I was reading the Intentional Grounding (American Football) criteria listed on Wikipedia. According to the given criteria I think the following would be intentional grounding although I've never seen it called that way:

  • QB is under pressure in the pocket

  • Lone WR on one side of field steps out of bounds and does not reestablish (foot barely on the line for a few steps, say)

  • QB throws ball to WR (maybe he even catches it)

In this case the WR is ineligible.

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.

(source: Wikipedia)

Therefore since the QB is under immediate threat and in the pocket, it should be intentional grounding, even though the QB is not "intentionally" throwing the ball away necessarily, no?

  • While it perhaps has technical merit, I don't think you can punish a QB for IG in this situation - if the receiver is 10+ yards down the field, and the QB has a load of DL in his face, I think it's a bit unreasonable to expect him to see if his receiver has stepped out of bounds or not...
    – ImClarky
    Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 20:54
  • Agreed, I was more curious if this was correct by rule. It seemed weird to me that the rule doesn't just include that the ball be near any player who was an eligible receiver at the start of the play. Incidentally I thought of it at all because I saw a play where interference wasn't called because the receiver had accidentally stepped out and was therefore no longer eligible (had not yet reestablished). Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 21:22
  • While it probably goes outside the remit for this question (maybe ask a new question?) - the PI probably wasn't called because the official likely judged the pass to be 'uncatchable' as the receiver was out of bounds - a bit like if the ball was thrown way above the receiver's reach. But, with some of the officiating this year... who knows :)
    – ImClarky
    Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 21:47

2 Answers 2


Going off of the 2019 NFL Rulebook - Rule 8, Section 2: Intentional Grounding:


It is a foul for intentional grounding if a passer, facing an imminent loss of yardage because of pressure from the defense, throws a forward pass without a realistic chance of completion. A realistic chance of completion is defined as a pass that is thrown in the direction of and lands in the vicinity of an originally eligible receiver.

Unfortunately there is no elaboration of what "an originally eligible receiver" is, but I would presume this is to be interpreted as a receiver that is declared eligible at the start of the down. Therefore, it does not appear that a receiver stepping out of bounds has an effect on whether the QB is penalised for Intentional Grounding.

  • Thanks for the link, very helpful. Also it is stated in the form I would have hoped, as long as originally eligible means that the receiver was eligible at the beginning of the play. So I guess the answer is no, my original scenario is not intentional grounding. Commented Dec 31, 2019 at 3:51

ImClarky has the rule established for grounding but this has nothing to do with your question.

Simply either Wikipedia or your interpretation of Wikipedia is incorrect. A receiver who steps out of bounds (let's clearly talk about NFL since this varies in high school and college) IS AN ELIGIBLE RECEIVER.

A receiver stepping out of bounds does not become ineligible. The easier way to think about this is if this were true and the receiver stepped out and was more than 1 yard downfield he would be an illegal man downfield.

He is eligible and if he touches the ball first (without any tip) then and only then is it an illegal touch.

Think about this too. A lineman can have an illegal touch if they are the first to touch a forward pass. That is an automatic penalty because they are an ineligible receiver.

An eligible receiver who steps out of bounds on has three outcomes:

  1. They are not the first to touch the pass therefore they play as normal.

  2. They are the first to touch a pass and do not catch it. Then it is illegal touching yet the outcome is the same as the incomplete pass. The reason this isn't a "dead" foul like it used to be is that it give the defense the opportunity to play the ball the rest of the play - so if PLAYER A steps out of bounds and touches the pass first and bobbles it, then PLAYER B from the other team can regain possession or whatever is advantageous.

  3. Player runs out of bounds, first to touch it, and catches it. If illegal touching is accepted here then it is a repeat of the same down from original line of scrimmage (as long as player has reestablished themselves inbounds).

To further your question to make this more thorough...

Let's take an actual ineligible receiver. Also let's make this real world so we don't have non-sense ideas that make it too complex. So a team lines up in trips to the right and the middle and the outside WR both line up on the line unbeknownst to them. The middle WR would be ineligible to go downfield as he is not the end on the line.

The NFL's definition is simply if the QB is in the pocket they have to throw the ball with some sort of reasonable chance of a completion. I know there is wording that states that it must be an eligible receiver but the broader definition is the spirit of the rule.

Scenario #1 QB hits middle receiver who is ineligible on a slant route on a normal pass play. Not grounding. QB not under duress and not trying to save yards throwing the ball away. For sure not grounding, definitely illegal man downfield or illegal formation.

Scenario #2 QB is about to get sacked. Throws the ball 3 yards over the head of the middle WR. This would be one of those plays, that if it happened in the playoffs would create a need for better wording on the IG rule. However I have seen ref sessions where this example has come up. According to the spirit of the rule this should not be intentional grounding as the QB was making a reasonable attempt at a completion. Basically the referee has to assess if the QB thought the receiver was ineligible or not. In this case it is clear that the QB would deem this receiver to be eligible. No grounding, again illegal man downfield.

Scenario #3 Team is running a screen pass. The offensive line lets the defensive line through and curls to block out to the right. The runningback runs his route to the wrong side. The QB starts back pedaling because he can't find the runningback. As the defensive line closes in on him there are several offensive lineman 3-5 yards downfield already. QB tosses the ball right beside one of their feet - beyond the line of scrimmage and near the player. Now this IS grounding as the QB under no circumstance could have thought the offensive lineman were eligible (doesn't matter if the throw was an accident). Since there wasn't an eligible receiver in the vicinity the defensive team gets to choose between illegal man downfield and intentional grounding.

  • This is exactly what I was looking for, specifically Scenario #2. I was really trying to ask if a QB ought to get hit with an IG according to the letter of the rule in the case where he might have thought a player was eligible but actually wasn't (by some mistake that he likely wouldn't have known, etc.). In a larger sense I was trying to wrap my head around whether I thought that such a scenario (even if it's unlikely) should be IG in terms of the "spirit" of the penalty - it's interesting to see that this has been considered and that the answer is (unofficially?) no. Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 22:39
  • @TrivialCase - the scenario has happened dozens of times and has never been IG in the NFL. This is a 10 times a year thing. I have watched literally 80-90% of all games the past 20 years and never have seen an IG here.
    – Coach-D
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 22:43

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