Packers' All-Pro returner dismisses NFL's new kickoff rule
The newly approved rule allows a kickoff returner to call a fair catch anywhere inside their own 25-yard line. As a result, ball will be placed at the 25-yard line.
Over the past several years, long kickoff returns in the NFL have become more and more of a rarity.
During the NFL owners' spring meetings, a new rule was approved that will likely incentivize kick returners to waive for a fair catch. Under the new rule, a returner can call for a fair catch anywhere within their own 25-yard line. If the player opts to signal for a fair catch, the receiving team's offense will take over at the 25-yard line.
The rule is being billed as a one-year trial for the 2023 season. But, one of the league's better special teams players, Keisean Nixon, does not believe the rule change will impact his style of play.
Nixon's contributions helped the Green Bay Packers produce one of the most prolific return units last season.
In 2016, the NFL decided to moved touchbacks up from the 20-yard line to the 25. The league also previously changed the rules to allow kickoff tees to be placed at the 35-yard, up from their previous spot at the 30.
After learning about the most recent rule change, Nixon took to Twitter and issued a hilarious response.
"Lol Fair Catch What’s That?" Nixon jokingly wrote.
Nixon led the NFL in kick returns and kick return yards last season. He also returned one kick for a touchdown.
The shift in the rules over the years has forced teams to reevaluate how they approach kickoff returns. Some kickers try to kick the ball high into the air in order to give coverage unit additional time to get down the field. Others just kick the ball out of the end zone.
"The kickoff play for us has been a play that has had a lot of changes for us over the years, all really driven by health and safety," NFL competition committee chairman Rich McKay told the NFL Network.
McKay cited player safety and the rate of head injuries when he spoke of how the NFL came to the decision on the rule change.
"The concussion rate on the play has gone up. It’s gone up because the ball is being returned more by kicks that are being hung inside the 5-yard line. College made this rule change in maybe 2018 or 2019. We looked at their data and said, ‘You know what, this is the right thing to do now.’"
Data provided by the NFL projects that the kickoff-return rate will decrease from 38% to 31% in 2023. The league also expects the concussion rates to drop by 15%.
"We just can’t sit there and ignore the data," McKay said.
According to Sports Illustrated, NFL special teams coordinators unanimously opposed the rule change.