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Can NFL Players Pick their Numbers?

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The NFL is fast eclipsing baseball as America’s pastime. Professional football has grown in popularity with each passing year of the 21st century. NFL players can pick their numbers from choices in their position group. We’ve even become familiar with numbers and some of the positions they signify out on the field. Your favorite quarterback wears a lower number, something 19 or below, whereas if you’re a die-hard fan, you recognize your favorite pass rusher likely wears a number in the 90s. 

So Can NFL players pick their numbers?

Yes. NFL players have a pretty good selection of numbers to choose from. For the longest time, numbers in the NFL were assigned specifically to the player’s position on the field. The number on a jersey signifies to your opponent what position you play and whether or not you are an eligible receiver. The NFL is a fast and physical game, so grouping numbers helps viewers and the field judges organize the game. 

How are NFL player numbers assigned?

NFL players have always had the choice of which number they wear in their position group. What number could players pick before 2020?

Before the 2021 season Quarterbacks were allowed to choose from 1 to 19; 

Defensive backs could wear any number between 20 and 49; 

Running backs, Full backs, and H backs were allowed to choose from 20-49; 

Tight ends could wear either between 40 to 49 or 80 and 89;

Wide receivers could wear 10 to 19 and 80 to 89;

Offensive linemen could choose from 50 to 79; 

Defensive linemen could wear 50 to 79 and 90 to 99; 

Linebackers wore either 40 to 59 or 90 to 99.

As more players enter the league through the draft and teams expand their practice squad rosters, more players will require numbers.

Now players can pick from more numbers

At the start of the 2022 season, you may have noticed things looked slightly different out on the field. In a game so known for its hard and fast rules, seeing a wide receiver or running back wearing a single digit on the back of his uniform can seem jarring. 

We have been indoctrinated to expect certain numbers at certain positions on the field. A tight end wearing 18 on his back while blocking a defensive lineman may seem as odd as a clown without makeup. 

WHAT are the new numbers NFL players can wear?

Now, the rule change is not extreme. Still, it has made a noticeable difference: 

As of the new rule change, the number of options for Quarterbacks is the same (1-19). Defensive backs’ choices of numbers grew – they may wear any number between 1 to 49; 

Running backs, full backs and H-backs can now wear 1 to 49 and 80 to 89;

Tight ends now have the same options as the running back group, 1 to 49 and 80 to 89. 

The number choices for wide receivers are the same as running backs and tight ends as well, which signifies a shift in skill position players. Wideouts may choose between 1 to 49 and 80 to 89. 

The rules do not allow for any new number options on the offensive line or the defensive line. Those numbers are the same. Remember, we know that lineman must be easily distinguishable from other players to more easily referee at the line of scrimmage. 

Linebackers have new number options, and are now allowed to wear between 1 to 59 and 90 to 99.

Can two players wear the same number in the NFL?

The short answer is no. The rules are specific in the NFL because they are assigned to specific positions on the field. No two players may wear the same jersey number unless it is the offseason and not directly tied to play.

What numbers are not allowed in the NFL?

There are so many players on each team, that most numbers are fair game. However, there are two numbers that are not allowed to be worn by any players at any position: the number 0 and number 00 are not permitted on any jersey.

What does Tom Brady think about the new numbers?

Even Tom Brady came out against the rule when it was first announced. He wrote in an Instagram story, “Good luck blocking the right people now.” He may be as well respected as any player in the history of the NFL, but his opinions certainly didn’t sway the large number of players around the league who were excited at the prospect of switching their numbers.

Why did the numbers in the NFL change?

Before the 2021 season, there were strict rules for the choices of numbers provided to position groups. Now, the rules have been adjusted so that players have more leniency when it is time to select the number that will don their uniform. The rule change was approved by the team owners on April 21, 2021. The reason cited was that practice squads for each team were expanded before the 2020 season, and many teams came to discover they didn’t have enough jersey numbers available for some positions. That wouldn’t work. 

The rule to expand number choices is fun in the simple kind of way you may imagine if you are an athlete. Choosing your number is fun. It defines you for the spectator, and most-likely carries with it some personal affectation. 


How does NFL player to change his jersey number? 

For an active NFL player to change their number they must buy out all the existing inventory of their jersey in its current state – That means every single jersey with your name and current number in a Dick’s Sporting Goods or a Nike Store must be bought and paid for by the player. 

How much does it cost for an NFL player to change his number?

Dalvin Cook is a good example of this. To change his number before the 2022 season, Cook would have had to spend nearly $2 million buying up his #33 jerseys. Instead, he waited and now wears #4 every time he steps on the field.

Why did so many NFL players choose to change their numbers?

Players often wore different numbers in college. The choices were different, so many players wanted to return to their original numbers.

What NFL players changed their numbers?

A full list of the NFL players who changed their numbers is easily available, most of which are wide receivers. A huge majority of the number changes were to go low. Multiple wide receivers and safeties (other positions as well) moved their number to the single digits.

Will more NFL players be choosing new numbers?

The incoming rookie class was also the first to have the choice of selecting their number from the new choices. The trend to wear single digits numbers is a popular one. It will be fun to observe future draft classes to see where the trends go. 

What is the most popular number in the NFL?

According the the NFL stats research department, the most popular number in the NFL is #26, worn by Saquon Barkley. The #2 was close behind as the second most popular number in the NFL worn by players. 

Why is the number on a NFL jersey so important?

The number a player wears is their insignia. It takes on more meaning than just the number a referee announces if you are found guilty of a penalty, it is the lifeforce connecting the individual to the fanbase. The number stands for something greater than just the uniform on which it is stitched. It is a symbol. 

Do all NFL jersey numbers have a story?

The rule change is fairly new, so keep your eyes out for more players making the change to a different number. Some of the number changes may have a story or some significance to the player, or maybe not. Stories and narratives are what drive the game and add to the mystique of the sport. It is always fun to see where the game will take us. You never know if a player may create different identities in the zeitgeist of the sport. 

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