Football Ineligible Receiver Downfield Penalty

Football Ineligible Receiver Downfield Penalty

Passing is becoming more popular and has played an important role in the evolution of football. However, there are important rules when passing, and penalties which can occur if a pass is thrown incorrectly, or to an ineligible player. Read below to learn all about the ineligible receiver downfield penalty.


In the NFL, there are a number of circumstances where certain offensive players are considered “ineligible receivers.” This designation means that the player or players in question are not allowed to receive a pass from the quarterback, or whichever player is passing the ball, during an offensive play. According to NFL rules, a receiver is considered ineligible if:

  • They are wearing numbers 50–79, unless they have communicated a change in their eligibility status to the referee and have taken a position on their line or in their backfield that would make them eligible to catch a pass.
  • Any player not on either end of their line or at least one yard behind the line of scrimmage during the snap.

The referee will throw a penalty flag at the time the ineligible receiver goes downfield. The offending team will then be assessed a five-yard penalty and will be forced to replay the down.

Any receiver at the end of the line of scrimmage should confirm with the referee that they are on or off the line of scrimmage before the start of the play. Receivers should also make sure that they are not covering anyone else who is supposed to be on the line of scrimmage. For example, if a tight end is on their side of the line, they should be aligned off of the line of scrimmage.


PenaltyNFLNCAAHigh SchoolCFL
Ineligible Receiver DownfieldFive-yard penalty, Replay of down. Five-yard penalty, Replay of down.Five-yard penalty, Replay of down.10-yard penalty

The result of an ineligible receiver downfield is that the offending team receives a five-yard penalty and a replay of the down. 

In the NFL, offensive linemen are only allowed to go one yard downfield when blocking on a pass play. In college, they are allowed to go three yards down field. The further the offensive line can go downfield, the more it tricks the defense during play action and run-pass option plays. In the CFL, receivers do not have to come to a complete stop before the ball is snapped. 

Penalty Signal

football penalty signal ineligible receiver

To indicate this penalty, the referee will throw a flag at the beginning of the play. After the play, the referee will announce and signal that there was an ineligible receiver downfield by touching the top of their head. Players should always check with the referee that they are on or off the line of scrimmage or notify the referee of their position with the line of scrimmage and their eligibility as a receiver.


  • If a receiver is covering up a tight end and the tight end goes down field, the tight end is an ineligible receiver.
  • Any offensive lineman that goes downfield is an ineligible receiver that has not declared themselves eligible to the referee.
  • Any player who fails to notify the referee that they are an eligible receiver.

Similar Penalties To Ineligible Receiver Downfield


What are the consequences of an ineligible receiver downfield penalty?

At almost all levels of football, an ineligible receiver downfield penalty results in a loss of five yards and a replay of the down. This consequence applies to the NFL, NCAA, and the majority of high school football leagues. However, in the Canadian Football League, this type of penalty results in a ten-yard loss instead of five yards.

What does “illegal man downfield” mean?

In football, the phrase “illegal man downfield” is another way of referring to the ineligible receiver penalty. This phrase can be used to describe any instance in which an offensive player moves downfield in an illegal fashion, presumably to receive a pass that they are ineligible to catch. This can be an offensive lineman, but it is most commonly a tight end or wide receiver. Since both tight ends and wide receivers are eligible receivers, they cannot cover each other during an offensive play, as an eligible receiver cannot cover another eligible receiver.

Are tight ends always eligible receivers?

Unlike some other players on the offensive line, tight ends are not always eligible receivers. According to NFL rules, a tight end must be on the end of the line of scrimmage in order to be an eligible receiver. This means that if a wide receiver is on the line of scrimmage with a tight end inside, a penalty will be issued for an illegal formation, as eligible receivers on the line of scrimmage must be on the outside of the formation.