In 2011, the NFL successfully passed a new rule to move the kickoff starting yard-line from the 30 to the 35, and for the past two seasons, the number of touchbacks have skyrocketed. Here's a list of the top 5 teams in touchback percentage in 2011 and where they were in 2010:
The amount of touchbacks consistently rose about 45% for every team in the league. The cold weather cities like Buffalo, Minnesota and Cleveland saw less of an increase, as probably explained by the cold weather at game time.
The most apparent reason for the NFL installing this rule was to limit injuries that occurred from kickoffs. Some might remember Kevin Everett's injury on the opening kickoff of the Buffalo Bills' 2009 season that left Everett paralyzed (He's made a great recovery since). I feel that, while the intentions were understandable, moving the ball forward to encourage less returns was the wrong way to deal with the situation at hand. Nonetheless, the league saw 40% fewer concussions in 2011.
Maybe it's not the amount of hitting that puts returners at risk, but the type of hitting that does. The NFL has cracked down on the safety of their players in recent years, banning forcible hits to the head, elbows and shoulders of a ball carrier or passer. Another rule they installed was banning the three-man plus wedge and only allowing two guys to come together for a tandem.But it's difficult to limit the amount of force of a tackle when 10 guys are rushing down-field trying to tackle one returner. Part of that argument was why the NFL changed the kickoff rule before the 2011 season and why Roger Goodell has brought up the possibility of not having a kickoff at all.
Here's his proposed rule:
"TIME sat in on meeting between Goodell and Rich McKay, head of the
NFL's powerful competition committee. Goodell brought up a proposal
promoted by Greg Schiano, coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: after a
touchdown or field goal, instead of kicking off, a team would get the
ball on its own 30-yard line, where it's fourth-and-15. The options are
either to go for it and try to retain possession, or punt. If you go for
it and fall short, the opposing team would take over with good field
position. In essence, punts would replace kickoffs, and punts are less
susceptible to violent collisions than kickoffs."
There's not a doubt that the NFL would completely change if Goodell's proposed rule was passed. We would never see a great returner like Devin Hester or Darren Sproles ever again. Instead, the game would start with a 4th and 15 on the 30 and the team with possession would either punt or go for it to retain possession. But it's no secret that most teams will be punting right off the bat, so where does the returner protection come into play here? There are also a lot of injuries on punt returns, and that number will only rise when kickoffs are eliminated and the amount of punts increase. To be honest, it is a fairly interesting way to start a game, but maybe only in pre-season. The regular season needs the kickoff.
I'm not a professional writer, I'm far from it. I don't do professional analysis of the NFL, but everyone has ideas about how kickoffs should be. Here's a couple of my suggestions, leave yours in the comments section.
First off, eliminate the 2-man wedge. Make kick-offs every man for himself. There shouldn't be any opportunity to group together to form an advantage over the opponent. While the wedge does protect the returner to a degree, it also creates mismatches for the kicking team which, as a result, can leave a gunner 1-on-1 with the returner.
Move the kickoff back to the 25. This will eliminate the increase of touchbacks we've seen over the past two years and let the art of kick returning come back to life.
The kickoff team lines up at the 50 yard line but can only start running down the field when the returner fields the kick. A lot of injuries off of the kickoff come from high-speed collisions from players on the kicking team running at full speed towards the return team. If you limit the space on the field the kicking team has to run, it will give them less of a chance to reach full speed before making contact with the return team. I always found it odd that the kicking team was allowed a running start.
If the league doesn't want to move the kickoff back to the 25, then push touchbacks up to the 35. This will encourage the kicker to limit the amount of power he puts on the kick and will result in less touchbacks. This will also make the kickoff more of a skill game for the kicker.
I think that if the NFL were to have kickoffs from the 25 with the kicking team lined up at the 50 but only allowed to start downfield when the receiver fields the ball, it would limit the amount of injuries from kickoffs while allowing the kickoff returners a chance to field every kick. But that's just my suggestion. Remember, I'm not a professional, just a fan that would like to see some changes.