The NFL’s relationship with concussions is getting better (there really was nowhere to go but up), though it isn’t without its issues: just Wednesday the league released the results of its investigation into the Miami Dolphins’ handling of quarterback Matt Moore in the team’s wild-card game with the Steelers and determined concussion protocol was not “strictly followed.”
So maybe take this next bit of news with a grain of salt.
According to data released by the NFL on Thursday, the number of documented player concussions for the 2016 season was down compared to 2015 – 244 for ’16 to 275 in ’15, or a reduction of 11.3 percent.
But the numbers for this season are still higher than the ones for 2013 (229) and 2014 (206).
Additionally, data released by the league shows that the one-year rule change on kickoff returns had minimal impact in the number of kickoffs that were returned, and a slight reduction in the number of concussions suffered on that play.
The league’s competition committee decided to have touchbacks on kickoffs brought out to the 25-yard line, not the 20, hoping to incentivize teams and players not to bring the ball out of the end zone. But 41.1 percent of kickoffs were returned in 2015, and in 2016, 39.3 percent were brought out, a difference of only 1.8 percent.
Some teams, like the New England Patriots, would have their kicker try to short the kickoff, putting the ball high to give coverage teams time to get downfield. If a returner fields the ball at, say, the 3-yard line and is tackled at the 19, it’s still a net gain of 6 yards, meaning the offense will have to cover more ground to get into the end zone.
The NFL did report there were 17 concussions suffered on kickoff plays in 2016, down from 20 in 2015. However, there were more total injuries – there were 39 total on kickoffs, including concussions, ACL tears, MCL tears and hamstring strains, up from 35 the season before.
NFL owners will re-evaluate the touchback rule at the league meeting in the spring.