Kickoffs move to the 35-yard line, all scoring plays automatically reviewed, suspensions for illegal hits

Connor Barth could actually start getting touchbacks

The NFL Competition Committee has met in the past days, and they've proposed a number of rules changes as they always do this time of year. Keep in mind that these rule changes aren't definitive, but usually the rules the competition committee proposes become law. The 4 major rule changes are:

 

  1. All scoring plays will automatically be reviewed, no challenge necessary.
  2. The 2-man wedge will also be made illegal on kickoff returns, and players on the kicking team must line up between the 30- and 35-yard line.
  3. The Defenseless Player rule will be rewritten, and players will be suspended for illegal hits on defenseless players.
  4. Kickoffs will be moved to the 35-yard line from the 30-yard line, and a touchback will give the receiving team the ball at the 25-yard line.

 

The first rule is pretty self-explanatory: they want to make sure that referees get it right, at least on scoring plays. It's a sensible change that won't take much of the speed out of the game, as every scoring play is followed by a commercial break and extended replays anyway. 

The second rule change is an extension of the rule change that eliminated two-man wedges last year. They're aimed at preventing injuries on kickoffs. The 3-man wedge elimination really didn't have much of an effect last year, and I don't think this rule will matter much either. The line-up rule may prevent some high-speed collisions, but I don't see that mattering a lot either. 

Rule three is another safety rule. The NFL is very serious about preventing concussions, and this is a good thing. Brain damage can't ever be prevented in the NFL as all those small collisions add up, but the elimination of concussions would be a step in the right direction. However, I'm not convinced these rule changes will work. It's tough to eliminate helmet-to-helmet hits on defenseless players, as those players will duck their heads at the last moment as well. You can't legislate physics, and I think to some extent that's exactly what the NFL is trying to do. 

But the rule that will have the biggest impact on the game is the last rule, especially for the Bucs. Connor Barth had all of 1 touchback last season, and this will change next year if this rule goes through. Those 5 yards will make a big difference in terms of touchbacks. The fact that a touchback moves the ball to the 25-yard line will affect the touchback rate as well: returners will be instructed to take a knee in the endzone a lot more now that the reward is bigger, not to mention the fact that the coverage team will be closer as well. This rule could eliminate the kickoff returner as a relevant player in the NFL, and I wouldn't be surprised if the NFL actually removes kickoffs from the game completely in a couple of years. 

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