A look at the potential impact of the kickoff change


On Tuesday, the NFL voted to move the kickoff point from the 30 to the 35, a full 17 years after moving it from the 35 to the 30.

So what will the impact of the change be?  With the help of our friends at the Elias Sports Bureau, we tracked down some numbers regarding the impact the last time the change was made.  Specifically, we looked at the five years before the move of the kickoff from the 35 to the 30 (1989 through 1993) and the five years after the move (1994 to 1998).

For starters, the number of touchbacks per game dropped from 1.8 to 1.1.  For a 256-game season, that equates to 179 more touchbacks — and thus 179 fewer kick returns.

From 1989 through 1993, the league saw 33 touchdowns on kickoff returns.  In the five years after the change, the number doubled.

In 1993, the last year of the ball being kicked off from the 35, 27.1 percent of all kicks were touchbacks.  In 2010, the last year of the ball being kicked off from the 30, 16.1 percent of all kicks were touchbacks.

Bottom line?  While safety will be enhanced given the reduction in the raw number of kickoff returns, field position and thus offense — and thus scoring — will be affected.

34 responses to “A look at the potential impact of the kickoff change

  1. If I’m a ST coach, I have my kickers working on a high kick that lands on the 2, given the 5 yard head start. I’m also down for an assortment of pooch kicks, etc.

  2. I just can’t tell you how much I hate this new NFL —- I hate – I hate it – I hate it —- And I will definitely be watching much less of it — That great incredible excitement that used to just naturally build up for Sundays is just not there — I’m finding myself having to talk myself into watching this watered down crap — What a drag man — The whole thing just sucks

  3. So, from what I have heard and read, the reason for this is player safety, correct?

    Here’s a better idea, just do two-hand touch on kickoffs! That will really limit injuries too. Or better yet, negate kickoffs and just let every offense start at the 20. That way its fair for everyone, AND limits injuries from those scary kickoffs.

    Dear Lord! Just let them play. They understand the risk when they sign up, its football. Quit changing rules just for the sake of doing them. What a waste. Instead of wasting time on this, figure out how you are going to provide fans what they want, an NFL SEASON.

    Packerrube, out

  4. Roger Goodell is the worst commissioner in all of sports. He is watering down the best game we have in America. Taking the game at its peak, and bringing it back to the NBA level. Soon, MLS will be more popular because it will allow more contact than the NFL.

    The players are going to become a bunch of panzies like Eli Manning now. Great.

  5. What about mentioning the impact to punt returns? You can imagine that you’d also have a lot of punts from deep ok n your own territory. Should inpact those returns as well. While we see less kick off TDs or big gains, they should be there on punts.

  6. The hardcore/old school football guy in me loves the move. The offenses these days have more than enough advantages. It is about time that the league CORRECTED this and finally did something major to help the defense and kickers. It will create more overall balance.

    Honestly, I don’t think the NFL’s fore-fathers envisioned the kickoff as being a major part of a team’s offense to begin with. In my opinion, the game is DESIGNED for the offense to start at the 20 and a good kickoff return is meant to just be lagniappe.

  7. Another thing to keep in mind – Kickers will still be using 1-inch kicking tees, which means their hang time on these kicks won’t be as much as it was before when they were kicking off two inch tees from the 35 prior to the rule change in the mid 90s.

    Will the ball travel into the end zone more frequently? Yes. But to compare the percentages to pre-rule change error is flawed because of the kicking tee change that also occured, resulting in less hang time.

  8. the players who say the owners are ruining the game by making these rule changes, are the same players who will sue the owners because they have problems later in life.

  9. I say special teams players are wrapped in 1 foot thick bubble wrap prior to each play….

    and every time there is a injury … the injured player’s team wins by sudden death on the spot…

  10. you have to understand the nfl could wind up shut down becuase of all the attention the head trauma is getting. trust me the nfl wants scoring because casual fans love high scoring games. they dont want to watch 10-7 games. how many josh cribbs jerseys would have been sold without kickreturns? but they have to be careful. they have to lower injuries and more impotantly show that they are trying to limit the injuries

  11. @steviemo – I like the idea of trying to bounce the ball in the 5. I expect most coaches will think the same thing. Ironically, the net effect is that kickoffs will become more dangerous (depending on how good kickers are).

  12. i’m pretty sure they also changed the tee at the same time so these stats are skewed.

    they went from the big orange one to the low black one.

  13. The kickoff rule could bring a new twist to the meaning of coffin corner. NE will find a way to exploit the hidden potential, if there is a way.

  14. The statistics don’t sound great if you are looking at inside a vacuum, but the placement of the ball on kickoffs wasn’t the only thing that changed during that time period. Kickers changed, field surfaces changed, return specialists changed.

    Eric Metcalf, one of the greatest returners of all time had his best season BEFORE they moved the ball up 5 more yards. I’ll let it play out next season before I start complaining. Punt returns typically have a bigger effect on the game than kickoffs anyway and fortunately nothing has changed about those.

  15. Since I am a Steeler fan I like it going back to the 35. We consistently have bad Special Teams. Our defense works so hard and does so well, and then we give up a TD or a long run back on special teams.

    I welcome the change.

  16. “Bottom line? While safety will be enhanced given the reduction in the raw number of kickoff returns, field position and thus offense — and thus scoring — will be affected.”


    What? – while this is interesting information your conclusion doesn’t add up. I’m not saying your assertion is wrong but it doesn’t jive with the info you gave us. Either you didn’t investigate this or you didn’t tell us BUT there’s nothing in your report that says anything about the difference in starting field position between kicking off from the 30 or 35.

    An increase in touchbacks does not necessarily mean a longer distance to the goal line – capiche?

  17. I don’t know if this is really going to make a huge difference or not- in order the take Hester and the like out of the game they’d have to kick it completely out of the endzone anyway. They can still run it back if they want – they don’t have to take a knee.

    Maybe a better idea would be to leave the kickoff where it is and if the kicker kicks it through the goal post give them 1 or 2 points. That would create a real incentive and more drama.

  18. StevieMO you are a genius, not sure why anyone was bothering not to mention the obvious!!!this will make kickoffs more exciting and more dangerous!!!that extra 5 yds just makes it easier for the cover team to get down field and for the kicker to get the ball higher for more hang time.

  19. The premise of using statistics from 17 years ago will lead to faulty analysis. Kickers are much better than they were then. Teams will take one of two approaches here – those with kickers that can’t adjust will just try to kick it to the end zone on every kick. Others will learn to kick higher hanging balls and let the coverage teams cover. I also think you will see more situational kicking – squib kicks may go the way of the dodo – just boot it out of the end zone. No runback, no worries.

  20. Considering that kickers seem to have much stronger legs than they did 17 years ago, I’d bet that the percentage of touchbacks will be much higher than the 27.1% reported in 1993. I’d guess probably around 33%. If the change does reduce scoring though, by giving offenses worse average starting field position, that would seem to go against the leagues desire to increase scoring.

  21. I don’t know what y’all are whining about, I remember when they kicked 0ff from the 40 yard line!

  22. I look at those overall numbers and I can see where the affect occurs over the entire league for an entire season but on a per game basis with roughly one more touchback per game…

    no big deal to me.

    If anything it will separate the average KR men from the outstanding return men even more.

    I don’t know… I hear a whole lot of chicken little’s crying about the game but I think it sounds like a bunch of whining. The lockout is a big deal… kickoffs, no big deal.

  23. 95% of the people who comment on here would never suit up again if they were able to return one nfl kickoff. you coulnd’t handle the hurt. go ahead and complain about player safety and two hand touch blah blah blah. nothing but a bunch of broke wussies on here complaining. boo hoo

  24. Whatever … people are making a big deal out of nothing. The rule never should have been changed to begin with. I always feel cheated anyway when my team gets a KR for a TD against them. Get out there and earn them the hard way!

    Oh and for the people saying that rule changes like this are ruining the game … really?!? Really?!? With teams kicking a ball from 5 yards closer, the entire game is now trash?!? Ok fine, stop your crying and go watch a far more exciting sport instead on Sundays … like golf (rolls eyes).

  25. it is embarrassing to see the NFL make the change to this rule, no matter how hard you try you are NEVER gonna make the NFL fully safe… unless every player is in their own little protective bubble… just another adjustment that takes away from the excitement of pro football, btw, THAT’S WHY THEY WEAR EQUIPMENT! FOR SAFETY! stop trying to force players to defy the laws of physics, IT’S IMPOSSIBLE! continue on this path and the NFL will end up like the XFL

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