The kickoff and kick-return plays create opportunities for players like Matthew Slater and Steve Tasker to carve specific NFL niches — niches (I love that word) will disappear once the kickoff is gone for good. They also provide chances for guys who eventually will play other positions to get noticed.
Cardinals running back David Johnson returned 22 kickoffs as a rookie, gaining a total of 598 yards — including a 108-yard touchdown.
“Actually that’s going to be one that I don’t think I’ll like that’s going to go away,” Johnson said during a recent visit to the PFT PM podcast. “Because, like you said, that’s one of the biggest things that helped me get to where I am in the NFL, in the league, is starting my staple in the league was special teams, kick returns. That starts the game, starts the half. Those are momentum swings, if you have someone who can change the field — the line of scrimmage of the field — that way, you know, it could be a huge momentum swing. So I feel like that should definitely stay as part of the NFL.”
With the elimination of the kickoff becoming so inevitable that they should just get rid of it already, Johnson’s vote won’t matter. What will matter for young players trying to get noticed beyond the confines of offense and defense will be finding a way to contribute to whatever the league will put in place of the kickoff. Because something has to be put in place of the kickoff, or a team that is trailing by two or more scores late in the game will have no chance to narrow the gap via the recovery of an onside kick.