Has there ever been a play in the NFL that is designed for an ineligible offensive player to at some point receive the ball? Examples from college include the fumblerooski (now banned in college too, and illegal in the NFL since the Holy Roller rule I believe) and the more recent tackle hook and lateral from Fresno St. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etPsvSVKcT8)

Note that I do not mean a player who usually plays an ineligible position reporting as eligible and lining up and behaving as an eligible player for a play; I mean someone who lines up ineligibly on that play as one of the five interior linemen and then receives the ball intentionally (so no non-intentional fumbles or balls hit in the air by the defense and caught by an offensive lineman).

Plays from the AFL, AAFC, CFL, or other professional leagues are welcome if you have them, but mostly interested in the NFL.

  • The play you linked to would not be allowed in the NFL because the lineman went down the field before the ball was thrown. This is allowed in college, but not the NFL. – PopularIsn'tRight Nov 30 '14 at 5:06
  • @Bachrach44 - NFL lineman are allowed downfield on forward passes that go no further than 1 yard past the line of scrimmage. – Coach-D Dec 2 '14 at 20:54

This is a really interesting question. At the youth level I used to love implementing things to get touches to my bigs. I felt that if they are out there blocking they should get glory too. That was mostly taken away 10-15 years ago with weight limits on ball carriers.

At the high school and college levels they have put in rules to eliminate a lot of the line pulls and fumblerooski plays. (See Nebraska 1984(?) for the perfect example)

This year Arkansas had an offensive tackle that threw for a touchdown. That might be your answer for the last trick play for an offensive lineman.

In the NFL there are a variety of reasons that this doesn't happen mainly the reward vs risk. But you have to also think how hard defensive lineman get off the ball in the NFL. You don't want a 325 pound player wobbling into your QB trying to get a handoff. Injury, turnover, really bad play risk.

I have watched I would say more than 95% of the NFL games over the past 15 years and I can't remember one offensive lineman even getting a carry or throwing a pass. Some things I do remember related:

  • Both offensive line and defensive players being put in at fullback and a few times at runningback.

  • I have also seen both sets of players used at TE/wing.

  • I have seen a few TE arounds each year. Never by a lineman or defensive player though.

  • I have seen lineman and defensive players recover fumbles for touchdowns but never on designed plays.

  • I have seen lineman and defensive players catch touchdown passes as an eligible receiver. This became very vogue after Belichek inserted his LB core as TEs on short yardage.

  • I cannot remember the last time I have seen a lineman take a hand-off when lined up as a lineman nor do I ever recall a lineman passing the ball. I researched back to 2000 and saw nothing that jumped out that would reflect either happened.

  • -
  • I love that Arkansas play. But you are right, if you have a lineman or defensive player who is versatile enough to get the ball, they are going to be lined up in a position that would not disadvantage them. I was thinking more an example that was from the pre 1970s days when the one-platoon system was still present or in recent memory enough to have players with less specialization and more versatility. – user2096078 Dec 14 '14 at 19:48
  • Or perhaps, if one of those TE arounds had the TE covered by an outside receiver lining up on the line (and so was no longer a TE strictly speaking), that would count even if the TE wore an eligible number. Heck, there might even be one that occurred by happenstance if the receiver lined up too closely and covered up the TE. But that would require going over film of all the TE arounds. – user2096078 Dec 14 '14 at 19:55

There aren't a lot of trick plays of this type that are still legal, and even fewer that an NFL team would want to try. Essentially, one of two things have to happen for ineligibility to be nullified; the opposing team has to touch the ball, or the ball has to be carried beyond the LOS by someone on the offense who legally receives it from the QB, then laterals to an otherwise ineligible linesman (such as your tackle hook and lateral example, which AFAIK is a legal play in the NFL). I guarantee you there's not a single play in anybody's playbook that involves the offense trying to make the defense touch the ball without gaining possession, just to give it to a guard or tackle.

A not-uncommon play in lower leagues, and as far as I can tell not illegal in the NFL, is to "pull the guard"; instead of blocking, the left or right guard drops back and crosses the QB, who hands off the ball to the guard as he might to a running back. A tight end or big back would step up to fill the hole left by the guard, and the ball's out of the pocket pretty quickly anyway; anyone getting through on that side would have to chase down the guard. However, guards in the NFL are typically a bit too big (and too battered by that point in their career) to be good ball carriers, so I doubt an NFL guard would be fast enough to be able to turn the corner once the play developed.

In fact, most of these trick plays require players that can be good at multiple specialized positions, so when you get to the NFL, where the people at each position are the best in the sport, they tend to end up too specialized at their position to work well at any other, especially when talking about offense.

There are a lot of formations that can fool an unsuspecting defense into thinking a person isn't eligible. 2 tight ends, for instance; the formation puts all seven down linesmen in the center cluster, with the WRs lining up behind the LOS. Defenses are used to seeing the outside receivers lining up on the LOS, so if a defensive end or OLB isn't paying attention to how the outside WR on his side lines up, they might push right past an eligible receiver thinking he's a guard, making for an easy screen or inside slant.

EDIT: Also, as was popularized with the Patriots' playoff run in 2014-2015, you can set up formations that specifically declare an otherwise ineligible player to be eligible. The officials and the other team must be made aware of the fact that a particular player is reporting as eligible. This led to a few touchdown scores by traditionally-ineligible players like tackles and guards, whose assigned blocks were instead handled by tight ends, slot receivers or backs. However, these players are eligible as of the snap of the ball; nothing really special or out of the ordinary has to happen during the play for them to legally end up with it.

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