In football, ineligible receiver downfield is an offensive penalty in which an ineligible player crosses the line of scrimmage before the ball is thrown on a forward passing play. The player's position at the time when the ball is snapped determines whether they are eligible or not. Essentially, this penalty prevents offensive linemen from prematurely crossing the line of scrimmage on passing plays.
However, an exception for this rule is allowed on screen plays and offensive linemen are able to cross the line of scrimmage to block. This is because on a screen play the ball will still be thrown from behind the line of scrimmage. The ineligible receiver downfield penalty is not to be confused with the illegal touching penalty, which occurs when an ineligible player actually catches the pass.
The ruling on this penalty varies across leagues. In the NCAA, players are allowed to be 3 yards over the line of scrimmage before the penalty is called. While in the NFL, any movement beyond the line of scrimmage will get you called for this penalty. In the NFL and NCAA, the result of an ineligible receiver downfield penalty is a loss of 5 yards for the offense.
In football, it can be a tricky question as to which players are eligible and which are not. Only players who are deemed eligible receivers are allowed to advance beyond the line of scrimmage before a forward pass is thrown. To clear up a common misconception, not all players on the offensive team are eligible to catch a forward pass. A forward pass is defined by the ball being thrown in the direction of the goal line that the offense is attempting to move towards.
There are 11 players on the offense at a time during a football game; of those 11, 6 are eligible to receive forward passes. In most cases, the 5 offensive linemen are ruled ineligible and cannot cross the line of scrimmage until a pass is made. That means that the remaining 6 players (generally a quarterback, running back, full back, tight end, and wide receivers) are eligible receivers and may cross the line of scrimmage after the snap and before the pass is made.
|PRO TIP: Any player on the defense is considered an eligible receiver, and any player on the field can receive a backward or lateral pass.|