At the NFL’s Spring League Meetings, the league approved a significant change to the NFL’s kickoff rules. For a one-year trial period, every single kickoff return that is successfully fair caught will be brought out to the 25-yard-line, similar to the rule currently seen in college football.
According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, “special teams coordinators unanimously oppose the change.” At the very least, it’s going to take some time to get used to for fans watching NFL players fair catch balls in the field of play.
It’s ready to be used: the Low Impact Kickoff has a huge impact on the future of the game— Sam Schwartzstein (@schwartzsteins) May 23, 2023
0 injuries in 2020
90+% return rate
Avg starting field position 31 (NFL is 28) https://t.co/QIAhocxgA3 pic.twitter.com/PDTQXrd5KO
According to Sam Schwartzstein, who developed the alternative low-impact kickoff in the 2020 version of the XFL, the average starting field position for NFL kickoffs is at the 28-yard-line — putting league-average returns neck and neck with a fair catch or touchback under the NFL’s new rule change.
When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was asked about the rule change on Tuesday, during a press conference at the meetings, he made it known that the approval of special teams coordinators is not his primary goal with this rule change. Goodell stated, “You know, we have different viewpoints in the league, but the data is very clear.” He would later add, “There will be a lot of work that needs to be done [for kickoffs to remain in the NFL.]”
Obviously, kickoffs are a fairly dangerous play as both the return team and the coverage team are running at high speeds and covering a lot of ground. It’s no surprise that the NFL’s health and safety initiatives have targeted this play, in particular, as one that sees a disproportionate amount of injuries. Still, football games need to start somehow and the visual of the kickoff provides a flashbulb spectacle for the sport. It’s just unfortunate that, moving forward, so many of these moments will end up as plays blown dead before any real action occurs.
The frequency of fair caught kickoff returns will almost certainly vary between teams and return men, at least in the early adoption period, which is exemplified by Keisean Nixon’s comment on the subject. The Green Bay Packers’ kickoff return specialist took to Twitter to say, “Lol Fair Catch What’s That?” after the rule change was announced.
Nixon was one of the Packers’ “big” moves in free agency this offseason, as the team re-signed the 2022 First-Team All-Pro to a one-year, $4 million contract. Only time will tell if the league’s changing special teams climate will allow Nixon to live up to the hype of being one of the few difference-making return men in the league.