In gridiron football, not all players on offense are entitled to receive a forward pass. Only an eligible pass receiver may legally catch a forward pass, and only an eligible receiver may advance beyond the neutral zone if a forward pass crosses into the neutral zone. If the pass is received by a non-eligible receiver, it is "illegal touching" (five yards and loss of down). If an ineligible receiver is beyond the neutral zone when a forward pass crossing the neutral zone is thrown, a foul of "ineligible receiver downfield" (five yards, but no loss of down) is called. Each league has slightly different rules regarding who is considered an eligible receiver.
The NCAA rulebook defines eligible receivers for college football in Rule 7, Section 3, Article 3.The determining factors are the player's position on the field at the snap and their jersey number. Specifically, any players on offense wearing numbers between 50 and 79 are always ineligible. All defensive players are eligible receivers and offensive players who are not wearing an ineligible number are eligible receivers if they meet one of the following three criteria:
Players may only wear eligible numbers at an ineligible position when it is obvious that a punt or field goal is to be attempted.
If a player is to change between eligible and ineligible positions, they must physically change jersey numbers to reflect the position.
A receiver loses his eligibility by leaving the field of play unless he was forced out by a defensive player and immediately attempts to get back inbounds (Rule 7-3-4). All players on the field become eligible as soon as the ball is touched by a defensive player or an official during play (Rule 7-3-5).
In both American and Canadian professional football, every player on the defensive team is considered eligible. The offensive team must have at least seven players lined up on the line of scrimmage. Of the players on the line of scrimmage, only the two players on the ends of the line of scrimmage are eligible receivers. The remaining players are in the backfield (four in American football, five in Canadian football), including the quarterback. These backfield players are also eligible receivers. In the National Football League (NFL), a quarterback who takes his stance behind center as a T-formation quarterback is not eligible unless, before the ball is snapped, he legally moves to a position at least one yard behind the line of scrimmage or on the end of the line, and is stationary in that position for at least one second before the snap, but is nonetheless not counted toward the seven men required on the line of scrimmage.
If, for example, eight men line up on the line of scrimmage, the team loses an eligible receiver. This can often happen when a flanker or slot receiver, who is supposed to line up behind the line of scrimmage, instead lines up on the line of scrimmage between the offensive line and a split end. In most cases where a pass is caught by an ineligible receiver, it is usually because the quarterback was under pressure and threw it to an offensive lineman out of desperation.
Eligible receivers must wear certain uniform numbers, so that the officials can more easily distinguish between eligible and ineligible receivers. In the NFL running backs must wear numbers 20 to 49, tight ends must wear numbers 80 to 89 (or 40 to 49 if the numbers 80 to 89 have been exhausted), and wide receivers must wear numbers 10 to 19 or 80 to 89. In the CFL ineligible receivers must wear numbers 50 to 69; all other numbers (including 0 and 00) may be worn by eligible receivers. A player who is not wearing a number that corresponds to an eligible receiver is ineligible even if he lines up in an eligible position. However, a player who reports to the referee that he intends to be eligible in the following play is allowed to line up and act as an eligible receiver. An example of this was a 1985 NFL game in which William Perry, wearing number 72 and normally a defensive lineman, was made an eligible receiver on an offensive play, and successfully caught a touchdown pass attempt. A more recent example, and more commonly used, has been former New England Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel lining up as a tight end in goal line situations. In the 2018 season, George Fant has also lined up in the tight end position for the Seattle Seahawks due to injuries to the starting tight ends Ed Dickson and Will Dissly.In the 2019 season the Atlanta Falcons declared right tackle Ty Sambrailo eligible on many plays before throwing the ball to him for a 35-yard touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Before the snap of the ball, in the American game, backfield players may only move parallel to the line of scrimmage, only one back may be in motion at any given time, and if forward motion has occurred, the back must be still for a full second before the snap. The receiver may be in motion laterally or away from the line of scrimmage at the snap. A breach of this rule results in a penalty for illegal procedure (five yards). However, in the Canadian game, eligible receivers may move in any direction before the snap, any number may be in motion at any one time, and there is no need to be motionless before the snap.
The rules on eligible receivers only apply to forward passes. Any player may legally catch a backwards or lateral pass.
In the American game, once the play has started, eligible receivers can become ineligible depending on how the play develops. Any eligible receiver that goes out of bounds is no longer an eligible receiver and cannot receive a forward pass, unless that player re-establishes by taking three steps in bounds. Also, if a pass is touched by any defensive player or eligible offensive receiver (tipped by a defensive lineman, slips through a receiver's hands, etc.), every offensive player immediately becomes eligible. In the CFL all players become eligible receivers if a pass is touched by a member of the defensive team. A proposed rule change in the XFL would make all players behind the line of scrimmage eligible receivers, regardless of position or number.
In high school football, the rules of eligibility are roughly the same as in the college game. However, as of February 2009, at least five players must wear numbers between 50 and 79 on first, second, or third down, which by rule would make them ineligible receivers. This was because of a change in the definition of a scrimmage-kick formation made by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).The change was intended to close a loophole in the rules which allowed teams to run an A-11 offense, in which a team could legally be exempted from eligibility numbering restrictions if the player receiving the snap was at least seven yards behind the line of scrimmage.
In 2019, the NFHS changed the rules slightly, instead measuring the number of players behind the line of scrimmage, limiting that number to four. The minimum number of players on the offensive line was reduced from seven to five; however, because of the limit on backs, the only way to legally play with fewer than five ineligible receivers is to play with fewer than 11 players on the field.
The quarterback, colloquially known as the "signal caller", is a position in gridiron football. Quarterbacks are members of the offensive team and line up directly behind the offensive line. In modern American football, the quarterback is usually considered the leader of the offensive team, and is often responsible for calling the play in the huddle. The quarterback also touches the ball on every offensive play, and is the offensive player that almost always throws forward passes. When the QB is tackled behind the line of scrimmage, it is called a sack.
The shotgun formation is a formation used by the offensive team in gridiron football mainly for passing plays, although some teams use it as their base formation. Instead of the quarterback receiving the snap from center at the line of scrimmage, in the shotgun he stands farther back, often five to seven yards off the line. Sometimes the quarterback will have a back on one or both sides before the snap, while other times he will be the lone player in the backfield with everyone spread out as receivers.
In gridiron football, a lineman is a player who specializes in play at the line of scrimmage. The linemen of the team currently in possession of the ball are the offensive line, while linemen on the opposing team are the defensive line. A number of NFL rules specifically address restrictions and requirements for the offensive line, whose job is to help protect the quarterback from getting sacked for a loss, or worse, fumbling. The defensive line is covered by the same rules that apply to all defensive players. Linemen are usually the largest players on the field in both height and weight, since their positions usually require less running and more strength than skill positions.
A wide receiver, also referred to as wideouts or simply receivers, is an offensive position in gridiron football, and is a key player. They get their name because they are split out "wide", farthest away from the rest of the team. Wide receivers are the fastest players on the field. The wide receiver functions as the pass-catching specialist.
The tight end (TE) is a position in American football, arena football, and formerly Canadian football, on the offense. The tight end is often a hybrid position with the characteristics and roles of both an offensive lineman and a wide receiver. Like offensive linemen, they are usually lined up on the offensive line and are large enough to be effective blockers. On the other hand, unlike offensive linemen, they are eligible receivers adept enough to warrant a defense's attention when running pass patterns.
Strategy forms a major part of American football. Both teams plan many aspects of their plays (offense) and response to plays (defense), such as what formations they take, who they put on the field, and the roles and instructions each player are given. Throughout a game, each team adapts to the other's apparent strengths and weaknesses, trying various approaches to outmaneuver or overpower their opponent in order to win the game.
American football positions have slowly evolved over the history of the sport. From its origins in early rugby football to the modern game, the names and roles of various positions have changed greatly, some positions no longer exist, and others have been created to fill new roles.
A formation in football refers to the position players line up in before the start of a down. There are both offensive and defensive formations and there are many formations in both categories. Sometimes, formations are referred to as packages.
In football, the tackle-eligible play is a forward-pass play in which coaches will attempt to create mismatches against a defense by inserting an offensive tackle, into an offensive formation as an eligible receiver, usually as a tight end or as a fullback. This is done by changing the formation of the offensive line, via positioning two linemen on one side of the center and three linemen on the other.
A trick play, also known as a gadget play, gimmick play or trickeration, is a play in gridiron football that uses deception and unorthodox tactics to fool the opposing team. A trick play is often risky, offering the potential for a large gain or a touchdown if it is successful, but with the chance of a significant loss of yards or a turnover if not. Trick plays are rarely used not only because of the riskiness, but also to maintain the element of surprise for when they are used.
In American football, the specific role that a player takes on the field is referred to as their "position." Under the modern rules of American football, both teams are allowed 11 players on the field at one time and have "unlimited free substitutions," meaning that they may change any number of players during any "dead ball" situation. This has resulted in the development of three task-specific "platoons" of players within any single team: the offense, the defense, and the so-called 'special teams'. Within these three separate "platoons", various positions exist depending on the job that player is doing.
Slotback, sometimes referred to as an A-back or, is a position in gridiron football. The "slot" is the area between the last offensive lineman on either side of the center and the wide receiver on that side. A player who lines up between those two players and behind the line of scrimmage is a slotback. The position is a fixture of Canadian football and indoor football, but is also used in American football. The slotback requires a versitile player, who must combine the receiving skills of a wide receiver, the ball-carrying skills of a running back, and the blocking skills of a tight end. A similarly named position is the slot receiver, who is the third wide receiver in a 3-receiver set, the one who lines up between the outermost receiver and the end of the offensive line.
The triple option is an American football play used to offer several ways to move the football forward on the field of play. The triple option is based on the option run, but uses three players who might run with the ball instead of the two used in a standard option run.
In American football a play is a close to the ground "plan of action" or "strategy" used to move the ball down the field. A play begins at either the snap from the center or at kickoff. Most commonly plays occur at the snap during a down. These plays range from basic to very intricate. Football players keep a record of these plays in their playbook.
The A-11 offense is an offensive scheme that has been used in some levels of amateur American football. In this offense, a loophole in the rules governing kicking formations is used to disguise which offensive players would be eligible to receive a pass for any given play. It was designed by Kurt Bryan and Steve Humphries of Piedmont High School in California.
The following terms are used in American football, both conventional and indoor. Some of these terms are also in use in Canadian football; for a list of terms unique to that code, see Glossary of Canadian football.
In gridiron football, an ineligible receiver downfield, or an ineligible man downfield, is a penalty called against the offensive team when a forward pass is thrown while a player who is ineligible to receive a pass is beyond the line of scrimmage without blocking an opponent at the time of the pass. A player is determined ineligible based on his position at the time of the snap. When the ball is snapped, the offense is required to have no more than eleven players on the field, out of whom only six are eligible. On most plays, the eligible receivers include the quarterback, running backs, fullbacks, tight ends, and wide receivers, while the ineligible receivers are offensive linemen, including the center, offensive guards, and offensive tackles.
Players in the National Football League wear uniform numbers between 1 and 99, and no two players on a team may wear the same number. Rules exist which tie a player's number to a specific range of numbers for their primary position. Additionally, rules exist which limit who may handle the ball on offense: generally players who are designated as offensive lineman, who wear numbers 50–79, are not allowed to handle the ball during a play from scrimmage, though they are allowed to do so if they report to the referee as playing out of position for a tackle-eligible play.
|Positions in American football and Canadian football|
|Offense (Skill position)||Defense||Special teams|
|Linemen||Guard, Tackle, Center||Linemen||Tackle, End, Edge rusher||Kicking players||Placekicker, Punter, Kickoff specialist|
|Quarterback (Dual-threat, Game manager, System)||Linebacker||Snapping||Long snapper, Holder|
|Backs||Halfback/Tailback (Triple-threat, Change of pace), Fullback, H-back, Wingback||Backs||Cornerback, Safety, Halfback, Nickelback, Dimeback||Returning||Punt returner, Kick returner, Jammer, Upman|
|Receivers||Wide receiver (Eligible), Tight end, Slotback, End||Tackling||Gunner, Upback, Utility|
|Formations (List) — Nomenclature — Strategy|