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H-backs, tight ends expand their numbers




2013 rule changes

 It’s not a controversial rule change, and we are almost certain that former Raiders tight end Todd Christensen approves.

Tight ends have been restricted to uniform numbers in the 80s, which they also had to share with the receiving corps. Because teams were retiring their star receivers’ numbers, the NFL freed up some numbering space in 2004 by allowing wide receivers to wear numbers from 10-19.

H-backs presented a more circuitous route. As the H-back is lined up essentially where a tight end would be, but in the offensive backfield, he is nominally a “back.” Generally a blocker, the H-back retains some of the properties of a fullback, but is far from where a fullback would line up. Because H-backs were not specifically defined by the uniform numbering rules, H-backs would have to get approval from the commissioner for his uniform number — theoretically anything from 1-99, assuming it is approved.

More practically, though, it seems that players were placed on the team roster initially as a fullback (any number from 20-49, but generally in the 40s) or tight end, and the player was numbered accordingly. Then, as the rookie player became integrated into the offensive schemes, he took his original number to the H-back position. Because of their versatility, players with numbers in the 40s would be lined up as a traditional tight end, or occasionally an 80-something jersey at fullback. Christensen, the Raiders tight end, started his career as a fullback for the Cowboys, and was permitted to retain his number 46 at the new position.

The rules were amended this season to allow the tight ends to now wear numbers in the 40s and to set H-backs for the ranges of 40-49 and 80-89. The current rules (5-1-2) have the following ranges for these positions:

  • (a) quarterbacks, punters, and placekickers: 1-19;
  • (b) running backs and defensive backs: 20-49;
  • (c) centers: 50-59;
  • (d) offensive guards and tackles: 60-79;
  • (e) wide receivers: 10-19 and 80-89;
  • (f) tight ends and H-backs: 40-49 and 80-89;
  • (g) defensive lineman: 50-79 and 90-99;
  • (h) linebackers: 50-59 and 90-99.

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)