An ineligible receiver in football is a term used to describe a player that cannot catch a forward pass. Many players who line up on the line of scrimmage and players who have stepped out of bounds are considered ineligible receivers in football.
Players lined up on the line of scrimmage who are not on the outside of the formation are often considered eligible. Stepping out of bounds or being forced out and not returning immediately result in a player being an ineligible receiver.
Players numbered 50-79 are also considered ineligible unless they notify an official.
Players who are not on either end of their line or at least one yard behind it
The first section of the NFL rulebook that covers ineligible receivers states “Players who are not on either end of their line or at least one yard behind it”.
This means if you are playing on the line of scrimmage you have to be the leftmost or right most player to be eligible. Your other option is to be at least one yard back of the line of scrimmage.
In each play, seven players are on the line of scrimmage. Only the furthest left player and furthest right players on the line are eligible receivers. This is why you will often see your Z receiver for example lining up one yard off the line.
In short to be eligible either you must be one yard off the line or be on the furthest left or right side of the line.
Offensive players wearing numbers 50–79 Unless A Change Is Reported
You know when you are watching NFL games and the referee announces that number #72 is now eligible? This is in reference to this very rule. Players with the jersey numbers 50-79 are typically considered ineligible receivers. This is because these numbers are used by players on the offensive line.
Following our last rule if there is any player on the line of scrimmage outside the offensive line then these players are ineligible. But if say the left side of the field had no receivers on the line of scrimmage. This could allow the left tackle to become an eligible receiver.
At this point, the team must report that a player of this jersey number is eligible. The referee will make a statement so both teams are aware that a player of this jersey number is an eligible receiver.
An eligible receiver who has been out of bounds
This brings us to the third reason in which a player can be deemed eligible or ineligible. This rule refers to receivers who have stepped out of bounds under their own volition. When a receiver steps out of bounds without being forced a referee will throw their hat.
This throw of the hat is a symbol to show that the receiver is now eligible. Since it can be advantageous to run out of bounds as a receiver this rule was put into place to stop it.
Though if a receiver is pushed out of bounds by a defender the referee will not throw his hat and the player is still considered eligible.
All in all, so long you don’t break any of these three rules you should find that you receivers are eligible to catch the ball.