The NFL changed its kickoff rules Wednesday at the spring owners meetings in Atlanta, Georgia.
The new rules are outlined nicely by this video, via the official NFL Football Operations Twitter account. The SB Nation flagship site also provided an in-depth explanation here.
Following today’s vote at the @NFL Spring League Meetings, here’s everything you need to know about the new kickoff rules for the upcoming 2018 season. The rule will be reevaluated next offseason. pic.twitter.com/YubLyMBR4g— NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) May 22, 2018
Here’s your quick-and-dirty guide to what’s different about kickoffs now:
- No running starts: Players wait at the 34-yard line for the ball to be kicked before they are allowed to move, slowing down momentum and speed of collisions.
- Eight players on the return team are confined to a 15-yard setup zone close to the kick: This will call for all but two blockers needing to run back, similar to that of a punt situation.
- No wedge blocks: The two remaining blockers cannot team up to block the same single player.
- No blocking in the first 15 yards: Coverage players will need to reach midfield before they are to be touched by return-team blockers, slowing the blocking process down and eliminating collisions.
- No need to kneel: If the ball gets to the end zone and touches the ground, it’s an automatic touchback.
So where does Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill come in?
Well, according to the Washington Post, Uncle Dave Toub had this to say about the newly proposed kickoff rules back in March.
“The old rule, you had guys running at each other. Now you’ve got guys running with each other down the field. It makes a big difference. … It’s just like a punt return. You’re running down the field together. You’re pushing people on the side, whereas you don’t have those big collisions. That’s the main thing in our proposal we tried to get done.”
Hill happens to be the most dangerous punt returner in the league. Here are his career punt-return numbers (2016-2017):
64 returns | 796 yards | 12.4 yards/return | three touchdowns
Hill’s 796 punt-return yards and his 12.4 yards-per-return average are the best in the league during that span.
That is why, despite the fact that he is growing into one of the league’s elite wide receivers, the Chiefs kept him at the position last season. He was taken off kickoff duty in 2017 after returning 14 kicks, including one for a touchdown, in 2016.
But now the prevailing thought is that these new rules will make kick-return touchdowns easier.
And with them essentially being called “punt returns” by the Chiefs special teams coordinator, Hill will be too much of a threat not to use there, especially with a game undecided and a newly-acquired safety net in Sammy Watkins on the sideline.