Lineman Versus Linebacker (Differences Explained)

Linemen and linebackers are very different positions in American football.

Their different roles on the field mean that linemen tend to be significantly heavier than linebackers.

This article explains their positions and what they do on the field.

What’s The Difference Between A Lineman And A Linebacker?

The easiest way to explain the difference between linemen and linebackers is to look at how they position themselves on the defensive team.

Here’s an overhead shot of the line of scrimmage. The defensive team is on the left.

Four defensive players are hunkered down closest to the line. These are the defensive linemen.

Three defensive players line up at their backs. These are the defensive linebackers.

There are more defenders further out, but they are neither linemen nor linebackers – so we won’t go into them!

Defensive formations

This is one of two main formations, with four linemen. This is known as the 4-3 formation.

The alternative is to have three linemen and four linebackers. This is the 3-4 formation.

But let’s keep with the 4-3 and break it down further.

Positions Of Different Types Of Linemen And Linebackers

I’ll switch to a more schematic diagram to explain the different positions in each part of these defensive lines.

The linemen are the first line of defense. This line is a combination of two specific positions: the defensive tackles and the defensive ends.

The defensive tackles line up side by side in the 4-3 formation. They are central to stopping and blocking the attack.

Positions of defensive ends

The defensive ends flank the tackles. They have to stop opposing players running around the line of scrimmage.

This means that acceleration and speed are more important to defensive ends than the defensive tackles.

We’ll go into the differences in size in another section. But I can say here that you can probably guess that the defensive ends are lighter and faster on their feet, and are therefore smaller than the tackles.

Positions of defensive tackles

When there are only three defensive linemen, there is only one tackle sandwiched between two ends.

This lone guy is called a nose tackle. He has to do the job of two big guys in the other formation. So, the nose tackle tends to be one of the biggest guys on the field.

Different linebacker positions

The linebackers are the second line of defense. They have different roles depending on where they are in their line.

The classic names for these roles are Sam, Mike, and Will.

Mike is the guy in the middle of the maelstrom. The middle linebacker tends to be the best defender on the team. His role is to captain the defensive effort and call the defensive plays.

Sam’s position is on the strong side of Mike. “S” for Sam and for “strong”.

But what is the strong side? Well, it’s usually defined by whichever side has more opposition players lined up to launch an attack.

 Will’s position is on the other side. This is known as the weak side. “W” for Will and for “weak”.

But don’t think that the weak-side linebacker doesn’t get any action!

A classic move for the attack is to load up on one side in order to fake the direction. And then they run the play down the weak side.

Will had better be ready!

Differences In Size Between Linemen And Linebackers

Here’s a comparison across positions in the NFL:

As you can see, linebackers are considerably lighter than linemen.

A linebacker is typically about 245 lbs in current times. You may be surprised to hear that the average size has changed significantly in the last twenty years.

Check out our article on the average weight of linebackers to find out more.

Linemen are typically about 314 lbs. As we mentioned, they are significantly heavier.

You can read more in our article on the average weight of linemen in the NFL and college football.

Average BMI across NFL positions

If you’re interested in BMI, there is a huge difference between linemen and every other position.

Frequently Asked Questions?

Here are some quick answers to common questions.

Is a defensive tackle a lineman?

A defensive tackle is a lineman. There are two defensive tackles on the field, flanked by a defensive end on each side of the first line behind the scrimmage.

Is A Lineman And A Linebacker The Same Thing?

A common mistake on the part of sports fans who aren’t knowledgeable about football is that linebackers and linemen are the same thing.

More specifically, people think that linebackers are a type of lineman because “lineman” sounds quite generic. But this isn’t the case.

As we’ve explained in this article, linemen and linebackers are different positions in football.