Ask Farmer: Why does the referee have to announce an eligible receiver? Why not make the defense figure it out?

Referee Craig Wrolstad walks onto the field prior to an NFL football game between the Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins.
(Mark Tenally / Associated Press)

Why does the referee have to announce “Number 65 is reporting as an eligible receiver”? Why not make the defense figure out who’s eligible pre-snap?

Kenny Mayne



Farmer: First, let’s establish what defines an eligible and ineligible receiver. An offense is required to have at least seven players on the line. The players widest to the right and left are eligible receivers; the others — typically two tackles, two guards, and a center — are not. Anyone on the line of scrimmage but inside the right-most or left-most receiver is “covered up” and therefore ineligible to catch a pass.

With seven players on the line, that leaves three remaining players in the backfield, or at least a yard off the line of scrimmage, plus the quarterback. Those three are eligible receivers, and the quarterback is too, unless he’s taking the snap from under center.

Now, let’s talk jersey numbers. They help a defense determine who’s eligible. Offensive linemen wear numbers ranging from 50 to 79, and they are not eligible except when specifically designated as such. The only way one of those players can be eligible to catch a pass — assuming he is the outermost player on one side of the line — is if the officials are specifically told that player is an eligible receiver on the play. The player must report to the referee about his change of eligibility status. The referee then announces that to the defensive captain, TV and the stadium that a player with an ineligible number is changing status.

On to the question: Why not let the defense figure it out by itself?

“That would be horribly unfair,” former NFL referee Mike Carey said. “As a defensive player, it’s almost impossible to tell which offensive players are up on the line of scrimmage because of the depth perception when you’re looking straight at an offense.”

In other words, a defense needs to get a heads-up so it can match up with players who could be receiving threats.

Put simply by Carey: “Why have a numbering system if it doesn’t mean anything?”


What percentage of the 60-minute game is really action?

Jim Roach


Farmer: According to the Wall Street Journal, there are 11 minutes of action in an average three-hour NFL game. did a breakdown of Super Bowl XLIX between the Patriots and Seahawks and determined there was 12 minutes 6 seconds of action. That was 2015, and commercials in that game averaged a record $150,000 per second.

So for every minute of actual play, that Super Bowl generated more than $45 million in TV advertising revenue.