What is breakaway speed in football?

Breakaway speed in football refers to elite top-end speed that allows a player to separate himself from defenders.

Generally in football, breakaway speed is used to describe players that are able to leave players in the second level behind them when scoring a long touchdown.

Once ball carriers reach the second level in football it is common for the cornerbacks or safeties to bring them down. Cornerbacks and safeties are usually the fastest players on the defense.

This means players that can outrun linebackers or defensive linemen are often caught when reaching the second level.

This isn’t the case for players with breakaway speed. These players are faster than defensive backs and are able to beat them to the endzone.

When a player with breakaway speed gets into open space their top-end speed is going to be faster than the defensive players around them.

This allows them to break away from the defensive players often scoring long touchdowns.

Players without breakaway speed may still have the speed to beat defensive linemen and linebackers but are almost always going to be tackled by defensive backs due to their inability to outrun them.

If you want to learn about other types of speed like breakaway speed you can check out our guide on closing speed in football.

Which positions need breakaway speed?

Now that you know what breakaway speed is in football you may be wondering which types of players tend to have these traits.

Below we will break down the positions which often possess this type of speed.


Running back is a position in which breakaway speed can be very important. In the majority of plays where the running back is handed the ball, they are going to be tackled near the line of scrimmage.

But when the running back is able to reach the second level breakaway speed can be invaluable.

Slower running backs will still be able to pick up a big chunk of yards when reaching the second level. But players with breakaway speed will often be able to turn this play into a touchdown.

Though these long touchdown rushes are relatively rare the impact they have on the game is huge. For this reason, you will notice most NFL teams like to have one player in their running back room with elite top-end speed.

Wide receiver

Another position that can greatly benefit from breakaway speed in football is wide receiver. These players catch passes from the quarterback but also gain a large portion of their yards after the catch.

Receivers don’t need to have the breakaway speed to succeed at football but it can help to generate some explosive plays.

This is especially true when running routes that cover a large portion of the field. Crossing routes for example allow the wide receiver to run horizontally across the field.

In man coverage fast wide receivers can easily lose their man with their breakaway speed. Once they catch the ball, players with breakaway speed are often able to turn the corner and take these passes for touchdowns.

Tyreek Hill’s long touchdown against the Buffalo Bills would be a great example of this.


The quarterback position is not typically known for running the football but that has begun to change.

Dual-threat quarterbacks have become a very popular option around the league. These players are capable of throwing the ball but are also able to run it as well.

On these rushing plays, the quarterback will sometimes find themselves in a footrace against a defensive back.

Some modern-day quarterbacks possess the speed to beat these players in a race to the end zone.

Quarterbacks such as Michael Vick and Lamar Jackson are great examples of what it looks like to have breakaway speed as a quarterback.

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