The down judge is one member of an NFL officiating crew, which consists of 7 on-field officials in specific positions with differing duties. The down judge is positioned on the sideline at the line of scrimmage, with an unobstructed view of the neutral zone.
What does a down judge do?
The down judge is across the field from the line judge and has the responsibility of overseeing all things related to the line of scrimmage including watching for offsides, encroachments, and false starts. The down judge also directs the chain crew when it's time to measure the yardage gained on a play, or set up for a fresh set of downs.
When the action moves to the sideline, the down judge is tasked with keeping an eye on whether or not the ballcarrier steps out of bounds, and will determine where the ballcarrier stepped out. The down judge has the responsibility of advising the referee of the current down, and also counts the number of offensive players on the field, watching for illegal substitutions.
The down judge is responsible for marking a ballcarrier's forward progress on run plays, and on passing plays the down judge watches for pass interference, monitoring the receivers and defensive backs on the down judge's side of the field, while keeping an eye on the nearest receiver for the first 7 yards of their route, until the route takes the receiver out of the zone of legal contact for defensive backs.
The down judge has similar duties on change-of-possession plays like punts and kickoffs, monitoring the line of scrimmage for infractions and making rulings on any trick plays or plays involving blocks in special teams scenarios.
The down judge is easily identified by the "DJ" adorning the back of their uniform.
One famous NFL down judge is Sarah Thomas, who became the first female to hold a position as a full time official in the NFL when she was hired in 2015, and made history again in 2019 by being the first woman to officiate an NFL playoff game, overseeing a Divisional Round matchup between the Los Angeles Chargers and the New England Patriots.
Thomas will make history again this year, as she is slated to be the down judge for Super Bowl LV. Between Thomas' ever-growing list of accomplishments, and the efforts of Sarah Fuller, the Vanderbilt kicker who became the first woman to play Division I college football this year, it has been a monumental season for women in the sport of American football.
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