From Intercept to Impact: What Does Pick Mean in Football? 

John Rizzo

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Pick Mean In Football

In the dynamic world of football, the term “pick” holds a pivotal place, often conjuring images of game-changing moments and extraordinary defensive feats. 

Understanding what “pick” means in football is not just about interceptions; it’s about the heart-pounding anticipation, strategy, and athleticism that define this quintessential defensive play. 

A “pick” occurs when a defensive player intercepts a pass thrown by the quarterback or disrupts a pass intended for an offensive player. It’s a testament to the defender’s ability to read the game, outwit the offense, and seize an opportunity that can alter the course of a match. 

In this introduction, we will delve into What Does Pick Mean in Football, the players who excel at it, and the profound moments it creates on the gridiron.

What Does Pick Mean In Football? 

In football, the term “pick” is commonly used to refer to a defensive player intercepting a pass thrown by the quarterback or disrupting a pass attempt by catching the ball mid-flight. 

This interception not only halts the offensive team’s progress but also gives possession to the defensive team, offering them an opportunity to launch their own offensive drive. 

Interceptions are celebrated as game-changing moments, showcasing the skill, anticipation, and football IQ of the defensive player, typically a cornerback, safety, or linebacker, who reads the quarterback’s intentions and seizes the opportunity to make a crucial play. 

The pick is a defensive achievement that can swing the momentum of a game and is often a highlight-reel play, as it demonstrates the defender’s ability to outwit the offense and make a significant impact on the outcome of a football contest.

Where Did The Term Pick In Football Come From? 

Term Pick In Football Come From

The origin of the term “pick” in football is not definitively known, but several theories and historical contexts shed light on its possible sources. Here are some potential origins:

Basketball Influence

One theory suggests that the term “pick” in football might have been borrowed from basketball. In basketball, a “pick and roll” is a common play where a player sets a screen (or pick) to free up a teammate for a shot. 

Similarly, in football, a defensive player “picks off” an offensive pass, indicating the interception.

Cricket Influence

Another possibility is that “pick” was influenced by cricket terminology. In cricket, “to pick up” means to take a catch or intercept a hit ball. This usage may have found its way into football to describe defenders intercepting passes.

Historical Use of “Pickpocket”

In the early days of football, the act of stealing the ball from an opponent was sometimes referred to as “pickpocketing.” Over time, this concept could have contributed to the use of “pick” to describe interceptions.

Hunting Terminology

Some speculate that “pick” may have origins in hunting vocabulary, where hunters use the term to describe selecting a target. In football, a defender “picks” or selects the intended target of a pass to intercept it.

Word Evolution

Language often evolves through usage, and “pick” in football might have simply evolved from descriptive terms used by players and fans to signify interceptions without a specific historical reference.

General usage

“Pick” is a concise and universally understood term that intuitively conveys the idea of taking something away. In football, it has become the go-to phrase for describing interceptions, regardless of its specific origin.

Colloquial Language

Sports terminology often develops through the colloquial language used by players, coaches, and fans. The term “pick” may have emerged organically over time as a convenient way to describe the act of intercepting a pass, becoming deeply ingrained in the football lexicon.

While the exact historical source of the term “pick” in football remains elusive, it has become an integral part of the sport’s terminology, widely recognized as describing the crucial defensive play of intercepting a pass.

How Do Players Get Picks In Football? 

Players Get Picks In Football

In football, players earn interceptions, commonly referred to as “picks,” through their defensive skills, awareness, and football IQ. Here are some different types of players who can get picks:

Cornerback (CB)

Cornerbacks are often the primary players tasked with getting picks. They line up against wide receivers and use their speed, agility, and ball-tracking abilities to read the quarterback’s eyes, anticipate passes, and make interceptions. 

CBs who excel at reading routes and jumping routes are more likely to get picks.

Safety (S)

Safeties, including free safeties and strong safeties, have a broader view of the field and are often responsible for patrolling the secondary. They can get picks by reading the quarterback’s intentions, covering large areas of the field, and reacting quickly to intercept passes or provide over-the-top support.

Linebacker (LB)

Linebackers are positioned closer to the line of scrimmage but can still get picks. Some linebackers are known for their pass coverage skills, which include reading the quarterback’s movements and dropping into passing lanes to make interceptions.

Defensive End (DE)

Defensive ends primarily focus on pressuring the quarterback, but they can also get picks if they manage to tip a pass at the line of scrimmage and then catch it themselves. This requires quick reactions and awareness.

Nickelback (NB)

The Nickelback is a specialized cornerback that often covers slot receivers. They can get picks by reading the short passing game and disrupting routes, as well as by capitalizing on mistakes made by the opposing offense in the middle of the field.

Dimeback (DB)

In certain situations, teams deploy an extra defensive back known as the dimeback. Dimebacks can capitalize on crowded passing situations, where multiple defenders converge on the ball, increasing the chances of tips and interceptions.

Defensive Tackle (DT)

While less common, defensive tackles can also get picks. They need to read the quarterback’s release and timing, and if they can manage to deflect a pass at the line of scrimmage and secure the ball, they can achieve an interception.

Each of these players contributes to the defense’s ability to secure interceptions, but it often requires a combination of skills, teamwork, and situational awareness to get picks in football. 

Interceptions can change the course of a game, and players from various positions can play a crucial role in this aspect of the game.

Who Has Thrown The Most Picks In The NFL? 

As of my last knowledge update in September 2021, several NFL quarterbacks have thrown a significant number of interceptions during their careers. 

Here are some notable quarterbacks who have thrown the most interceptions in NFL history:

Brett Favre

Brett Favre

Brett Favre, a legendary quarterback known for his aggressive style of play, holds the NFL record for the most career interceptions. 

Over his illustrious career with the Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, and Minnesota Vikings, Favre threw a total of 336 interceptions. However, he also ranks among the all-time leaders in passing yards and touchdowns.

George Blanda

George Blanda was a versatile quarterback and kicker who played in the NFL from 1949 to 1975. During his long career with the Chicago Bears, Houston Oilers, and Oakland Raiders, Blanda threw 277 interceptions.

John Hadl

John Hadl, a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback, played in the NFL from 1962 to 1977. He had stints with several teams, including the San Diego Chargers, Green Bay Packers, and Los Angeles Rams, and threw a total of 268 interceptions.

Vinny Testaverde

Vinny Testaverde had a lengthy NFL career, playing for several teams from 1987 to 2007. He ranks fourth on the all-time interception list with 267 picks, but he also threw for over 46,000 yards and 275 touchdowns.

Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton, a Hall of Fame quarterback, played for the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants during his career from 1961 to 1978. He threw 266 interceptions but is also remembered for his prolific passing and scrambling abilities.

Dan Marino

Dan Marino, one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, played for the Miami Dolphins from 1983 to 1999. Although he ranks among the career interception leaders with 252, Marino’s passing prowess and numerous records are his enduring legacy.

Philip Rivers

Philip Rivers, a standout quarterback, played for the San Diego Chargers and later the Los Angeles Chargers, as well as a season with the Indianapolis Colts. 

Over his career, which spanned from 2004 to 2020, Rivers threw 210 interceptions but also amassed over 63,000 passing yards and 421 touchdown passes.

Please note that statistics may have changed since my last update in September 2021, and you may want to check the latest records for the most interceptions in the NFL.


What does “pick” mean in football?

In football, “pick” is a term used to describe a defensive player intercepting a pass thrown by the quarterback or disrupting a pass attempt intended for an offensive player. It signifies a crucial defensive play that can change the momentum of the game.

Who can make a “pick” in football?

Any defensive player, including cornerbacks, safeties, linebackers, and occasionally defensive linemen, can make a “pick.” It depends on their positioning, awareness, and ability to read the quarterback’s intentions.

How does a player make a successful “pick” in football?

To make a successful “pick,” a player needs to read the quarterback’s eyes, anticipate the pass, and position themselves to intercept the ball. It often involves quick reactions, agility, and excellent ball-tracking skills.

What happens after a “pick” in football?

After a “pick,” the defensive team gains possession of the ball, and they become the offense. The player who made the interception will attempt to advance the ball as far as possible toward the opposing team’s end zone.

Can a “pick” occur anywhere on the field in football?

Yes, a “pick” can occur anywhere on the field as long as it involves the interception of a pass. It can happen in the red zone, midfield, or even near the defensive team’s end zone. 

The location of the “pick” can significantly impact field position and game dynamics.


The term “pick” in football encapsulates the essence of the sport’s unpredictable and exhilarating nature. It embodies the split-second decisions, athleticism, and anticipation that make football an enduring spectacle. 

As we conclude our exploration of what “pick” means in football, it’s clear that this simple word represents a complex world of strategy, execution, and game-changing moments. 

It reminds us that in this fiercely competitive sport, the balance of power can shift with a single interception. “Pick” represents the defender’s ability to defy the odds, anticipate the play, and transform the tide of a game, making it a cherished element of football’s rich tapestry. 

Each “pick” is a reminder that in football, as in life, the unexpected can become unforgettable.

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John Rizzo

I am a professional rugby player in the Washington DC-Baltimore area. I have been playing rugby for over 10 years and have had the opportunity to play in many different countries. I am also a coach for both youth and adult rugby teams. I graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in Sports Management and Marketing. I am currently working on my MPA from American University and plan to pursue this career path after graduating next year. LinkedIn

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