NFL players and their uniform numbers are inextricably linked. The numbers indicate how quickly fans recognize players on the pitch. They are part of every player’s personality and fans rock them proudly when wearing an NFL jersey. Sometimes the numbers even become an iconic trademark, like Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady’s TB12.
But how does a player end up with his uniform number?
We asked 15 NFL rookies why they picked their numbers as NFL training camp began. Their responses include tributes to family, respect for NFL heroes, fabrication of a number, and funny responses, such as not really knowing Troy Aikman and failed attempts to claim the number from a veteran teammate.
Here’s what’s behind the numbers:
Washington announced his new name in February and a few months later Dotson was selected with the 16th overall pick. Dotson wore No. 5 at Penn State, but changed to signify he was the COs’ first choice and as a thank you to KJ Hamler, his two-year college teammate, who wears No. 1 for the Broncos of Denver.
“I felt like it was the perfect opportunity; the first major ever drafted in history, and number 1 has always been a cool number for me. One of my old teammates in college , KJ Hamler, wore number 1 and was like my big brother, my mentor, so getting 1 was cool.” -John Keim
Essentially, it was a choice of three numbers for Ridder — 4, 13 or 16 — and he went with the single number after wearing No. 9 in Cincinnati. He tried to get linebacker Lorenzo Carter’s number 9 — sending him a direct message after the draft asking for the number — but was quickly told no.
How fast was he shot down? He didn’t even get to the compensation part of the conversation. Ridder said he knew there was a financial figure there – but he wouldn’t even ask what it was.
“I’m a thrifty guy,” Ridder said. “I think the number change can wait.” –Michael Rothstein
The Seahawks’ fourth-round pick was named after Kobe Bryant, so why not wear one of the NBA legend’s numbers too?
In fact, Coby Bryant wore No. 7 for most of his college career before switching to 8 for what would be his last game in Cincinnati. The cornerback had planned to ask the Seahawks if he could continue to wear 8, the number Kobe Bryant wore for the first half of his NBA career before moving to 24.
“But then they just offered it to me,” Coby Bryant said. “So it felt like it was just God’s plan from the jump. So as soon as [the team] asked me if I would wear it, I said, absolutely, no questions asked.”
Seahawks cornerback Justin Coleman was previously assigned number 24. –Brady Henderson
Brisker chose No. 9 to honor his late brother, Tale’, who was killed in 2015. The Bears safety wore No. 3 in high school, and 3 was also the number his brother had.
“I just thought 3 times 3 is 9,” Brisker said. “He always finds a way to let them know he’s still there.” -Courtney Cronin
Watson was No. 82 for a few days, but by the time he entered the field for rookie minicamp a week after the draft, he was down to No. 9.
“It was just kind of a shirt number thrown at me right away,” Watson said. “At the time, I was just excited about getting drafted and I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s go!’ Then I thought about it and I was like, ‘Do you have any other options?’ So I just asked what the other options were and went with 9.”
Watson wore number 1 in North Dakota State, but no one has worn that number in a game for the Packers since Curly Lambeau in 1926.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of people obviously, but at the end of the day, I’m the one carrying the number,” Watson said. “It’s not really a matter of numbers, but 9 was the one.” — Rob Demovsky
Tyreek Hill wore number 10 for the Chiefs for six seasons and quickly became the most distinguished player in team history to wear that number. But the Chiefs wasted no time after trading Hill for the Miami Dolphins by assigning No. 10 to rookie running back Pacheco, a seventh-round draft pick.
“I really know who wore it. I don’t feel any pressure,” Pacheco said. “I’ve worn this number before, my freshman year in college, and I’ve done a great job with it. It’s not the number but the player, so I’m the guy wearing it.” -Adam Teicher
Hamilton wore number 10 in high school, but he wasn’t attached to it when he arrived at Notre Dame. Little did he know that the jersey number he received at South Bend would mean so much in the future.
“Going into college, I wasn’t really a big jersey number. I was assigned number 14 and said I’d do the number myself, and I did,” Hamilton said. “Then I was the 14th pick in the NFL Draft, and the No. 14 was available in Baltimore. The stars were aligned, so that made sense.” — Jamison Hensley
Williams had a few options but ultimately chose No. 18 in a nod to Motown Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson, who wore No. 81 for the Lions. So he knocked it down.
Additionally, his idol Randy Moss wore number 18 in 2005 and 2006 with the Oakland Raiders.
Williams wore No. 1 at Alabama, but Detroit cornerback Jeff Okudah wouldn’t give it up to the rookie despite his request.
“It was funny because Jamo went to Ohio State, and he saw me in number 1, so it was a tough argument to like, ‘Hey, bruh, can I have your number you had at university?’ It was a weird conversation, but he knows it’s all about love,” Okudah said with a laugh. –Eric Woodyard
Tolbert wore No. 8 at South Alabama and knew pretty quickly that he wouldn’t be No. 8 for the Cowboys. Although the Cowboys are not officially retiring their numbers, Troy Aikman’s No. 8 is banned, as are Roger Staubach’s No. 12 and Emmitt Smith’s No. 22. Tolbert was therefore given No. 18 instead.
Since he didn’t play football until he was in high school, he said he didn’t even know who Aikman was.
“With me starting football so late, I didn’t like older guys,” he said. “Now that I’m in the game and learning more, I’m starting to come back to watch like Randy Moss and stuff like that, but honestly I never knew who he was until this happened. produce [and I got drafted].” -Todd Archer
When Austin picked his jersey number, there weren’t many openings for receivers. Austin doesn’t have any deeper meaning behind picking No. 19, and he’s not worried about the pressure that might come from wearing former Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster’s old number.
“I’m sure when most Steeler fans see 19, that’s who they’ll think of first, and that’s to be expected,” he said. “It’s just until I come in and show what I can do, so hopefully they’ll think of me when they see 19.” — Brooke Prior
After losing his first pick, No. 6, to Lewis Cine in the first round, third-round Asamoah chose No. 33 to continue an unusual streak. The digits of each number he wore in football totaled 6. He wore No. 6 in high school, No. 24 in Oklahoma, and No. 33 in the NFL.
“I thought it was going to be 6,” he said, “but that’s okay.” — Kevin Seifert
Walker grew up in Thomaston, Georgia, so naturally he watched the Falcons play on Sundays. He liked to look at linebacker Vic Beasley, who wore number 44, so that was the number he decided to wear when he arrived at Upson-Lee High School.
“He made me want to be 44,” Walker said, “so I stuck with that [in college at Georgia and now in the NFL].”
Walker, however, took a break. Linebacker Myles Jack had worn 44 since the Jaguars drafted him in 2016, but they cut him in March. If they hadn’t, Walker would have had to use another number.
“Whatever number they gave me, I’d be willing to outdo anyone for whatever number I wanted in the future,” Walker said. –Michael DiRocco
Thornton did not choose 51; it was given to him by coach Bill Belichick as part of his annual springtime tradition of assigning rookies unconventional temporary numbers to remind them of what should be most important.
Thornton laughed when he first saw 51 in his locker.
“It’s a little big for me right now. But I’m going to rock it,” he said with a smile. –Mike Reiss
No. 54: Sam Williams, DE, Dallas Cowboys
Williams had visions of wearing No. 7 or No. 13 with the Cowboys.
“But [Trevon] Diggs got 7,” Williams said.
And Michael Gallup is No. 13.
“But he’s on offense,” Williams replied. “You can have two.”
Unlike college, however, there is no doubling of numbers in the NFL.
“See? I’m learning,” Williams said. “You all taught me something. But, yeah, I just turned 54. They gave me 54, so I took it. That’s what it is.”
Is this a good pass-rush number?
“It’s my number,” he said, “so I guess so.” -Todd Archer
Johnson started playing football during his junior year of high school and took to YouTube to learn his craft. There he found footage of Cowboys training camp, and more specifically, cuts from All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith.
“I don’t think he’s been beaten once,” Johnson said of Smith’s performance against the Cowboys pass rush. “He was just awesome.”
So, simple as that, Johnson decided this was the number he would like to wear in the future. The rookie will have the chance to meet Smith when the Chargers and Cowboys hold a joint training camp. –Lindsey Thiry