Kickoff returners keep taking the ball out of the end zone, costing their teams yards

Getty Images

When the NFL changed the touchback rule so that kickoffs into the end zone are brought out to the 25-yard line instead of the 20, the idea was to incentivize returners to keep the ball in the end zone, and hopefully reduce injuries on kickoff returns.

For returners, those extra five yards are a big enough bonus that the smart move is to stay in the end zone. Unfortunately, too few returners have gotten the message.

NFL kickoff returners continue to take the ball out of the end zone, even though statistically speaking they’re better off taking a knee: According to Aaron Schatz of FootballOutsiders.com, there have been 163 kickoffs taken out of the end zone this season, and only 40 of them, or 24.5 percent, have been returned past the 25-yard line. The average line of scrimmage after kickoffs taken out of the end zone is the 23.2-yard line, meaning returners cost their teams about two yards, on average, each time they take the ball out.

And that includes all kickoffs into the end zone, even those when the returner is just a step behind the goal line when he fields the ball. The decision to take the ball out is even worse when the ball is kicked deep into the end zone: On kicks that go at least five yards into the end zone, the average return goes to the 21.5-yard line. Only 22.5 percent of those kicks are returned past the 25.

It gets even worse when you consider that six kickoff returns have been fumbled this season, a risk to bringing the ball out of the end zone that doesn’t exist if a returner keeps the ball in the end zone.

So why have returners taken the ball out of the end zone 160 times this season? Because returners still think they can take one to the house. But that’s exceedingly rare: On Sunday in Jacksonville, when Rams returner Pharoh Cooper fielded the opening kickoff three yards deep in the end zone and ran it 103 yards for a touchdown, that was the only time all season a kickoff into the end zone had been returned for a touchdown.

Perhaps if you have a return man like Cooper, who’s averaging 31.7 yards a return this year, letting him take a kick out of the end zone is a wise move. But the vast majority of NFL coaches should be telling their returners to stay put. Most of the time, taking a kickoff out of the end zone is a mistake.

32 responses to “Kickoff returners keep taking the ball out of the end zone, costing their teams yards

  1. Dang, just like football of the old days, I miss those, you know, the time when there wasn’t any kneeling and you could watch a game and not have to worry about politics.

  2. Shhhhh . . . Patriots have this down pat. Kick-off high and have it come down on the goal line – they all feel they have to run it out and 9 times out of 10, they don’t reach the 25.

  3. A lot of things can happen when you run a kickoff out of your end zone, and most of them are bad. It’s far more likely that you’ll fail to reach the 25-yard line, fumble, or get hurt than it is that you’ll have a big return. I always breathe a sigh of relief when my team kneels down in the end zone.

  4. I’d be happy if my team never returned a kick off into the end zone. Just take a knee. I feel even more strongly about punts. Just fair catch it. More times than not there’s a penalty for holding or a block in the back. Coupled with injuries, the extra 3 or 4 tackles a returner absorbs per game, and fumbles, there just seems to be way more things that can go wrong on kicks and the risk far outweighs the reward.

  5. Taking away returns as one of the most exciting plays in the game has been one of the many factors that is reducing NFL popularity. The lies by the NFL regarding player safety when they’re only concern is protecting owner bank accounts ring so thin. The arrogance involved in thinking the fans believe them is laughable.

  6. it’s impressive when kickers get enough arch on the ball but keep it just out of the endzone. gives coverage teams time to start teams back short of the 25.

  7. So throw out Cooper’s stats and the odds are even worse. In fact, throw out the top 2 (statistically, you should also throw out the bottom 2) and then you will see the ball on the 20.

    Also, do an average of top 5 and 10. So on and so forth. Set a real Research Design model. All the money out there but these are moneyball stats.

    Some teams have the horses, some don’t. Some teams are smarter than others too.

  8. Is there a large statistical difference in scoring when you start a drive from the 21, or even the 18 versus the 25?
    The turn over concern seems like a greater worry between the two.
    But it’s possible the Rams lose Sunday without that kick off return.
    I kind of feel it’s worth the risk if you trust your returner. Taking into consideration the current game circumstances of course.

  9. Exactly! I keep seeing them run from the end zone and they hardly ever get to the 25 much less past it. Don’t the coaches see this? How about only running when it’s caught in the field? I’m a friggin genius…. BIGLY!

  10. Are you all kidding? 2 yards. So what? It’s the most exciting play in the game. I bet you guys are all happy when your team punts it from your own 40 on 4th and 1 too. The biggest problem with the NFL today is that most of the coaches play to not lose rather than play to win.

  11. I find a kick return exciting (even though the Saints got smashed with one recently), and it’s a gamble.

    But if your KR averages more than 25 yards- you’d be foolish not to do it

  12. Screw that. I want them to run it out every time. It’s an integral, traditional, exciting part of the game. If there are more injuries on kickoff/punt returns, then players need to be coached to try and avoid them on those particular plays. Stiffer penalties for certain hits perhaps. There have got to be ways to lessen injury without eliminating more excitement from the game.

  13. You are missing the point here. You have a 100% chance of starting at the 25 if you kneel it. If you run it you have a chance to score, get it to the 35 or 40 or many other positive scenarios. You can also get it only to the 20. Only a 5 yard loss. Like you said, 23.3 is the average. So all the positives only come from running it out. The fumble is the only real negative to running out punts and the front of the endzone.

  14. Michael E says:
    October 17, 2017 at 6:21 pm
    Players keep disrespecting our country costing their teams fans.

    Idiots disrespecting what us vets fought for (The US Constitution, the First Amendment to name two) is costing this site fans.

  15. Half the time there is a penalty flag for holding or illegal block in the back. The special teams guys stand on the sidelines for so long, when they finally get a chance to get into a game they try too hard to make a play.

  16. If a team constantly only took touchbacks, their opponent would scout this and kick it short. With the lack of reps, it is more likely in these scenarios that the coverage team would be more adept at covering than the receiving team is blocking, thus resulting in negative outcomes.

    Just like any statistical measure, if your team becomes too predictable, it will be used to your disadvantage.

  17. Every pro athlete thinks he can be part of the 24.5 percent. That’s how a competitor thinks. I’m not surprised about that.

  18. If it were up to me, my team would never try to field a kickoff or a punt. I would want our players to only fair-catch and take touch-backs. How many returns for a touchdown are there during a season for one team? Compare that to the number of fumbles, injuries & penalties and I feel it is a no-brainer. Too much bad can happen with a return. Just get the ball, no penalties, and operate the offense.

  19. More importantly, what the heck is going on with the Kickers? Another one went on IR this week, is that 4 or 5 kickers that are on IR now? Add in the 3 or 4 other teams who have changed kickers and a quarter of the teams are breaking in new kickers.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!