Change is continuing to come to the NFL in the 2021 season.
After announcing that the 2021 season will now have 17 regular season games, the NFL reportedly is expected to pass a rule that will have less restriction on the jersey numbers that players can wear.
The NFL appears to be going with a jersey structure that is similar to the college game with number ranges for defensive backs, linebackers, running backs and wide receivers into the single digits, with quarterbacks remaining at Nos. 1-19:
Running backs, wide receivers, tight ends: 1-49, 80-89
Offensive linemen: 50-79
Defensive linemen: 50-79, 90-99
Linebackers: 1-59, 90-99
Defensive backs: 1-49
Kickers and punters: 1-19
Some franchise cornerstones have become synonymous with their current number, but it is still fun to imagine them in some new threads in the upcoming campaign.
Here are five San Francisco 49ers who may take advantage of the potential rule change:
Current jersey number: 85 | Potential 2021 number: 11
Kittle’s intentions are unknown, but he appears to want No. 11 from Brandon Aiyuk. He wore No. 46 in college at Iowa and No. 9 in high school. Both of those jersey numbers would be available to him under the new rules, though 46 might make him look like a fullback. Kittle isn’t getting No. 11 because Aiyuk currently wears it. Unless…
Current jersey number: 11 | Potential 2021 number: 2
Aiyuk could easily switch to his college jersey number for his sophomore season in San Francisco. Kittle would obviously welcome the move. Aiyuk wore No. 2 for two seasons at Arizona State, scoring 11 total touchdowns for the Sun Devils. Everything is lining up for him to reclaim jersey No. 2 in the pros for his second season.
Current jersey number: 19 | Potential 2021 number: 1
No. 19 has some impressive history among NFL wide receivers -- Keyshawn Johnson and Lance Alworth come to mind. But seeing Deebo take a handoff and run around the outside wearing No. 1 would be much more fitting. He wore No. 1 in three of his four years at South Carolina and the new rule change could be a great time to get it back. The only problem is Samuel might have to adjust his Twitter username.
Current jersey number: 54 | Potential 2021 number: 4
Warner has made a name for himself as the centerpiece of the 49ers’ linebacker group wearing No. 54. After three seasons, could Warner switch to No. 4? He donned that digit at BYU, where he was a four-year standout. Seeing a linebacker wearing single digits in the NFL would be a strange sight to get used to, but Warner is still young enough to make it his defining look in the pros.
Jeff Wilson Jr.
Current jersey number: 30 | Potential 2021 number: 3
Wilson led the 49ers in rushing in 2020 wearing No. 30, so perhaps a change isn’t on his radar in 2021. If it is, Wilson could drop the zero and wear No. 3. He only wore the number for his third and final season at North Texas, but he certainly made the most of it. Wilson rushed for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Mean Green, which led to the 49ers signing him as an undrafted free agent in 2018.
And a former Raider who could have benefited from this rule change:
Career number: 32 | Number under rule change: 12
Ricky Watters, a collegiate receiver known as one of the NFL's first dynamic pass-catching running backs, won the 1988 National Championship with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. He wore No. 12 on that team and might have been superstitious enough to carry it with him to the 49ers in 1991 had the NFL allowed running backs to wear jersey numbers in the teens.
Logan Reardon contributed to this story.