NFL approves new rule that allows more players to wear single-digit numbers

Posted at 2:30 PM, Apr 21, 2021

There’s a chance that some of the NFL’s biggest stars could be sporting new numbers next season.

According to ESPN and Sports Illustrated, NFL owners have approved a change that relaxes the rules that prevent certain position players from wearing single-digit numbers.

The new rule, proposed by the Kansas City Chiefs earlier this offseason, allows running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, linebackers and defensive backs to wear single digit numbers.

Under the old rule, only quarterbacks, kickers and punters were permitted to wear single digits.

Nearly every college and professional football league restricts certain position players to wearing certain numbers. That because rules limit certain position groups from going downfield for passes or touching the ball in certain situations.

For example, offensive lineman — who are required to stay behind the line of scrimmage on passing plays — can only wear Nos. 50 through 79. That way, referees can easily identify offensive lineman on passing plays and make sure they’re not moving downfield for a pass.

However, the Chiefs argued that allowing skill position players and defenders to wear single digits wouldn’t change rules regarding eligible receivers, since single digit numbers don’t affect offensive linemen.

The Chiefs also said that they proposed the new rule to ensure each team has enough numbers available to assign to players during training camp and the preseason, when more players are on each team’s roster. In recent years, some teams have been forced to assign the same number to multiple players during preseason games due to a lack of available numbers.

The NCAA has also for years allowed running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and defenders to wear single digits. In fact, some of the league’s best receivers, like Bills WR Stefon Diggs and Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr., wore single-digit numbers while they were in college, prompting speculation that some of the league’s biggest stars may switch numbers.

Browns RB Kareem Hunt earlier this month teased a potential switch to No. 3 on his Instagram page as news of the Chiefs' proposal surface. Hunt wore No. 3 in college at Toledo.

Despite the allure of wearing his college number, Diggs tweeted Wednesday that he will continue to wear No. 14.

NFL rule changes need to be approved by two-thirds of the NFL’s 32 team owners. It’s not clear how each owner voted on the new rule proposal.

Here are the new number requirements for each position group, according to NFL Network:

Quarterbacks: 1-19
Defensive backs: 1–49
Running backs, full backs, tight ends, H-backs, wide receivers, kickers and punters: 1–49 and 80-89
Offensive linemen: 50–79
Defensive linemen: 50–79 and 90–99
Linebackers: 1–59 and 90–99