Sports Word of the Week! ELIGIBLE RECEIVER

Eligible Receiver (American Football) – Players on offense who can legally catch a forward pass and advance the ball passed the neutral zone.  This is only discussed with offensive players because all defensive players in college and professional are eligible.

Any player who is not wearing a number between 50 and 79 and meet one of the following criteria:
1. Lined up at either end of the group of players on the line of scrimmage.
2. Lined up at least one yard behind the line of scrimmage.
3. Positioned to receive a hand-to-hand snap from the center (almost always the quarterback).

All players become eligible as soon as the ball is touched by a defensive player or an official during play.  A player loses eligibility if he goes out of bounds unless a defensive player forces him out and he returns back to the field immediately.

Professional (NFL)
Players must wear an eligible number and be in an eligible position.

1. Eligible positions

  • Two players lined up at the end of the line scrimmage (offense must have seven players on the line).
  • Four players in the backfield.
  • Quarterback after another person has touched the ball.

2. Eligible numbers

  • Running backs – 20 to 49
  • Tight ends – 80 to 89 (or 40 to 49 if the numbers 80 to 89 are used)
  • Wide receivers – 10 to 19 or 80 to 89

A player who does not wear an eligible number can be eligible by being in an eligible position if he informs the referee prior to the play.

Once a pass is touched by an eligible receiver every offensive player immediately becomes eligible.  An eligible receiver loses eligibility if he goes out of bounds. He regains his eligibility by returning to the field of play and taking three steps.

Join the Conversation
The Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh was angry with the refs because his defense did not have time to figure out who the eligible receivers were on the New England Patriots offense.

Posted on January 12, 2015 at 7:34 am

Written by

Shavannia Williams

Shavannia is the founder of Heels & Helmets and editor of its e-magazine, She also writes the football column, Gridiron, for the e-magazine. A sports marketing professional with over 13 years of experience, Ms. Williams has worked with the NBA, NCAA, NFL, NHL, and WNBA. As the owner of a marketing firm, Shavannia’s client roster includes: DC Women’s Business Center, NFL Players and United Way NFL Partnership. Her love for football began at The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, where she worked for Michigan Football and received her B.A. in Sport Management and Communication. She is excited to bring talented women together to provide a resource to help other ladies “join the conversation at the office” and enhance their business relationships. Follow her on twitter @MzGridiron.
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