Ineligible receiver

What is the Definition of Ineligible Receivers in American Football?

In American Football, understanding the concept of ineligible receivers plays a crucial role in both offensive and defensive strategies. An ineligible receiver is a player who is not allowed to catch a forward pass thrown from behind the line of scrimmage. These players are usually not lined up on either end of the line or at least one yard behind it when the ball is snapped. Moreover, offensive players wearing jersey numbers 50 through 79 are also considered ineligible receivers.

It is essential for both teams to identify ineligible receivers to avoid penalties, ensure a smooth flow of the game, and strategize effectively. When an ineligible receiver is found on the field beyond the line of scrimmage without blocking an opponent during a forward pass, a penalty is called against the offending team. These penalties can be detrimental to a team’s progress during a game, making it crucial for players and coaches alike to be aware of the rules surrounding ineligible receivers.

Key Takeaways

  • Ineligible receivers are players not allowed to catch forward passes and are determined by their position and jersey number.
  • Identifying ineligible receivers is vital for both teams to strategize and avoid penalties.
  • Penalties related to ineligible receivers can hinder a team’s progress and impact the game’s outcome.

Understanding Ineligible Receivers


An ineligible receiver in American Football refers to a player who is not allowed to catch a forward pass during a game. Ineligible receivers include those players who are not lined up on either end of the line, or at least one yard behind the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped. Additionally, a player who has been out of bounds prior to or during a pass is also considered ineligible, even if they re-establish themselves inbounds with both feet or any part of their body other than their hands.

Uniform Numbering System

The uniform numbering system in American Football plays a role in identifying eligible and ineligible receivers. Players wearing jersey numbers 50 through 79 are considered ineligible receivers, as these numbers are typically assigned to linemen who are not involved in pass-catching roles. This numbering system helps officials and opposing teams quickly identify which players on the field are not allowed to receive forward passes.

Role in Gameplay

Ineligible receivers are vital to the structure and strategy of American Football, as they typically play positions that focus on blocking for the quarterback or running back, rather than catching passes. The presence of ineligible receivers helps to maintain the integrity of the game and prevents teams from exploiting loopholes in the rules.

During gameplay, if an ineligible receiver catches a forward pass or is involved in a play where a pass interference penalty occurs, the offensive team is penalized. Penalties for ineligible receiver violations include loss of yardage and possible loss of a down. Understanding and abiding by the rules of ineligible receivers is crucial for teams to execute strategies effectively and avoid costly penalties.

Identifying Ineligible Receivers

In American football, an ineligible receiver is a player who cannot legally catch a forward pass. This is determined by the player’s position and alignment on the field when the ball is snapped, as well as their uniform number.

Exceptions and Variations

While the general rule is that ineligible receivers are players who are not lined up on either end of the line or at least one yard behind it when the ball is snapped, there are some exceptions and variations. For instance, NCAA rules state that ineligible receivers can go three yards past the neutral zone without incurring a penalty, while NFL rules are more strict.

In addition, players who have stepped out of bounds are considered ineligible to receive a pass. Moreover, players wearing numbers 50 through 79 on their jerseys are also designated as ineligible receivers in the NFL.

Specific Positions

There are specific positions in American football that primarily consist of ineligible receivers by default. These include:

  • Offensive linemen (center, guards, and tackles): As they are typically wearing uniform numbers between 50 and 79, and are intricately involved in creating space for other offensive players, they are considered ineligible.
  • Tight ends: Although tight ends can be eligible or ineligible based on their alignment, their eligibility depends on whether they are lined up on the last position on the line of scrimmage or not. Also, their uniform numbers (80s and 40s) clearly differ from those of offensive linemen.
  • Quarterbacks: It’s rare for a quarterback to become an eligible receiver, but it can happen in specific trick plays. In these scenarios, a different player would have to throw the pass for the quarterback to be eligible to catch it.

By understanding the various rules and exceptions associated with ineligible receivers, the game of American football becomes more complex and strategic, offering opportunities for teams to exploit potential mismatches and further elevate the competitive aspect of the sport.

Consequences of Ineligible Receiver Violations


In American football, an ineligible receiver violation occurs when a player who is not eligible to catch a forward pass receives one or is downfield when the pass is thrown. The penalty for this infraction is the loss of five yards from the previous line of scrimmage, but there is no loss of down.

Additionally, if an ineligible receiver goes beyond the neutral zone when a pass is thrown across it, it is considered an ineligible receiver downfield. The same penalty of losing five yards is applied, but again, no loss of down is called. If the pass is received by a non-eligible receiver, the penalty is called illegal touching.

Effect on Game

The effect of ineligible receiver violations can vary depending on the situation in the game. A loss of five yards may not seem like a significant setback, but it can have a considerable impact on the offense’s ability to move the ball down the field.

For instance, a penalty of this nature can transform a manageable 3rd-and-5 situation into a more difficult 3rd-and-10, potentially leading to a failed conversion and a change of possession. Furthermore, it can disrupt the offensive game plan, forcing the team to adjust and possibly abandon specific plays.

In summary, while ineligible receiver violations may not directly result in a turnover, they can significantly affect a team’s momentum and field position. This subtle shift can be the difference between a successful drive and a stalled offensive effort.

Strategies Involving Ineligible Receivers

Deception Tactics

Ineligible receivers can play a crucial role in deception tactics. Offensive coordinators often design plays to confuse the defense, taking advantage of ineligible receivers that appear to be eligible. For instance, an offensive lineman may execute a “tackle eligible” play, where a tackle lines up at a tight end position, giving the illusion of being an eligible receiver. Defenders may fall for the deception and cover the ineligible receiver, leaving an eligible receiver wide open down the field. Another common tactic is using ineligible receivers in play-action or fake run plays to draw the defense’s attention away from the actual target.

Avoiding Violations

To avoid penalties for involving ineligible receivers in passing plays, teams must be strategic in their formations and ensure that they are aware of players’ eligibility status. Some best practices in avoiding violations include:

  • Ensuring offensive linemen with jersey numbers 50 through 79 are not positioned in eligible receiver spots.
  • Maintaining a clear distinction between eligible and ineligible receivers to prevent any unintentional involvement in forward pass attempts.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ineligible receivers can be used effectively in deception tactics, confusing the defense and creating opportunities for eligible receivers.
  • It is crucial for teams to be aware of the eligibility status of their players and position them accordingly to avoid penalties.