With so many changes to the kickoff, it’s possible that some were never noticed or, as the case may be, never disclosed. Which makes the task of picking through the new official 2018 rulebook for any/all specific changes to the 2017 edition even more important.
Here’s one that I’d previously missed — or that the league previously hadn’t mentioned: Kickoffs that hit the end zone without being touched by a member of the receiving team automatically become touchbacks.
For years, the automatic touchback rule has applied to punts that enter the end zone, with or without being touched. For kickoffs, the touchback becomes automatic only if it strikes the ground in the end zone without being touched by a member of the receiving team; the player can still catch the kickoff and choose to return it.
It’s not a change that will come into play very often, but it’s another example of the league’s broader effort to encourage touchbacks on kickoffs. Indeed, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the NFL eventually adopts the rest of the rule that applies to punts, making it a touchback whenever the kickoff enters the end zone, regardless of whether it’s caught by a member of the receiving team.