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NFL to implement new kickoff rules

The NFL has is implementing new kickoff rules with the intent of making them safer.

NFL: Super Bowl LII-Philadelphia Eagles vs New England Patriots Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL announced that changes would be coming to the way kickoffs are handled starting in the 2018 season. The rules are intended to make kickoffs safer with the added bonus of making touchbacks more desirable for the kicking team. Here’s the rundown of the changes:

Kicking Team

  • Kicking team must have 5 players on each side of the ball
  • Kicking team cannot line up more than one yard behind the kickoff spot; i.e. no more running starts before the ball is kicked
  • At least two players on each side must line up outside the numbers and at least two players on each side must line up inside the numbers

Returning Team

  • At least 8 players must be in 15 yard “setup zone” prior to the kickoff; only 3 players can remain outside the setup zone
  • No wedge blocks are permitted. Only players who were initially lined up in the setup zone can come together to double block.
  • Until the ball is touched or hits the ground, no player from the returning team may cross its restraining line (10 yards from the kickoff spot) or initiate a block in the 15 yard area beyond the kicking team’s restraining line (normally the 50 yard line). This means that blockers will have to retreat down the field with the kicking team before setting up to block instead of the two units sprinting full speed at each other.
  • The ball is dead and the play is ruled a touchback if it is not touched by the returning team and touches the ground in the endzone

These rules should reduce the number of high speed and blindside collisions that often happen during kickoffs by making them function more like punt returns, which are much safer than traditional kickoff returns. These rules also seem to be more beneficial to the return team, which means the idea that returns are actually desirable for the kicking team might fly out the window, making touchbacks more frequent.


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