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NFL ownership is currently mulling rules change proposals, having convened for a hearing on April 14 before meeting again on April 21 to cast their votes. One significant move comes on suggestion from the Chiefs, who proposed a rule to loosen the restrictions on jersey numbers. With rosters expanding and more numbers being retired across the NFL, it makes sense to make more positions eligible for underused designations. Per NBC Sports’ Peter King, the proposed uniform numbers qualifiers would be:
Quarterbacks, punters, kickers: 1-19
Running backs, tight ends, wide receivers: 1-49, 80-89
Defensive backs: 1-49
Linebackers: 1-59, 90-99
Offensive line: 50-79
Defensive line: 50-79, 90-99
That would include some dramatic changes across the league; all of the pass catchers and defensive backs could choose to wear single digits, and the big men up front like Quenton Nelson and Cesar Ruiz wouldn’t need the center/guard distinction to wear numbers in the 50’s any more. Ty Montgomery’s signature No. 88 might lose some of its uniqueness, though.
So which Saints players could revert to their college numbers based on this new rule, if NFL owners give it the green light? Let’s explore:
Alvin Kamara (No. 41)
Oct 8, 2016; College Station, TX, USA; A view of the helmet of Tennessee Volunteers running back Alvin Kamara (6) during the game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field. The Aggies defeat the Volunteers 45-38 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The superstar Saints running back has made his No. 41 jersey instantly recognizable, but he made No. 6 look outstanding at Tennessee. 41 is typically a hefty number for anyone to carry, usually handed off to safeties, backup linebackers, and long snappers as an afterthought. But Kamara’s special skills have allowed him to make it work, and it’s tough to see him hanging it up. Maybe he considers a switch for the second leg of his NFL career now that he’s playing on a long-term contract extension; there’s some great synergy and sense of a new era at play if he does go with No. 6 after the league wouldn’t allow Reggie Bush to keep his iconic No. 5 after turning pro in New Orleans.
Michael Thomas (No. 13)
Jan 1, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer congratulates Buckeyes wide receiver Michael Thomas (3) following Thomas' touchdown against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the second quarter of the 2015 Sugar Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
It would take some bartering with Wil Lutz, but exchanging No. 13 for No. 3 might be worth it for the 2019 NFL Offensive Player of the Year (and Lutz has expressed openness to selling his jersey number before). Thomas has said before that he felt he was sent to New Orleans to help Drew Brees finish his career with grace, and they accomplished that. Now the team’s mission statement has changed for the post-Brees era, and Thomas going back to his college number would carry some real symbolism as the Saints enter less-certain waters. Like Kamara, though, he’s built a strong brand around his chosen number, and swapping it for something else so late into his career would be jarring.
Tre’Quan Smith (No. 10)
Jan 1, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Central Florida Knights wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith (4) is tackled by Auburn Tigers defensive back Javaris Davis (13) after a catch in the second quarter in the 2018 Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Like Thomas, Smith’s old college number is taken -- by Blake Gillikin, the second-year punter who hasn’t yet hit the field. Smith wore No. 4 at UCF, and the change at quarterback in New Orleans could see him run many of the same vertical routes he used to lead the nation in yards per catch back in the day. With the final year of his rookie contract coming up, it would be fitting to see him enter a new phase of his career in a new (but familiar) uniform number while stretching the field with a new quarterback. For what it’s worth, Gillikin wore No. 93 at Penn State, which wouldn’t be available to him now.
Deonte Harris (No. 11)
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Deonte Harris (11) is stopped by Green Bay Packers cornerbacks Jaire Alexander (23) and Chandon Sullivan (39) in the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
The All-Pro return man used No. 1 in his old stomping grounds at Assumption College, and he could revert to it from No. 11. It would be fun to see the smallest (and fastest) member of the team choosing the boldest number. But his current jersey is easy to spot in its own right, and it’s possible he wants to stick with it moving forwards. We’ll see.
Marquez Callaway (No. 12)
Tennessee wide receiver Marquez Callaway (1) celebrates during a game between Missouri and Tennessee in Columbia, Mo. Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. Tennessee defeated Missouri 24-20.
And, hey: if Harris doesn’t want No. 1, maybe Callaway does. He’s worn Marques Colston’s number well but there’s something to be said for building your own brand, and Callaway is well-positioned to do that. He’s one of several young receivers competing for snaps in the wake of Emmanuel Sanders’ release. Calling his shot with such a bold jersey would be quite the move before training camp.
Marshon Lattimore (No. 23)
December 31, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Marshon Lattimore (2) against the Clemson Tigers in the 2016 CFP semifinal at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Lattimore feels fairly locked into No. 23; he wore No. 2 at Ohio State, which is currently being used by Jameis Winston, as a nice reflection of the No. 5 the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback chose at Florida State. Winston would have to swap uniform numbers in his second year with the Saints, which feels unlikely on top of the rules change vote itself, for Lattimore to pick something else. There’s probably too many moving parts to this Rube Goldberg machine to make it happen.
Tony Jones Jr. (No. 37)
Nov 30, 2019; Stanford, CA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Tony Jones Jr. (6) walks on the field before the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
The practice squad running back’s rookie debut was cut short by an injury, but maybe going back to his solid No. 6 college jersey would help him find more luck. As an undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame, he’d probably be eager to get away from the heavy No. 37 he’s currently using, though you have to imagine Alvin Kamara would get first choice.
Alex Armah Jr. (No. 40)
Carolina Panthers fullback Alex Armah (40) wears a social justice decal on his helmet during an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Peter Joneleit)
A newcomer to the roster, Armah has shouldered a number typical of fullbacks in his time with the Panthers, but here’s an opportunity for something flashier. He used No. 8 with great success as a two-way player in college at West Georgia. It’s available as it is, and he wouldn’t have much competition for it if this rules change goes through. It would be quite a way to set the tone as the team’s new fullback.
J.T. Gray (No. 48)
STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 5: Linebacker J.T. Gray #12 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs celebrates after the end of an NCAA college football game at Davis Wade Stadium on November 5, 2016 in Starkville, Mississippi. Mississippi State beat the Texas A&M Aggies 35-28. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
Like other players on this list, Gray reverting to his college number (No. 12) would require a teammate to also change their decision. But I’ve already outlined why Marquez Callaway might choose to do that, and if it happens Gray would be wise to make the move. The All-Pro special teams ace just signed a two-year contract extension with the team and picking up a flashier jersey number would do a lot to help him stand out.
Calvin Throckmorton (No. 66)
TEMPE, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 23: Offensive lineman Calvin Throckmorton #54 of the Oregon Ducks during the first half of the NCAAF game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium on November 23, 2019 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Throckmorton used No. 54 at Oregon, and it would be available to him under the new system. He just has to hash things out with Wynton McManis, a CFL linebacker who picked it up recently after wearing No. 48 with the Calgary Stampeders and No. 16 at Memphis.
Juwan Johnson (No. 83)
January 1, 2020; Pasadena, California, USA; Oregon Ducks wide receiver Mycah Pittman (4) and wide receiver Juwan Johnson (6) celebrate the game victory against Wisconsin Badgers in the closing seconds at the Rose Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
I’ve got a confession to make: I love receivers wearing 80’s numbers. It’s a great look. It’s a throwback to the sport’s older eras. And it’s a good fit for Johnson as the most physically-imposing wideout on the team. But if his teammates pass on No. 6 (which he used on Oregon), I would understand his decision to pick it up. I wouldn’t endorse it, but I’d get it.