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Major kickoff changes approved by NFL owners

Can we say goodbye to the onside kick?

NCAA Football: UL Monroe at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday afternoon, the National Football League owners approved a bunch of new rules for kickoffs, and there are going to be some pretty significant changes. Let’s go down the list of what the new rules are, courtesy of the breakdown given by CBS Sports.

2017 Rule: Kickoff team must have at least four players on each side of the ball.

New rule: Kickoff team must have five players on each side of the ball.

As CBS points out, this could end up having a huge effect on the onside kick, because now teams won’t be able to overload one side of the kickoff formation. If I were a betting man, I’d be willing to guess that the number of successful onside kicks we’re going to see in 2018 is going to plummet. It’s not a terribly high number to start with, but this is definitely a knock against it.

2017 rule: Kickoff team can set up five yards behind the line of scrimmage.

New rule: Kickoff team cannot line up for more than one yard from the line of scrimmage.

This basically eliminates any sort of running start for the kicking team, obviously. It should make it easier for the kick return team to block them as a result of this.

2017 rule: Two-man wedge blocks permitted; can take place anywhere on the field.

New rule: No wedge blocks. Only players who were initially lined up in the setup zone may come together in a double-team block.

This one sort of speaks for itself. The number of double-team blocks is going to decrease significantly, so blocking by the kick return team is going to be at a much higher premium going forward.

2017 rule: The ball is dead if it is downed in the end zone by the receiving team.

New rule: The ball is dead for a touchback if it touches the ground in the end zone, even if hasn’t been touched by the receiving team. The returner doesn’t have to down the ball in the end zone to get the touchback.

I assume that a team can still bring the ball out of the end zone if they choose, but if the ball hits the ground in the end zone before the returner can field it, they’re not going to get the opportunity to do so.

All of the rules changes have been summed up in this video tweet from the folks at NFL Football Operations.

The impetus behind all of this is to reduce the number of injuries sustained in kickoffs, as the kickoff has the highest injury rate of any play in football, according to statistics. If the league doesn’t see the results that they want, we could see the end of the kickoff all together.

Football without kickoffs just seems really, really strange to me. I mean, I understand the emphasis on reducing the number of injuries, but kick returns can also be some of the more exciting plays in the NFL, and can make a real difference for teams that have put an emphasis on special teams. (You know. . .like the Vikings have in recent years.) I’d hate to see it go away, personally.

What do you think of the new kickoff rules?