or less locked into their position. Running backs ran the ball and caught passes out of the backfield while wide receivers lined up near the sideline and caught longer throws.
Nowadays you will find many NFL teams have players that change roles throughout the course of the game.
Example Of WR RB Utility Players
A great example of this is the San Fransico 49ers and their utility player Deebo Samuel. Deebo was drafted as a wide receiver and in college and rarely carried the ball throughout the season. Though once he was brought into the NFL the coaches noticed how effective he was when the ball was in his hands.
This led them to give Deebos more carries of the football. To facilitate this Deebo started lining up in the backfield just like a running back.
He was very effective in carrying the football but this did not stop him from continuing his role as a wide receiver. In fact, in Deebo Samuels’s third year in the league, he had his most carries as well as his most receiving yards both by a fair margin.
Deebo Samuel happens to be the main weapon on his offense but this does not have to be the case with Utility players. Oftentimes utility players are going to be a few spots down the depth chart in both positions.
These players are often the third or fourth receiver and the second or third runningback. But their versatility and playmaking ability allow them to remain valuable to the offense.
Oftentimes you will see utility players utilize their skillset for one position while playing the other. Jet sweeps and other rushing plays that can be done out of the wide receiver position are common plays that involve utility players.
Utility players will also be much more likely to receive passes when playing running back than a regular running back is.
Defensive End Outside Linebacker Utility Player
Though it is not very common there can also be utility players on the defensive side of the ball. A great example of this can be seen with Micah Parsons and the Dallas Cowboys.
Parsons was drafted by the cowboys and started the regular season playing that position. Early in the season, two Dallas Cowboys pass rushers were unavailable due to injury and Covid-19.
Parsons was able to fill that role on the defensive line by switching from linebacker to edge rusher. As an edge rusher, Parsons excelled despite not having much experience playing the position.
Parsons is an incredibly talented player and someone who can cause a lot of problems for the offense. Having multiple positions in which he can line up makes him more difficult to stop.
This is one advantage of having a utility player on the defense.