On Tuesday the National Football League announced a rule change that will move kickoffs to the 35-yard line (previously kicked from the 30). This decision, which was made to enhance player safety, will drastically reduce the amount of kickoff returns in the NFL.
The New York Jets, ironically a team that voted in favor of the rule change, will be significantly impacted by this rule change as they were always considered one of the top return teams in the NFL. Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff, considered by many to be one of the best in the business, routinely devised schemes to give Gang Green a competitive advantage in the return game (approx 14 kor tds in the past 10 years). This special teams advantage has now been eliminated by the recent rule change.
This rule change also decreases the value of a player like Brad Smith, an explosive kick returner that does not fill a full time roll on offense. With a reduction in kickoff returns, what is Smith’s value as a 3rd or 4th receiver/part time wildcat quarterback? This rule change could have cost Brad millions.
Parting shot: As a long time fan of the NFL, I absolutely hate this rule change. The kickoff return has become one of the most exciting plays in football, and one that can decide the outcome of a game. Brad Smith’s regular season return against the Steelers quickly comes to mind, not to mention any of Devin Hester’s returns with the Bears. This rule change is taking away an element of the game, which is special teams.
I understand the need to enhance player safety, but at some point the powers that be need to understand that football is by nature a violent, physical sport.