New NFL Rule Causes Record-Low Kick Returns

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Andrew Powell Contributor
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The NFL is getting exactly what they want.

League rule-makers perfectly executed their plans in Week 1 of the 2023 campaign, recording a historically low kickoff return rate of 20.5% — exactly what the NFL was looking for in a rule change aimed at encouraging teams to kick un-returnable balls.

In a single week of games, the return rate was the lowest it’s ever been since at least 2000, according to ESPN Stats and Information. This data wasn’t recorded prior to that year; however, the four-letter network also noted the 20.5% tally was the lowest in NFL history based on frequency of returns in prior eras. The Week 1 touchback rate was 77.6% — the highest since 2000 and also likely a league record. (RELATED: Lefties Are Pushing For The Jets To Sign Colin Kaepernick After The Aaron Rodgers Injury. We Need To Make This Happen)

Owners approved a one-year experimental rule back in May that spots the ball at the 25-yard line regardless of whether or not kickoff returners called for a fair catch while being inside the 25. The rule drastically decreased the advantage of “pop-up” kicks that are short of the goal line, which grew in popularity as a strategy to pin teams near their goal line. However, the strategy caused an increase of returns the last two years, causing a rise in concussions, NFL competition committee chairman Rich McKay told NFL Network.

Less concussions for the league to deal with, so I can’t blame ’em for the move. Carry on, NFL.