What you need to know about the NFL’s new kickoff rule

Kansas City Chiefs kick returner Byron Pringle catches a kickoff before running it back for a touchdown during a game against the Denver Broncos, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Denver.

Kickoffs in the NFL will look different this fall after NFL owners approved a new kickoff format at the annual league meeting Tuesday.

The new rule originated in the XFL and should “minimize high-speed collisions” and fix “declining return rates,” according to ESPN.

“I think it will (be a positive). I say that with a little bit of hesitation. We will still have to tinker with it,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said, per ESPN. “We will reevaluate it as the season goes on. I think it will be a big improvement. I think it will bring it back to a relevant play, an exciting play.”

New Orleans Saints special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi worked on the proposal and said that Tuesday “is a great day for the NFL.”

“We’ve taken a play that’s essentially been dying over the course of the last few years, in our opinion, and we revived it,” Rizzi said to ESPN.

What is the new NFL kickoff rule?

Under the new NFL kickoff rule, kickers will still line up at the 35-yard line, but the following changes will be made:

  • The other 10 players on the kicking team will line up at the 40-yard line of the receiving team.

  • At least nine of the return team’s players will line up between their 35- and 30-yard lines in a “setup zone.”

  • The return team can have up to two kick returners between the goal line and their 20-yard line in the “landing zone.”

  • Only the kicker and returner(s) will be able to move at any time. The other players will only be able to move once a returner catches the ball or the ball hits a returner or the ground.

  • Fair catches and surprise onside kicks will not be allowed.

  • If a team wants to kick an onside kick, it must notify the officials. The kick will then occur in the NFL’s usual onside formation.

  • Touchbacks will be moved to the 30-yard line.

Will the new NFL kickoff rule work?

The NFL’s rule will look slightly different than the XFL rule it is based on.

In the XFL, players on the kicking team lined up closer to the returners on the 35-yard line.

In 2023, a mere 22% of kickoffs were returned in the NFL, compared to the XFL’s 97% return rate, CBS Sports reported.

The NFL is hoping to increase its return rate to at least 80%, per ESPN.

The rule should also help the NFL keep concussions down.

With players lined up closer together, “they don’t have time to get into a full sprint and there are fewer high-speed collisions than on standard kickoffs,” according to Pro Football Talk.