NFL: Eligible receiver?

The term “eligible receiver” came up in **kenobi **'s explanation in this thread.

I’m familiar with the term before, of course, in the context of penalties (e.g. “Ineligible Receiver Downfield”).

However, what is the rationale for having “eligible” vs. “ineligible” receivers? Why can’t everyone be an eligible receiver, including offensive linemen?

I can’t really explain “why”, but the definition of who is eligible, versus who is not:

On any offensive play, the offense has to have exactly seven players on the line of scrimmage. The player at each “end” is considered to be an eligible receiver, as are all the players who are not on the line of scrimmage*.

You can get an illegal formation if one of those “ends” winds up being an offensive lineman (i.e., someone wearing a jersey number from 50-79), since jersey numbers are one way for the officials to keep track of who is eligible, and who is not.

I’m fairly sure that the reason “why” is buried deep in football history, when the rules for forward passing were first developed.

    • An exception: the quarterback is not an eligible receiver, if he starts the play “under center”. A quarterback in the shotgun formation, however, is an eligible receiver.

Some players are declared “eligible receivers” so they can take advantage of illegal contact or pass interference rules (without these rules it would be very difficult to complete a pass–as the XFL learned earlier in its short history). I guess if all offensive players were declared eligible, the QB could (conceivably) throw the ball at a lineman engaged in a block and appeal for PI.

The rules have evolved to maintain a balance between offense and defense. Allowing all 11 offensive players to catch a pass would tilt the advantage hugely toward the offense. It would be impossible to get much of a pass rush, because if a D-linemen beat an O-lineman, the QB could just flip the ball to the O-lineman.

I’m sure all-eligible variations of football could be invented, maybe with some compensating advantage for the defense (extra players?) . . . and some of them might even be entertaining. But with eligibility and no other change, every game would look like yesterday’s Green Bay-Arizona game–or worse!

The recent “A-11” offense created at a California high school used a loophole in the rules that allows all 11 players to be eligible if the offense is lined up a punting formation. The loophole was closed two years later.

They weren’t all eligible, exactly. 5 were ineligible receivers, but those 5 changed from play to play and didn’t have traditional lineman numbers.

In 7 on 7 football (a huge “summer” version of football here in Texas), only the center is an ineligible receiver…so that’s almost everyone.

For what league is this? I don’t think this is the case in the NFL at least-seem to remember a number of QBs catching passes on trick plays.

So do I, but I bet they were all from the shotgun formation.

Exactly. It is an NFL rule…though, if the ball is batted / deflected, the QB (as well as the linemen) becomes an eligible receiver. It’s how Brett Favre’s first NFL completion was to himself.

The eligible-receiver rule only applies to a forward pass, though, right? Otherwise the flea-flicker would be illegal.

The QB can lateral to any offensive player, though, yes?

Correct on both counts. Eligibility is only an issue on forward passes; laterals and “backwards passes” aren’t technically considered passes. For example, a dropped lateral isn’t an incomplete pass; it’s a live ball / fumble.

Also, just to note: more than one forward pass in the same play is illegal.

I’m willing to believe you but I have never heard of this rule and I go about as deep as anyone on this stuff.

Hadn’t heard that before about the QB under center being ineligible. Seems the rule is different for college though (QB under center is eligible).

Once the ball touches any eligible receiver (including defense) it is fair game for anyone to catch it.

One correction - in the NFL (not sure about NCAA) you can put more than 7 on the LOS, but only the two on the end are eligible.

Fresno State won a game last season when an OL caught a deflected pass for a 2 point play.

And there’s no pass interference possibility at that point either. So if a ball gets tipped, you’re free to make as much contact you want with another player to prevent them from catching it. (Within reason. You still could get nailed for a personal foul or holding.) This goes for both offense and defense players.

Thanks for the replies, folks!

Well, it’s a Wikipedia link, so take it at face value. :slight_smile:

“The four remaining players in the backfield (five in Canadian football), including the quarterback, are also eligible receivers—except in the National Football League, where a quarterback who takes the snap directly from the center is never eligible. However, a quarterback who receives a longer snap from the center, such as in a shotgun formation, is eligible even in the NFL.”