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Mar 26, 2024 11:22 am

NFL adopts kickoff rule aimed at boosting return rate

butker kicks off

NFL owners approved new kickoff rules that are designed to increase return rates while also reducing the chance of high-impact injuries on Tuesday at their annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

The kickoff modification is modeled after the format used by the XFL and is a one-year program with the expectation that further alterations could be made.

It will take effect in 2024.

Under new rules, the kicker will kick from his own 35-yard line while his teammates line up at the receiving team’s 40-yard line. Nine players on the receiving team will line up at their own 35, with two players near the goal line as returners.

On the kicking team, only the kicker can move until the ball hits the ground in the designated “landing zone” inside the receiving team’s 20-yard line.

If the kick doesn’t go that far, the ball will be placed at the receiving team’s 40-yard line. The receiving team will get the ball at its own 30 in the instance of a touchback.

By putting the majority of players closer together, and without that running start, high-speed collisions are less likely, reducing “space and speed,” according to the league.

The plan was reviewed and refined by the 32 NFL special teams coordinators before being presented to the league Competition Committee and, ultimately, owners this week.

As the NFL has modified the kickoff in the past decade to reduce concussions, the return rate has fallen. Just under 22 percent of kickoffs were returned last season, and ESPN reported Tuesday that the goal for 2024 is about 80 percent.

Atlanta Falcons head coach Raheem Morris told The Athletic that the newly designed kickoff will be intriguing.

“I think it’s important for us to find ways to bring excitement back for our fans and us,” he said. “And also to make special teams coaches more relevant, right? We don’t want to lose the relevance in any position of what we’re doing. So I’ve got to give those guys credit for coming up with the idea. We’re going to fight the battles of the unknown. Without a doubt, we haven’t seen the play. (We have) seen a form of the play in a different league.”

–Field Level Media

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