The NFL’s 100th season is fast approaching, and contrary to a popular belief, football isn’t exactly short on talent for the future, with new-age superstars like Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson among some of the .
The 100th anniversary isn’t just about celebrating the stars of tomorrow, however. It’s also about paying respects to the stars already established and, in some sense, the stars who paved the paths currently being traveled.
So we decided to do just that — using only jersey numbers as our guide.
With the 100th season just around the corner, we identified the top players around present-day NFL according to their digits, 1-99. While we ranked players by their current standing and future outlook, we did make note of some of each number’s best legends along the way. So you’ll get a taste of everything throughout our top 99 — the past, present and future.
Without further ado, we present … the top 99 players for the NFL’s 100th anniversary, ranked by jersey number:
1 | Cam Newton
Easy choice. Whether or not you love him as a QB, it was basically either him or your favorite practice-squad punter here. Aside from Warren Moon, No. 1 has traditionally been popularized by special teamers — Gary Anderson, Jason Elam and Matt Turk among them. So Newton can take pride in knowing he’s truly embodied the single digit.
2 | Matt Ryan
Not the best-looking QB number, if we’re being honest, but Ryan’s rocked it since Day 1, and no one else really comes close to matching his level of talent and/or production. These are the kicker numbers, remember!
3 | Russell Wilson
If you want to make a case for Wil Lutz or Stephen Gostkowski, well, you can just stop reading right here. Whereas Ryan looks fine and familiar in No. 2, Wilson absolutely makes his number look cool on a QB, perhaps in part because of his smaller stature and elusive style of play. No contest here.
4 | Deshaun Watson
There’s actually a surprising amount of competition for ownership of No. 4, as two other mildly promising young QBs in Dak Prescott and Derek Carr use it. No one would reasonably opt for either of them over Watson at this point, though. If we’re talking legacy honorees, Adam Vinatieri gets it, hands down. The all-timer is even easier: Brett Favre.
5 | Joe Flacco
Not going to lie, we almost put Matt Prater, a 34-year-old kicker, over Flacco here. Baltimore Ravens fans of the last, oh, six years may have vouched for it, too. But there’s just enough potential left in Big Joe’s arm, now in Denver, to scrap him for a special teamer. In any event, it’s unfortunate a QB number made cool by Jeff Garcia and Donovan McNabb is devoid of star power.
6 | Baker Mayfield
All Baker needed was one year to earn this spot over the likes of Johnny Hekker, Brett Kern and Thomas Morstead, who are all good in their own right but certainly aren’t commanding huddles or spotlights like Colin Cowherd’s archenemy.
This is an absolutely tremendous number, particularly for QBs. It’s sleek. It’s iconic. It’s the best of the single digits on passers. Big Ben owns it by way of being the only current “elite” veteran to wear it, but maybe Dwayne Haskins can make it his own down the road. Among the best No. 7s in NFL history: John Elway, Michael Vick, Boomer Esiason, Joe Theismann, Ron Jaworski.
8 | Kirk Cousins
What a perfect match we have here. No. 8 is crisply symmetrical but, in turn, kind of bland — not so unlike our friend Kirk, who is perfectly efficient but may or may not have the “stuff” to win the big games. Regardless, he’s clearly the best bet among other guys donning the number, though Lamar Jackson and Marcus Mariota both give it a dual-threat persona.
9 | Drew Brees
Matthew Stafford isn’t bad, but if you think Brees, you automatically think “9.”
10 | DeAndre Hopkins
As you’ll notice, the teens are littered with wide receivers. No. 10, in particular, is home to a bunch of good, if not elite, guys like DeSean Jackson and Emmanuel Sanders. (Don’t even try to suggest Cole Beasley here.) But Hopkins is a level or three above them. Eli Manning was the only other big name considered here, but he’s never been as good as his rings suggest.
11 | Julio Jones
12 | Tom Brady
The best number in the game, not because of its look but because of the names representing it. As if the best QB of his time weren’t enough, No. 12 can also be found on Aaron Rodgers and beneath the doctored shoulders of a revived Andrew Luck. Throw Brandin Cooks in there for good measure, and it’s clear this one’s got oomph.
13 | Odell Beckham Jr.
This may have been the hardest of them all. You can easily make arguments for Mike Evans and Michael Thomas, two premier wideouts with lots of years ahead of them, and truth be told, they’re probably both more reliable than OBJ. It’s just so hard to pass up Beckham’s total package — his pure talent, his fresh scenery, his celebrity status. If anyone truly owns No. 13, it’s him. An underrated honorable mention: T.Y. Hilton.
14 | Stefon Diggs
If this sounds more like a QB number, that’s because it is, but Andy Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Sam Darnold don’t measure up. Diggs is a pure play-maker when he’s on his game, and any team would be happy to have him.
15 | Patrick Mahomes
He’s going to single-handedly popularize this number. Only Bart Starr stands in his way as a true all-time threat.
16 | Jared Goff
Tyler Lockett could give this guy a run for his money if Goff’s clutch-time floundering continues. At the moment, though, few players offer more with these digits. They are rather iconic, too, passing through Joe Montana, Norm Snead and other legendary QBs.
17 | Philip Rivers
Even as he ages, it’s clear Phil has this one locked up. It’s got to be a good representation of how many kids he has by now, too, right? On their best days, Davante Adams and Alshon Jeffery deserve consideration here, but ties usually go to the QB anyway. Rivers is to 17 as Roethlisberger is to 7, Cam is to 1 and so on.
18 | A.J. Green
It says something about Peyton Manning’s impact that No. 18 still evokes memories of the longtime Colts QB. Presently speaking, there aren’t a lot of elite candidates other than Green, who helped put the whole WRs-in-teen-numbers craze into overdrive along with Julio Jones when he arrived back in 2011.
19 | Adam Thielen
Some of you will want JuJu Smith-Schuster here, and that’s fine. Thielen’s just way better than most people give him credit for. This guy has quietly had Antonio Brown production for the last, like, two and a half years. Easily a top-10 WR in all of football.
20 | Jalen Ramsey
Is Ramsey’s number really that recognizable outside of Jacksonville? Maybe. Maybe not. Regardless, he’s by far the best to rock No. 20, a look that’s truly owned by all-time greats like Barry Sanders, Brian Dawkins and Ed Reed.
21 | Ezekiel Elliott
For all his off-field woes, Elliott has done a tremendous job as far as recognition goes, making No. 21 a big deal in Dallas despite today’s devaluation of running backs. The mere fact he plays for the Cowboys probably helps. Alternate considerations: Patrick Peterson, who’s arguably no longer among the game’s most elite corners; and Denzel Ward, who’s not quite elite yet.
22 | Christian McCaffrey
Another running back?! To be fair, McCaffrey’s a lot more than that. And while it’s fair to suggest Marcus Peters is a better value simply because he plays corner, the Panthers star is underrated. He can do it all.
23 | Darius Slay
All 20 numbers are kind of cool, aren’t they? Is that my subconscious vouching for Millennials? Whatever. Marshon Lattimore has a greater upside, but Slay’s more established and no slouch himself.
24 | Stephon Gilmore
A prototypical ID for a corner (Champ Bailey! Darrelle Revis! Ty Law! Charles Woodson!). And Gilmore fits the bill as a proven, Pro Bowl-caliber starter at that premium position. Our gut feeling, though: Nick Chubb will claim this as his own in the near future. Devonta Freeman and Josh Norman are probably the best additional runners-up.
25 | Xavien Howard
If this is your introduction to Howard, that’s OK, because no one knows who any of the Dolphins are these days. But that also proves just how good he is — and has the potential to be. LeSean McCoy used to own this for a while, as did Richard Sherman.
26 | Saquon Barkley
Le’Veon Bell may have been paid like he’s the best No. 26 in the game, and neither Adrian Peterson nor Sony Michel are lowly options at the number, either. But Barkley is something else. If you had the choice between Barkley and Bell (or any RB, for that matter), you’d go Barkley, and you wouldn’t hesitate — or at least you shouldn’t. He’s a rocked-up stud with a long future ahead of him, and it’s not a stretch to suggest he could be one of the best to ever wear this number.
27 | Malcolm Jenkins
We realize a 31-year-old safety isn’t necessarily the most attractive player for the long term, but to leave Jenkins’ description at that would be a big disservice to the versatility and leadership he offers. Few veterans are a complete package deal like he is. Even as he ages, he’s among the NFL’s best at what he does. With a rebound in Cleveland, Kareem Hunt deserves a look here, too.
28 | Melvin Gordon
It’s a pretty even three-man race for this spot between Gordon, James White and Joe Mixon, all of whom are high-upside backs with either big-play potential or big-name resumes. It’s the Chargers star who’s probably most recognizable and all-around talented in the No. 28, however.
29 | Xavier Rhodes
Earl Thomas and Eric Berry have better and longer histories in the number, but Rhodes is currently the best of the bunch, so long as he’s on his game — an admitted issue at times since landing his big deal with the Vikings. Tarik Cohen could sneak his way into this conversation with another big year, but for now, the edge goes to the lockdown corner.
30 | Phillip Lindsay
Sorry, but until Todd Gurley figures out what’s going on with his knee, there’s no way he’s getting this. Much like Melvin Gordon within the RB contingent at jersey No. 28, Gurley is clearly the guy who’s most recognizable in No. 30, but that doesn’t make him the best of the group. Lindsay was an absolute stud every time he took the field as a rookie, and he figures to be a huge part of Denver’s offense even with Royce Freeman in the fold. Another alternative to Gurley, who’d make for an easy choice aside from his scary injury concerns, is James Conner.
31 | Kevin Byard
David Johnson is still worthy here, but Byard is slightly more enticing at this stage in his career. Kyler Murray will probably open things up even more for Johnson, who seems like he’s already in his 30s but could actually have a lot of great years left. And yet how can we pass up on an all-around play-maker who’s had 230-plus tackles and 12 picks in his first two seasons?
32 | Tyrann Mathieu
His size and durability will be ever-present concerns, but he makes up for it with his range and ball skills. The “Honey Badger” has quietly had this number wrapped up for years, although if Devin McCourty were a few years younger, it might be his.
33 | Jamal Adams
This might be the current generation’s version of the previous generation’s No. 20 for safeties. Adams is a stud with probably a decade of top-flight football left in him, and so is Derwin James, who could easily be swapped in as an alternate.
34 | Brian Poole
If you can’t tell, this is where we start to hit some reaches. The mid- to late-30s are not the prettiest places to be. Case in point: Our best bets in place of Poole here were Rex Burkhead, Cre’Von LeBlanc and an underdeveloped Terrell Edmunds.
35 | Pierre Desir
OK, maybe we spoke too soon. Desir is an underrated up-and-comer who’s really shedding his own bust label in Indianapolis.
36 | Shawn Williams
Nope, didn’t speak too soon. Most of you will probably have to Google this guy to see who he is. No discredit to him, though, because the Bengals could have one of the NFL’s most undervalued safety tandems should Williams keep progressing.
37 | Ricardo Allen
We tried. Really, we did. Again, nothing against Allen, who was a steady presence at the back of Atlanta’s secondary before his 2018 injury, but it’s clear there’s just not a whole lot of star power that wears No. 37. We need you, Shaun Alexander!
38 | T.J. Carrie
Not the biggest name, by any means, even after his big deal in 2018 free agency, but Carrie does this number justice. His long-term place in Cleveland remains unclear, but he at least offers good physicality and versatility in the nickel.
39 | Eddie Jackson
Here’s your proof that the 30s definitively belong to the safeties. If Byard, Adams/James, Mathieu/McCourty and Williams give the early 30s some clout, then Jackson brings the house down at a number usually reserved for borderline backups. This guy is on a different level at a very early stage in his career, and he’s a bigger reason for Chicago’s defensive improvement than most admit.
40 | Jarrad Davis
Our first example of linebackers thinking it’s cool again to wear 40s, not 50s, in the middle of the defense. Davis isn’t necessarily that much more intriguing than a Spencer Ware or Kenny Young, but he’s solid enough to make do.
41 | Alvin Kamara
Easy. Kamara defies tradition in a number of ways here, rocking a number that’s usually either a.) ugly on RBs or b.) reserved for bigger, bulkier guys. But he’s certainly made it his own, and his unorthodox personality fits it like a glove.
42 | Morgan Burnett
This one really fits Burnett, who makes like a quasi-linebacker these days. We’ve got a feeling no one’s going to take this one from Ronnie Lott on the all-time list for a long time.
43 | Marcus Williams
Darren Sproles had this one under wraps for a while, but another New Orleans Saints product makes better sense now. Williams has had his ups and downs (you know him from the “Minneapolis Miracle” blunder), but he’s still a fine young prospect.
44 | Myles Jack
Jack is a really good middle linebacker with great movement, and while No. 44 on its own isn’t that appealing, especially for a Pro Bowl-caliber starter, its uniqueness gives the Jaguars star an even better chance at making it his own. Speaking on an all-time scale, of course, John Riggins, Leroy Kelly and Dick LeBeau won’t be the easiest trio to eclipse.
45 | Deion Jones
When he’s on the field, the Falcons are so much better. These are the kinds of linebackers who deserve big contracts.
46 | Morgan Cox
That’s right, a long snapper! This is actually a very popular number for the LS position, and few have been as steady for as long as the man responsible for setting up Justin Tucker’s field goals in Baltimore.
47 | Kiko Alonso
The instincts aren’t always on display, but the athleticism is. Alonso has the tools to stay around the ball, even if he’s not the most reliable at his position.
48 | Shaquil Barrett
It’ll take some work on his part for people around the league to reclassify him as an up-and-comer, but the Buccaneers may have gotten a steal by landing him on a one-year deal.
49 | Tremaine Edmunds
Like Davis, Jack and Jones before him, he’s just another example of a young LB with high expectations opting to move away from the traditional 50s. He also happens to have probably the most upside of all of them, in addition to the craziest physical attributes.
50 | K.J. Wright
A prototypical, solid linebacker for a prototypical, solid linebacker number. Had Telvin Smith not walked away from the game this year, he’d own this one. And had Sean Lee not racked up the world’s longest injury history, he’d probably have it, too. The all-time No. 50: Mike Singletary, one of the game’s best at the LB position.
51 | Alex Mack
Centers deserve love, too. Few have been as consistent as he’s been. It’s not like the Falcons anchor is slowing down into his 30s, either, as he graded out as one of the best run blockers of the 2018 season in front of Matt Ryan.
52 | Khalil Mack
Back-to-back Macks! Or should we say … back-to-macks! I’ll stop. No one solidified their jersey number ownership better than this guy in 2018. Some incredible linebackers have donned this over the years, from Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis to Mike Webster and Clay Matthews, but Mack is probably the most terrifying edge presence in the game, even if his numbers aren’t out of this world.
53 | Darius Leonard
Talk about making your presence felt as a rookie. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but this guy seems like he’s got the makings of a 10-year Pro Bowler. If you’re the Colts, how in the world could you expect any more out of him moving forward?
54 | Bobby Wagner
If K.J. Wright owns No. 50, then Bobby Wagner owns No. 54. That’s not to say there aren’t a number of other well-rounded linebackers here, from Eric Kendricks and Lavonte David to Chargers edge rusher Melvin Ingram. These digits have always been associated with some pretty sturdy LBs, with Brian Urlacher, Jeremiah Trotter and Zach Thomas coming to mind.
55 | Frank Clark
If you’re looking for a number that rivals No. 12 (Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, etc.), look no further than the double 5s. Clark gets the call here as a 25-year-old star off the edge, but holy smokes is there a plethora of defensive talent to choose from. Anthony Barr, Benardrick McKinney, Bradley Chubb, Brandon Graham, Dee Ford, Jerry Hughes, Leighton Vander Esch and Za’Darius Smith could all easily be argued as the best at this number. That’s almost enough to make a whole defense!
56 | Quenton Nelson
57 | C.J. Mosley
The Jets may have gone overboard to bring him in from Baltimore, but he’s still a tackle machine with enough physicality to plug in at the heart of a defense.
58 | Von Miller
Derrick Thomas and Jack Lambert enjoyed legendary status at this number, but Miller isn’t as far behind them as you think. Give it a couple more years, and he’ll be in consideration among the all-time greats.
59 | Luke Kuechly
Before our inevitable pause through a series of offensive linemen (yes, we are absolutely embracing the cliche that OL never get enough credit), this was one of the easiest choices of them all. When you draft and develop a linebacker, you hope and pray they turn out half as good as Kuechly, a read-and-react machine.
60 | David Andrews
61 | Rodney Hudson
62 | Jason Kelce
63 | Corey Linsley
64 | J.C. Tretter
65 | Lane Johnson
66 | David DeCastro
67 | Larry Warford
68 | Andrew Norwell
69 | David Bakhtiari
70 | Zack Martin
71 | Ryan Ramczyk
This one’s worth a mention simply because of how many premier left tackles rock this number. Trent Williams, Jason Peters, Riley Reiff and Mitchell Schwartz are all big names worthy of consideration here.
72 | Terron Armstead
73 | Marshal Yanda
74 | Joe Staley
75 | Joel Bitonio
76 | Duane Brown
77 | Andrew Whitworth
78 | Alejandro Villanueva
Breaking the OL silent treatment for good to note how insane Villanueva’s placement is here — not because the guy isn’t good (he really is), but because just five years ago, he was playing defensive end in Eagles training camp … after going undrafted four additional years earlier.
79 | Javon Hargrave
Eagles guard Brandon Brooks is probably just as worthy, as is maybe Rob Havenstein, but Hargrave is a relatively under-the-radar — and up-and-coming — centerpiece of the Steelers defense. We might be saying his name a lot more in the coming years.
80 | Jarvis Landry
Here in this space lies our official thank you to “Juice” for proving that good WRs can and should still wear numbers in the 80s. Danny Amendola, Trey Burton, Jamison Crowder and Jimmy Graham of several years ago warrant honorable mentions, but to be honest, even that contingent isn’t overwhelming in terms of No. 1-caliber talent — something that easily would’ve been true of No. 80 a decade or so ago.
81 | Austin Hooper
The number once graced not long ago by Terrell Owens, Anquan Boldin, Calvin Johnson and Randy Moss has been reduced to tight end and mid-tier WR fodder. Sorry to downplay another Falcons player’s digits, but in what world should Austin Hooper, Quincy Enunwa and a still-raw Mike Williams be the best representatives of No. 81? Somebody fix this.
82 | Kyle Rudolph
83 | Tyler Boyd
Now do you realize the predicament of WRs in the 80s?! Boyd kind of caught fire in 2018, and no one’s saying Marquez Valdes-Scantling won’t turn into something special, but we’re also talking up Marquez Valdes-Scantling. We can bring Willie Snead into this, too, but I’m guessing you already get the point.
84 | Antonio Brown
A big salute to Mr. Big Chest for keeping the 80s stocked with at least one elite WR.
85 | George Kittle
Now we’re cooking with fire. If it takes WRs in TE bodies to make this work, we’ll take it. Kittle doesn’t get nearly as much credit as he deserves, but fantasy football owners assuredly know his name well. Eric Ebron isn’t a bad alternate-dimension choice here, surprising as that may have sounded a few years ago. Among the top all-timers: Antonio Gates, Chad Johnson, Derrick Mason.
86 | Zach Ertz
Even better than you think, Ertz represents the middle — and best — part of an elite tight end sandwich between Nos. 84-87.
87 | Travis Kelce
This easily would’ve belonged to Rob Gronkowski had he not pulled the plug on his NFL career, but Kelce’s still in good company in terms of all-timers who rocked No. 87: Reggie Wayne, Keenan McCardell, Muhsin Muhammad, Claude Humphrey. With Patrick Mahomes set to sling him passes for years to come, there’s no telling how high he could land on that same list.
88 | Greg Olsen
Can you guess the all-timer here, at the same position? That’s right: Tony Gonzalez.
89 | Vance McDonald
Doug Baldwin would’ve had this, easy, if not for his abrupt retirement.
90 | Jadeveon Clowney
Here’s a guy who fills out No. 90 pretty well (literally). Demarcus Lawrence and Jarran Reed are two other dominant defensive pieces with this number. Clowney gets a slight edge over the former because of that tantalizing physicality and a little less tread on the tires.
91 | Fletcher Cox
Aaron Donald gets most of the hype at DT, but Cox has done nothing but disrupt for years now. His stats aren’t always as gaudy, but it’d be a tremendous oversight to list the Eagles star outside of the top two or three interior players in the game.
92 | Leonard Williams
Another top-tier lineman who’s rarely had huge numbers but remains a force in the trenches. Alongside Quinnen Williams, he should feast even more.
93 | Calais Campbell
The fun debate is between Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh, who just took McCoy’s old No. 93 with the Buccaneers, but even though both of those veterans are big names with big resumes, Campbell’s probably the guy you’d rather have, even at age 32. He’s somehow gotten better as he’s gotten older, at least in certain areas of the game, and has long been a reliable presence off the edge, not to mention a reputed leader in the locker room.
94 | Cameron Jordan
He makes a name for himself with some of his off-field remarks, but on the field, he might still be underrated. Take a look at his career numbers for the Saints, and you’ll see this guy’s been doing his thing — and doing it well — for longer than you realized.
95 | Myles Garrett
A nice number for a premier pass rusher. Garrett’s just getting started, too.
96 | Akiem Hicks
He’s quietly emerged as one of the NFL’s better interior players — so good, in fact, that we bet guys like Fletcher Cox and Aaron Donald would run at the chance to play alongside him. Khalil Mack gets all the headlines, but it’s true that lesser-known studs like Hicks and Eddie Jackson are vital to Chicago’s “D.”
97 | Joey Bosa
You’ve got quite a few solid defensive linemen to choose from here — Cameron Heyward, Everson Griffen, Malik Jackson. Bosa is more than solid, though, and it’ll be interesting to see whether it’s he or his brother, Nick, who leave a more lasting impact on the number, which they both also rocked at Ohio State.
98 | Damon Harrison
99 | Aaron Donald
A fitting way to round this out. You could see how incredible he was lined up alongside Ndamukong Suh in Los Angeles, considering Suh was once the most feared DT in the game. No. 99 is a true outlier, made famous by legends like Jason Taylor, Warren Sapp and, even today, J.J. Watt. But no one’s quite as extreme in their talent and production as Donald, who’s all but un-blockable at the heart of the line.