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The NFL’s new kickoff rules could make them more exciting

NFL owners approved a new rule that could actually fix kickoffs.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panther Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The NFL approved a plan to change kickoffs May. Aimed at making one of the most dangerous plays in the sport safer, it eliminated wedge blocking entirely and, perhaps most notably, bans players on the kicking team from getting a running start.

For the receiving team, eight of the 11 players on the field must line up within 15 yards of the spot of the kickoff and no hitting is allowed within those 15 yards.

While it sounds like a draconian shift, the new rules actually might make kickoffs more exciting to watch.

What is good about the new rules?

Taking away a running start will presumably lower the speed of collisions between players. Especially when all but three players on the receiving team will be close to the spot of the kickoff.

The idea is to remove the distance between the two sides, lowering the speed of the collisions between blockers and would-be tacklers.

The returner and two blockers would still be able to get a running head start, but the majority of the coverage team will get slowed down by blockers who will be running backwards first.

“The problem was that you had guys too far away from the kicking team,” former Buffalo Bills special teamer Steve Tasker told the Washington Post. “And they had a chance to gather themselves and run toward the kicking team, with the kicking team running toward them. Nobody’s trying to avoid the contact.”

Under the current NFL rules, coverage teams can get a 5-yard running start and blockers run backwards a bit before turning and turning back with a head of steam toward the coverage team.

“Now, you’ve got guys running with each other down the field. It makes a big difference,” Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub told the Post.

What is bad about the proposal?

It’s kind of hard to guess the consequences of the rule changes without seeing them in action, but it does seem like it would be significantly easier for kick returners to break free.

With coverage teams given less of a running start at returners, the lanes could be easier to find and exploit. Especially given the increased room and running start the proposal would give to kick returners.

Is that a problem?

That’s a matter of personal opinion. There were seven kicks returned for touchdowns in 2017 — the same amount that were returned in 2013, 2015, and 2016. It’s doubtful that many fans would complain about that number getting increased, but it could be frustrating if returning kicks suddenly became significantly easier.

It could also affect onside kicks which are already difficult enough as is. Without the chance to get afive-yard running start or for the kicking team to use motion will likely make it even more difficult to recover a kick.

But neither of those negatives outweigh what really seems like a logical and smart rule proposition. It should make kickoffs safer and may even make them more exciting too.