Definition of Eligible Receiver

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What does the term "eligible receiver" mean in the world of football? What is meant by an "eligible receiver"?

In football, eligible receivers are players that are legally able to catch a forward pass on any given play.

All defensive players are considered "eligible" and can catch a pass (interception).

The King explains the meaning of the football term Eligible Receiver.  What is it?  In photo: Eagles player holding a ball.In order to be considered an eligible player on offense, you must:

1) Be lined up on either end of the line and have an eligible player number (1-49 or 80-89)

2) Be lined up at least one yard behind the line at the snap and have an eligible number, or have reported themselves as eligible to the referee (and line up at least one yard behind the line)

Also, if the ball is touched by a defensive player or eligible member of the offense, any offensive player can then touch the ball


So - if you are a running back and you are lined up behind the line of scrimmage, you are considered an eligible receiver.

If you are an offensive lineman, you are not considered eligible unless you announce your eligibility to the referee AND line up at least one yard behind the line of scrimmage.

Any ineligible receiver that catches a pass will subject his team to a 5 yard penalty and loss of down, which is why many offensive lineman will simply let the ball bounce off of them if a pass is thrown in their direction.


Ineligible receivers are also NOT allowed past the "neutral zone" when a forward pass to an eligible receiver is thrown. This will result in an "ineligible receiver downfield" penalty.

Any player is legally able to catch a lateral pass.