NFL Owners Approve Kickoff Rule Changes That Mirror XFL

When the NFL preseason begins in August, fans will see a new setup when the teams line up for the kickoff.

At their annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., the NFL owners voted to approve an overhaul to the current kickoff. Under the new format, the 10 players on the kicking team will line up on the 40-yard line of the receiving team, and at least nine members of the receiving team will line up in the “setup zone”, a five-yard area between their own 35-and-30-yard lines. The kicker will launch the ball from the 35-yard line, as usual, but no one, aside from the kicker and returner, can move from their positions until the ball hits the ground or hits a player inside the landing zone.

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The hope with the new kickoff is that high-speed collisions (and any resulting concussions) will decline. Additionally, the league would like to increase kickoff returns; to achieve that, the new rule says any kicks in the “landing zone,” between the goal line and the 20-yard-line, must be returned. Additionally, no fair catches are allowed, and touchbacks will be marked at the 30-yard line.

The new format will go into effect for one year, and changes can be made as time progresses. The league will revisit the rule change in 2025.

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell spoke in favor of the change before the vote took place, per ESPN.

The new kickoff formation has roots in the XFL in terms of where players are lined up on the field. ESPN said more than 90% of kickoffs were returned in two XFL seasons. The NFL’s goal is 80%.

The league also instituted a full ban to hip-drop tackles because it found that the practice increased injuries that led to players missing games.

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