what is a horse collar tackle

What Is A Horse Collar Tackle In Football

Players in football are protected from injuries through the many rules. These rules are revised from time to time to ensure player safety. One such common rule is the horse collar tackle.

If defenders failed to grab and tackle ball carriers, they would use the horse collar tackle. It’s a rule set for players that are being chased as opposed to near formation players.

So, what Is a horse collar tackle? Why is it illegal in football, and what is the penalty?

Join me below as I discuss more about the horse collar tackle in football.

What Is A Horse-Collar Tackle In Football

A horse-collar tackle in football, according to the NFL Rulebook, is a maneuver where a player tackles the back or inside of the player’s shoulder pads.

It’s a dangerous tackle when a player is grabbed on the back and on the inside of the shoulder pad. No player can grab the collar back, side shoulder jersey, or pad.

However, the foul doesn’t apply to a quarterback inside the pocket or tackle box players.

For many years, the collar tackle was illegal. It was later banned in high school, colleges, and professional leagues for safety reasons.

It’s a special rule for players or ball carriers being chased down. The shoulder pad in a player tends to stick out, making it easier for defenders to grab. Once grabbed, the defender pulls down hard, bringing the ball carrier down.

While the maneuver is very effective at tackling a running ball carrier, it’s very dangerous.

Why Do They Call It A Horse Collar Tackle

It’s called a horse collar tackle because the pulling of the collar looks much similar to the way a horse pulls a wagon across its back.

Let me make it simpler.

player in yellow jersey fixing on his helmet

A horse collar rests on its upper back. When a horse is pulling a wagon, the collar rest is responsible for even weight distribution across the back and shoulders of the horse.

As the horse moves, the collar is where the wagon pulls on the horse’s neck. The same horse-pulling motion is the same as when a player is tackled on the back and inside shoulder pads.

What Is The Penalty For Horse Collar Tackle

A horse collar penalty is classified among the major penalties in football because of the risk involved.

The penalty for a horse collar tackle is a 15-yard loss for the defense. This might also lead to an automatic first down. In the NFL, CFL, and AFL, a horse collar penalty is 15 yards and a first automatic down.

There’s no automatic first down in high school. The referee will add the 15 yards to wherever the tackle took place.

Play will start at the offense’s 40-yard line when they are tackled at their own 25-yard line.

What Is The Penalty Signal For Horse Collar Tackle

The referee will signal a horse collar tackle by making a hand fist and raising it to the collar before making a downward pulling motion.

However, the player being tackled must have his knees buckled by the tackle for the referee to call the penalty.

Why is the horse collar tackle illegal?

The horse collar is illegal because of the high injury risk. When players are pulled from the back on their shoulder pad inside, the chances of injuries are high.

A single player in the NFL led the banning of the horse collar tackle. In the 2004 NFL season, Roy Williams, who was a strong safety playing for Dallas Cowboys, injured four players.

Whenever offensive players got past him, he chased them down and grabbed them on the collar inside before bringing them down. Most were horse collar tackles.

In the same season, he injured four players through horse collar tackles. This raised questions about the tackle. The NFL owners came together by the end of the season and voted to ban it. 

It was banned with a vote of 27-5, making the tackle illegal. For a short period, the tackle was referred to as the Roy Williams rule.

Is a horse-collar tackle a personal foul?

The horse collar tackle in football is considered a personal foul. The penalty is 15 yards and a first automatic down.

football official watching the players closely

The penalty is applied in high school, college, and the NFL. However, there’s no first automatic down in high school.

Which Players Tend To Get Horse Collared?

So which position players get the horse collar tackle the most? Now that you know how the tackle works, the common players must be those running with the ball. 

If such players get past a defender, they’re easily tackled. It so happens that the horse collar tackle is quite effective in such situations. Common positions that get frequent horse collar tackles are:

Running Back

Running backs get horse collar tackles whenever they rush past defenders.

A running back will receive the ball with defenders ahead of him. He will need to run past the defenders.

When he manages to go past them, the defenders will try all chase him from behind. If they happen to get close, the chances of a horse collar tackle are quite high.

Running backs are known to be the shortest players on the field. This makes it easier for taller defensive linemen and linebackers to tackle them high.

It’s quite hard for the tall defensive players to reach down and tackle running backs. In most cases, they end up grabbing them by their collars and causing a horse collar tackle.

Wide Receiver

The wide receiver position also gets a lot of horse collar tackles. The main reason is because of their role in the game and their position.

Most horse collar tackles happen on the sidelines where wide receivers are positioned. A horse collar tackle tends to happen more when ball carriers are running a straight line.

On the sidelines, wide receivers tend to run more in a straight line putting themselves up for horse collar tackles.

Horse Collar Tackle in Football FAQs

american football player on the ground holding ball

When Did Horse Collar Tackle Become A Penalty In NFL?

The horse collar tackle became a penalty in the NFL in 2005. This happened after Roy Williams’ horse collar tackle led to four injuries in the 2004 season. 

When the season ended, the NFL owners voted and made the tackle illegal.

Can You Grab A Jersey In Football

You can grab a football jersey if you’re a defensive player but not on the inside collar or outside of the shoulder pads. But this rule doesn’t apply to a pocket quarterback or a player in the tackle box.

Offensive players, on the other hand, aren’t allowed to grab any part of the opponent’s equipment.

Is it illegal to pull hair in the NFL?

It’s illegal to tackle or pull a player’s hair in the NFL. Long hairs give runners an unfair advantage, and players can get called for pulling hair.


As you can see, the horse collar tackle is illegal in football due to the high-injury risks associated with it. It used to be legal up until 2005, not until when the league owners voted to have it banned.

The ruling came after Roy Williams, a Dallas Cowboy strong safety, caused four injuries through horse tackles.

Simply put, holding the back of a runner’s shoulder pad or jersey from the back and dragging the player to the ground is illegal. The result is a 15-yard penalty and a first automatic down.

Knowing about a horse collar tackle is essential to keep everyone on the field safe.

Read More: Want to learn about other penalties in football? Check out our guide on face masking to know more about this penalty, its history, signal, and results.

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