How Many Yards are in a First Down?
To obtain a first down in football, the offense must gain 10 total yards towards the opposing end zone. If the offense does not obtain the 10 yards needed for a first down on the first play, it becomes second down. The offense has four chances to convert back to a first down by obtaining 10 yards. If they fail to do so, the ball is given to the opposing team.
Any yards gained on any of the downs cut into the 10 yards needed for a first down. For example, if on first down the offense gains six yards, they'll need four more yards to convert back to a first down. However, if they lose two yards on the next down, they would then be 6 yards away.
If the offense gains the 10 yards, it will once again be 1st and 10 from wherever the ball is spotted.
1st and 10
1st and Long
Teams won't always be in a 1st and 10 situation. If the offense commits a penalty on first down, they may have to redo first down from farther back. Commonly, they can be forced to start from 1st and 15 or 1st and 20. This makes the drive difficult as there's extra yardage required from the start.
1st and Goal
If the offense reaches first down within 10 yards of the other team's end zone, they will start on 1st and Goal. Instead of having to gain ten yards in the four downs allotted, the offense must reach the endzone.
Turnover on Downs
Automatic First Down
Most penalties against the defense call for an automatic first down. Additionally, if a penalty moves the football to or past the spot which the offense must reach for a first down, an automatic first down will be awarded.
Here are the penalties that do not guarantee a first down:
- Delay of Game
- Neutral Zone Infraction
- Excess Time Out
- Running Into the Kicker
- Illegal Substitution
- More than eleven players on the field before or during the snap
- Illegal formation by the defense
IMPORTANT: Even though these penalties do not warrant an automatic first down, they can cause a new first down if the yardage awarded to the offense pushes them past the first down line.