Onside kick success dropped from 21 percent to 6 percent after new rule

Michael David Smith

When the NFL changed the rules governing kickoffs before the 2018 season, little was said about onside kicks. The focus was on the vast majority of kickoffs, in which the ball is kicked deep and players run full-speed down the field to try to make a tackle, resulting in plenty of head-on collisions.

But onside kicks have become a major casualty of the new kickoff rules, which prevent players from getting a running start before the ball is kicked.

In the 2017 NFL season there were 57 onside kicks and the kicking team recovered 12 of them, or 21 percent. In 2018-2019, under the new rules, there have been 79 onside kicks and the kicking team has recovered 5 of them, or 6 percent.

It’s hard not to think the NFL needs to revise that rule to give teams a better chance of recovering onside kicks. Perhaps the NFL could allow players on the kicking team to get a running start if the kickoff travels less than 20 yards. Or perhaps the NFL could give teams the opportunity to run an offensive play to keep the ball: The Alliance of American Football allowed teams to run one offensive play, and if they gained 12 yards on that play they kept the ball. Another option could be allowing teams to go for two from the 15-yard line, where extra points are spotted, and get both two points and the ball back if they succeed on the conversion.

Something needs to be done. A recovered onside kick has been a key play in some of the best comebacks in NFL history. Those comebacks simply don’t stand a chance anymore.