The NFL once again tweaked its kickoff rules this offseason, but this time the result may be different: Kickoff returners are getting an advantage.
At least, that’s how it looks from Week One of the regular season. Kickoff returns across the NFL this week have averaged 23.5 yards. Last season, across the NFL, all kickoff returns averaged just 21.6 yards. And there were two kickoff return touchdowns yesterday in just 13 games. Last year there were seven kickoff return touchdowns all season, in 256 games.
Of course, one week is too small a sample size to draw any sweeping conclusions. It’s possible this was just random variation, and both kickoff return touchdowns came in the Titans-Dolphins game after a long lightning delay, when it’s possible that players on the kick coverage unit had tightened up during the rest period and were struggling to run at full speed.
But the new rules would seem to benefit returners, particularly the rule against the coverage players getting a running start before the ball is kicked. And the stats from Week One are an indication that returners are, in fact, taking advantage.