Bengals star Tee Higgins is ditching No. 85 for his old college digit, No. 5, making him the latest big-name player to take advantage of the NFL's loosened rules on jersey numbers. The move to smaller numbers has been especially prominent at Higgins' wide receiver position. The league first deviated from its large-scale jersey rules, instituted in 1973, to allow wideouts to use Nos. 10-19 -- in addition to Nos. 80-89 -- in 2004. This alone catapulted the use of teen jersey numbers at the position. But then the floodgates opened further in 2021, when the NFL also began allowing skill positions to wear anything between Nos. 1-49.
There are a multitude of reasons why receivers tend to gravitate toward smaller digits. For one, as several big names told ESPN, single and slimmer digits tend to invoke the speed and athleticism of the position. They're also more comparable to what players wore in college, where jersey-number rules have long been unrestrictive.
So are there any notable NFL wideouts still rocking numbers in the 80s? Reviewing all 32 rosters, here's what we found:
There are 64 surefire (top two) starting wide receivers across the league. About 14 of them are on new teams this year, and in most cases, they haven't finalized jersey numbers for 2023, though the Jaguars' Calvin Ridley has announced he'll wear No. 0. It's a safe bet most of the others in new homes will select numbers in the single digits or teens. As for confirmed top-two WRs with jerseys in the 80s, there are a whopping ... two, or a mere 3% of players in that category:
- CeeDee Lamb (88), Cowboys
- Mike Williams (81), Chargers
Lamb was admittedly not a fan of switching from his college No. 2 when he got to the NFL in 2020, but he's since suggested he'll retain No. 88 as a nod to past Cowboys greats like Michael Irvin and Dez Bryant. Williams, meanwhile, wore his college No. 7 during rookie training camp in 2017, but has worn No. 81 since. He and Lamb are also the only recent Pro Bowl WRs with numbers in the 80s.
If we expand the search to relatively notable names, including established or surefire No. 3/4 WRs, we can charitably add eight names to the 80 WR Club:
- Tim Patrick (81), Broncos
- Tyler Boyd (83), Bengals
- Greg Dortch (83), Cardinals
- Kendrick Bourne (84), Patriots
- Corey Davis (84), Jets
- Darius Slayton (86), Giants
- Romeo Doubs (87), Packers
- Terrace Marshall Jr.
As you can see, the true difference-makers out wide -- in fact, the vast majority of them -- no longer claim the 80s as their own. From Ja'Marr Chase (1) and Stefon Diggs (14) to A.J. Brown (11) and Davante Adams (17), the star power lies squarely with the smaller numbers. And if you're wondering where on Earth the 80s have gone besides mostly mid-tier reserves, you might start by pivoting to the tight end position: 24 of the NFL's current 26 starting TEs with confirmed 2023 jersey numbers wear Nos. 80-89, even though the league permits them to also use Nos. 1-49.