The NFL is making a big change to the way special teams will be played this season. At its May owners meetings, the league passed a rule that all fair catches on kickoffs will come out to the 25-yard line.
You can read the full resolution below via ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
This means that if a kickoff is fair caught and fielded at say the 2-yard line, the ball automatically comes out to the 25 (unless the kick is caught in front of the 25 yard-line). So gone is basically any thought of trying to pin a team deep with a kickoff that doesn’t quite reach the end zone. And it will be even more uncommon to back teams up inside their 25-yard line on a kickoff. This will apply to kickoffs and kicks that occur following a safety.
The NFL is citing player safety as the catalyst for the rule change, though it should be noted it’s for one year only and will be revisited in 2024. The league has slowly but surely modified kickoff rules to reduce concussions and high-impact collisions that lead to injury. The wedge (and by extension, wedge busters) are long gone, touchbacks were moved from the 20 to the 25, the ball simply has to land in the end zone to be an automatic touchback, and now there is today’s rule change.
Speaking on the rule change, NFL executive Jeff Miller says similar changes may occur in the future and that the kick return rate should drop by about 7%, which will greatly decrease the number of concussions.
The league has been hesitant to completely overhaul the look of kickoffs as other leagues like the XFL have done but this will be a big change for the upcoming season.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, special teams coaches around the league came out against the rule change but were overruled.
Last year, Steelers kicker Chris Boswell recorded a touchback on 42% of his kickoffs, his lowest mark since 2015.