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Football Unnecessary Roughness Penalty

football unnecessary roughness penalty

The unnecessary roughness penalty is a personal foul designed for the purpose of player safety. There is a large umbrella of plays and examples that will result in unnecessary roughness being called, but is most notably called when a defensive player makes contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless player. The result of the penalty is 15 yards with an automatic first down (if the offending player is on defense).


Unnecessary roughness is defined as an illegal action where a player uses unnecessary methods to tackle or block another player. Unnecessary roughness is most typically called when there is a hit by a defensive player to a defenseless player's head or neck area or when a defensive player leads with his helmet into a tackle, whether or not the player he is tackling is considered to be defenseless.

A player is considered to be defenseless:

  • While in the act of passing the ball or just after releasing the ball
  • While in the act of receiving or attempting to receive the ball
  • While in the act of establishing possession after receiving the ball
  • When a runner is already in the grasp of a tackler and forward progress has been stopped
  • While a kickoff/punt returner is attempting to field the ball in the air
  • When on the ground at the end of the play

Unnecessary roughness is also called in the event of a late hit or a malicious hit away from the play and can be called on either a defensive or offensive player. Late hits are most commonly observed when a defensive player unnecessarily hits the ball carrier as he is going out of bounds, when there is a delayed hit on the quarterback while he is sliding, or when there is a hit on a punt returner after a fair catch is signaled.


Unnecessary Roughness15 Yards, Automatic 1st Down15 Yards, Automatic 1st Down15 Yards, Automatic 1st Down15 Yards, Automatic 1st Down10 Yards

In all leagues and levels of play except for the AFL, where the result is 10 yards, the result of an unnecessary roughness penalty is 15 yards and an automatic first down. However, if the officials deem the hit to be "flagrant," they can eject the offending player from the game.

This rule is slightly different at the NCAA level. If the officials deem the hit to be "targeting," the penalty is 15 yards and an automatic ejection for the offending player. Targeting is called on any play where there is a hit to the head or neck area of a defenseless player or when contact is initiated with the helmet of the tackler.

Penalty Signal

Football Penalty Signal Personal Foul

Unnecessary roughness falls under the umbrella of a personal foul. When the penalty occurs, the referee will call a personal foul and make the personal foul signal, which consists of putting one wrist on top of the other, followed by announcing unnecessary roughness.


  • A player initiates contact into the head or neck area of a defenseless player.
  • A player initiates contact with their helmet.
  • A player tackles a ball carrier who has already stepped out of bounds.
  • A player initiates contact into the knee of a snapper on a field goal or PAT attempt.

Similar Penalties To Unnecessary Roughness