NFL’s touchback experiment may continue in 2017

Leodis McKelvin touchback
Getty Images

The NFL began an experiment in 2016, pushing the starting line following a kickoff from the 20- to 25-yard line as part of a stated effort to increase the number of touchbacks and decrease the number of player injuries.

Its experiment may continue.

At next week’s league owner meetings, the NFL Competition Committee will present the option to extend the one-year experiment to at least a two-year one. The committee was “pleased” with the 2016 results, said Dean Blandino, senior vice president of officiating.

“Touchbacks were up,” Blandino said in a media conference call Thursday. “The lowest rate of return in NFL history at 39.3 percent. We’re proposing that for another year to get another year’s worth of data and then evaluate that after the 2017 season.”

A second season will help determine if the 2016 touchback figures were a fluke. That possibility seems unlikely, considering each season provides a fairly amply sample size for kickoffs; there were more than 2,600 last year, not including onside kicks.

If the results repeat, the temporary rule may become a permanent one. This benefits offenses. The average starting position following a kickoff was the 24.8-yard line last season, a notable jump from 21.7 in 2015.

11 responses to “NFL’s touchback experiment may continue in 2017

  1. I think more teams are going to start being clever with this trying to force a turnover. I can recall a few times last year where there were some squib kicks or line drive kicks trying to catch someone off guard.

  2. The Pats love it. Their short kickoffs against the Falcons had to annoy the heck out of them. Atlanta was stuck at the 10 or 15. Meanwhile the Pats started at the 25 every time. It helped the big comeback quite a bit.

  3. I’m OK with it. The rule makes the kicking distance control more important. The placekicker really wants to drop the ball on the 1 yard, or goal line so that the opponent can’t take the automatic 15. Most of the time a run back can be stopped within the 15 if they drop it right at the goal line. And foir those teams with a great return man just drill it through the end zone like always.

  4. The NFL is looking at cutting a few minutes here or there off of the gametime, but I am convinced that THIS is the reason the league is dropping in ratings.

    Over the past several years, there have been a variety of seemingly small but still fairly radical changes to the game. Of course, we’ve seen defense and physical play slowly gutted for over 10 years now, but recently there have been a lot of “little things” like moving the extra point back, the kickoff line, and now the touchback thing. I think that the touchback rule was the straw that broke the camel’s back and had too many people saying, “this just doesn’t seem like football anymore.”

    Obviously on it’s own, moving touchbacks is not a big deal, and that’s true of many of these little changes. However all together, I think it reached a point where to a lot of people the NFL just wasn’t the NFL anymore – and now they want to keep making weird little changes like this. Look for things to keep going downhill, and more rapidly, if they make significant changes to the rules.

  5. As a whole kickoff returns decreased a whopping 1.8%. But a closer look shows the teams with PFF’s 3 highest rated ST’s actually had a significant drop in their TB %’s from the previous year.

    1) Balt -21%
    2) NE -13.26%
    3) Indy -22%

  6. As a whole kickoff returns decreased a whopping 1.8%. But a closer look shows the teams with PFF’s 3 highest rated ST’s actually had a significant drop in their TB %’s from the previous year.

    1) Balt -21%
    2) NE -13.26%
    3) Indy -22%

  7. lazerlike42 says:
    . . . but I am convinced that THIS is the reason the league is dropping in ratings.
    —–
    People hear something they want to believe and just run with it forever, truth be damned.
    Last year, NFL ratings slipped for awhile and all we heard were reason after reason why the NFL was “ruining” the league and people were no longer interested.
    However, a number of other people opined that the ratings drop had everything to do with a drawn out and highly controversial and polarizing election season. Guess what? They were right.
    As soon as the election was over the NFL’s ratings went right back up where they were before, and held steady the rest of the season. They ended about 6-to-8 points down because there was no way to make up the pre-election losses.
    The late regular-season spike was followed by large playoff numbers and the highest-rated Super Bowl ever.
    I’m not denying people are frustrated by a lot of things. But claims that NFL popularity is slipping is simply not backed up by the facts or the numbers.

  8. thisoneguy1 says:
    Mar 23, 2017 7:05 PM

    People hear something they want to believe and just run with it forever, truth be damned.

    The late regular-season spike was followed by large playoff numbers and the highest-rated Super Bowl ever.
    _____________________

    Super Bowl LI was the 18th highest SB by rating and tied for 6th by share. You’re right though, ‘people’ do hear something they want to hear and truth be damned. It does however pay to be accurate when pointing that out.

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