The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.
NFL owners changed the rules on kickoffs at the Spring meeting this week
The AP explains the new rule voted on by NFL owners this week that changes the way kickoffs work in the NFL.
League owners voted Tuesday for a one-year trial of an enhanced touchback rule that will give the receiving team the ball at its own 25 with a fair catch of a kickoff anywhere behind that yard line.
“There’ll be a lot more work to be done about how we can continue to evolve going forward,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “Can we continue to keep this play in an exciting way, but more importantly in a safe way? There’s a lot of work that’s going to be need to be done.”
The proposal passed despite strong pushback from coaches and players across the league who argued the rule change will create uglier plays with squib and corner kicks that make fair catches impossible.
The NFL said its statistical models predict the return rate for kickoffs in 2023, under the new rule, will drop from 38% to 31% and that the rate of concussions on the sport’s most dangerous play will be reduced by 15%. Concussions on kickoffs occur more than twice as often as on plays from scrimmage, and that rate has risen significantly over the last two years, McKay said.
One reason for the recent increase in head injuries? The improved skill of kickers to be able to strategically hang the ball longer and higher in front of the goal line, allowing the coverage more time to make a tackle and keep the opponent’s drive start deeper than the 25 for an end-zone touchback.
The rule change is clearly unpopular with the league’s special teams players and coaches, and so far, fans don’t seem to care much for the rule change either.
While the data suggests kick offs are an elevated concussion risk for players, punts are among the safest plays there are. What if we just turn kickoffs into punts from the 50 or so?— KyleSmith4GM (@Smith4Gm) May 25, 2023
Are the NFL owners doing the wrong thing?
Meanwhile, some people think the XFL has already solved the problem, and that the NFL simply has to copy the solution.
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
A very good summary of the XFL kickoff rules from ProFootballTalk:
One of the best innovations of the short-lived XFL 2.0, which began play in February of 2020 and closed down in March of 2020, was its kickoff rule. That rule will be back for XFL 3.0, which begins play on Saturday.
The kickoff rule consists of 10 players on the kicking team and 10 players on the receiving team (everyone except the kicker and returner) lining up across from each other, five yards apart. No one except the kicker and returner can move until either the returner has touched the ball, or the ball has been on the ground for three seconds.
According to the XFL, there were two big advantages to the rule: One is that there were fewer injuries because the blockers and tacklers, being only five yards apart and not getting a running start, aren’t engaging in full-speed collisions. The other is that there were far more kickoff returns than in the NFL: Only 38 percent of kickoffs were returned during the 2022 NFL season, but 97 percent of kickoffs were returned during the short-lived 2020 XFL season.
Reggie Barlow, who spent eight years in the NFL as a kick returner and is now head coach of the XFL’s DC Defenders, praised the league’s kickoff rule.
“The kickoff, the rule for our kickoff, the way we do that is interesting,” Barlow said. “Obviously it’s safe. We’re talking about player safety. But it still allows us to give the fans what they want, and that’s action. As mentioned, there’s 97 percent of kickoffs were returned, and that’s what people pay their money for, to come and see these guys perform. Looking forward to that, and that’s definitely one of the different rules that I think our fans will enjoy.”
Would you be in favor of the NFL adopting the XFL "low impact" kickoff rules?
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