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How Do NFL Jersey Numbers Work

You may have noticed that you’ve never seen a Wide Receiver wear the number 45 or that the Quarterback never wears any number higher than 19.

That’s because in 1973 the NFL implemented a standardized format for NFL jersey rules that all players have to follow.

This standardization came into existence to help NFL referees determine possible rule infractions: 

For example, offensive lineman are never allowed to handle the ball (except in certain specific circumstances), so if a referee sees a player wearing numbers 50-79 handling the ball, then they immediately know that an infraction has occurred.  

Over the years, the numbering system set in place 1973 has remained intact, though some changes have been made to allow.

 We’ll talk more about these changes and the rules down below, but before that if you have not purchased your favorite NFL Jerseys check this article out. 

NFL Jersey Number Rules – From 1 to 99

Jersey No. 1-19

In 1973, jersey numbers from 1 to 19 were set aside for quarterbacks, punters and kickers, but the NFL had to make an amendment in 2004 which allowed wide receivers to wear numbers 10-19.

The reason for this is that NFL teams were simply retiring too many jerseys in the 80-89 range, which was originally the only range from which wide receivers could choose from!

Jersey No. 20-49

Numbers 20-49 are for secondary skill positions, like running back and defensive back. In 2015, however, the NFL decided that linebackers could also wear numbers from 40-49.

This sort of made matters confusing as linebackers and defensive linemen are, in the modern NFL, used almost interchangeably.

Add to this that some linebackers are ‘cover specialists’ and you’ll sometimes even spot them deep down the field covering the tight end like a cornerback would!

Jersey No. 50-59

Uniform numbers from 50-59 are, strictly speaking, for the big boys in the trenches.

Only offensive and defensive linemen can wear 50-59, though there is sometimes some crossover with linebackers, as we’ve mentioned that linebackers and defensive linemen are interchangeable in the modern NFL.

In 1979, the NFL allowed centers to wear numbers 60-69 as growing rosters meant that teams carried more linemen and there were therefore less options for centers.

Jersey No. 60-79

As we’ve mentioned, this range of numbers belongs to offensive linemen (most centers) as well as defensive linemen.

In fact, this range is unique because even linebackers are not technically allowed to wear these numbers, though of course the NFL sometimes makes exceptions based on the player that is asking.

Jersey No. 80-89

We’ve finally arrived at the glamour position of the NFL: wide receivers. 80-89 is typically the last thing that cornerbacks see as the man they were supposed to cover high-steps into the endzone.

Tight Ends are also allowed to wear these numbers, and in recent years there has been an influx of players choosing to do so.

The reason for this is that most tight ends do not believe they are compensated as fairly as wide receivers unless they brand themselves as ‘pass-catching tight ends’, and picking a number in this range helps them do that.

Jersey No. 90-99

Last on the list is 90-99, which goes to linebackers and defensive linemen.

Linebackers were grandfathered into this range in 1984, as most teams began making use of the 3-4 defense which meant more linebackers on the roster and fewer options for numbers.

What About Number 0 and 00?

Numbers 0 and 00 are no longer allowed under the standardization rules of 1973, though some players were originally grandfathered in when the changes were first made.

The reason for this rule is not altogether clear, though before the 1973 rule was put in place, players of all different positions used to wear the number, from quarterbacks to running backs to linemen.This may have something to do with why those numbers were banned, as the entire purpose was to help referees know who is who on the football field. Sports Casting has an article that covers the numbering system in great details.

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