A massive change could be coming to the NFL in the coming years.
In its continued effort to make the game safer, the league’s competition committee intends to recommend eliminating kickoffs if the number of injuries sustained on such plays does not decrease.
“If you don’t make changes to make it safer, we’re going to do away with it,” Green Bay Packers president and competition committee member Mark McCarthy said Wednesday, via ESPN.com. “It’s that serious. It’s by far the most dangerous play in the game.”
The injury rate on kickoffs is five times higher than on an average play, according to Murphy. This rate reportedly remained steady even after the NFL instituted a rule change two years ago that moved touchbacks from the 20-yard line to the 25.
One reason for this is that kick returners aren’t the only players suffering injuries. The blockers and coverage players are, as well, even on kickoffs that result in touchbacks.
“The other thing that’s kind of frustrating,” McCarthy told reporters, “is there were concussions on touchbacks. So even though there’s no return, (the committee is) looking at what kind of things you can do to make sure people were aware that there’s not even a return. You see this, too: One player lets up, the player covering lets up, and one of the blockers comes over and, you know. That creates problems when you’ve got one player going half speed and the other one full speed.”
The NFL has taken steps to de-emphasize kickoffs in recent years, beginning with the move of the tee from the 30-yard line to the 35 in 2011. The Kansas City Chiefs led the league in kick returns this past season with 47 — a number that would have ranked 31st in 2010.
In 2010, every team in the league surpassed 1,000 kick return yards. In 2014, 15 teams did so. Last season? Just three.
The New England Patriots last week traded for Cordarrelle Patterson, a two-time All-Pro kick returner. Patterson has seen his number of returns drop in each of his five NFL seasons, from 43 in 2013 to a career-low 19 in 2017.