The NFL changed the rule on touchbacks last year in the hopes that there would be fewer injuries on kickoffs. The first year of data is in, and not much changed.
According to data released by the league today, concussions on kickoffs declined slightly, from 20 in 2015 to 17 in 2016. But hamstring injuries on kickoffs increased from 11 to 13, ACL tears increased from one to four, and MCL tears increased from three to five.
On a conference call examining injury rates in the league, NFL officials said the data will be analyzed in more detail and presented to the Competition Committee, but they acknowledged that it looks more like “a natural fluctuation” than any change that could be attributed to the new touchback rule.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick pointed out during the season that concussions happen even on touchbacks, as players still block because they don’t know whether their returner is taking the ball out of the end zone or not. So even if touchbacks increased significantly, that wouldn’t necessarily mean injuries on kickoffs would decrease significantly.
But touchbacks only increased by about 2 percent in 2016. There was a lot of talk about that rule, but in the end it made very little difference.