How Kickoffs Could Change In 2018.
Earlier this week, it was reported that the NFL could make some drastic changes to kickoffs for the 2018 season. The NFL has been toying with changes to kickoff rules for a while now, and has even already made some minor changes. Here are some potential differences for kickoffs in the 2018 season.
Elimination Of The Two-Man Wedge
The two-man wedge is a blocking technique in which two players on the team receiving the kickoff link together and take on multiple defenders at once. It is often an imperative block in setting up big kickoff returns.
Without this type of blocking style, it would be much harder for teams receiving kickoffs to set up good blocks for their returner. This could lead to less kickoffs being returned. It could also lead to some exotic kick return personnel packages featuring larger players (other than the returner) who excel at blocking since smaller players are no longer allowed to band together.
No Running Start For Kicking Teams
This would be a huge rule change, and really kind of counter productive to what the NFL is trying to do. The NFL is trying to decrease the amount of kick returns because it is the most dangerous play in football. However, if anything, this would encourage players to return more kickoffs.
With no running start for the kick team, it will be much easier for returners to get big gains. Getting to the 25 yard line (the spot where the ball is placed after a touchback) will practically be given when return men opt to return kicks. Virtually any kick that has the opportunity to be returned, will be now.
This rule change would also make it much harder for kicking teams to recover onside kicks. Without the ability to have a running start, kicking teams simply won’t be fast enough to have any chance to recover the ball on onside kicks. Without being able to recover onside kicks, there will be a lot less close games in the coming years.
Only Three Players Allowed Deep
With only three players allowed deep, this could be another big blow to kick returns. The returning team would have a much tougher time setting good blocks on the kicking team, because eight of the 11 players on the returning team would be lined up near mid field.
Being positioned that close to the kicking team would disallow the returning team to get a running start for their blocks. This would essentially take any strategy out of kick return blocking schemes, and simply turn it into “try and block the guy in front of you.”
Final Thoughts On These Potential Changes
If these rule changes were all to happen for the 2018 season, they kind of seem to offset each other. While only allowing three players deep and eliminating the two-man wedge would make returning kicks more difficult, making it so the kicking team doesn’t get a running start also makes returning kicks much easier.
I think that if these changes are approved before this season, we will see a lot more kickoffs returned along the sidelines, with returners opting to go out of bounds after they cross the 25 yard line, rather than initiating a head-on collision with unblocked defenders. Because of the running start ban, getting past the 25 yard line would be easy, even with the other two changes making returns more difficult.
To combat this, we could see kicking teams opt to simply kick a lot more touchbacks. There is no chance for a decent return if the ball is kicked out of the back of the end zone, so teams with strong-legged kickoff specialists will likely concede touchbacks even more than they already do, helping the NFL achieve their ultimate goal of reducing the number of kick returns.