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NFL passes jersey number expansion rule, meaning more single digits are coming

Get ready to see a lot of unfamiliar numbers at positions all across the football field this fall.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 07 Big Ten Championship Game Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s official: NFL fans will start seeing players other than quarterbacks and specialists wearing single-digit numbers in 2021. According to Albert Breer of NFL Network, the league owners passed a rule proposal this week that allows players at certain positions to wear numbers between 1 and 9.

That is not the only expansion of the league’s numbering system, however. Rules about many positions have been eased, with the following ranges now being allowed as first reported by Peter King earlier this month:

  • QBs, punters, kickers: 1-19 (no change)
  • RBs: 1-49 and 80-89
  • WRs: 1-49 and 80-89
  • TEs: 1-49 and 80-89
  • OL: 50-79 (no change)
  • DL: 50-79 and 90-99
  • LBs: 1-59 and 90-99
  • DBs: 1-49

Perhaps the biggest change here is that players at all offensive “skill” positions — running backs, receivers, and tight ends — now have access to the entire slate of numbers allocated for eligible receivers. The Packers skirted this rule a bit when wide receiver Ty Montgomery switched from wideout to running back but kept his number 88, having been grandfathered in by virtue of his position entering the league.

However, don’t expect to start seeing many Packers players taking advantage of the new rule — at least not the single-digit portion. A few weeks ago when word of this rule proposal made the rounds on the internet, our Jon Meerdink took a close look at what single-digit numbers would be available for Packers players to choose from in 2021. At least for the offseason, it is a very short list — in fact, it consists of just a single number:

Interestingly, all of the currently-held single-digit numbers belong to specialists: the Packers two kickers and two punters. Presumably, two of those digits will become available at the start of the regular season when the Packers cut their specialists down to reach a 53-man active roster.

Still, we could see a tight end wear a number in the 30s or a linebacker in the teens or a running back wearing #8 this fall. For fans of college football, which has no restrictions on what positions can wear what numbers, this should be a welcome sight.

In addition to the numbering rules, the NFL did pass a few additional rules changes. Those changes include the following: