NFL’s new kickoff rule: Broncos’ Sean Payton breaks down unexpected changes that

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The NFL kickoff is going to have a wildly different look this year after owners approved one of the most drastic rule changes in league history back in March.

The new kickoff isn’t going to look like anything you’ve ever seen before in the NFL.

The biggest change with the kickoff is that of the 22 players on the field for the play, 21 of them will be in the receiving team’s territory. The kicker will be in his normal kickoff spot, but the other 10 players on the kicking team will line up at the receiving team’s 40-yard line. As for the receiving team, there will be one or two returners back to field the kickoff and then the other nine (or 10) players have to line up in the setup zone, which is a 5-yard space that runs from the receiving team’s 30 to its 35-yard line.

Right now, every NFL team is trying to figure out how to take advantage of the new rule.

Broncos coach Sean Payton was asked about the rule over the weekend and he had some interesting things to say, so let’s break down Payton’s take on the new rule:

  • Teams might need a new breed of kickoff returner. Under the old rule, a returner almost always ended up fielding a kickoff on the fly, but with the new rule, that almost certainly won’t be the case. Kickers will likely try to get the football to hit the ground, which means you might need a returner who can field a grounder. “The two deep backs are going to have to have good ball skills, a little bit of a shortstop, third baseman, if you will, because we’re not just going to get these easy-to-catch high kicks anymore,” Payton said,┬ávia PFT. “We’re going to get these shots in the gaps, if you will. … So I think it creates a unique skill set for the returners.”
  • Payton says we’ll see bigger players on the field. The returners and the kicker won’t be big guys, but Payton believes that coaches will start putting bigger players on the field at all other spots for kickoffs. “I do think the coverage and blocking units will get a little bit bigger because we’re reducing the amount of space we’re running in,” Payton said.
  • New rule could create more touchdowns. If the NFL was hoping to add some spice to the kickoff return, Payton thinks their plan will succeed. The Broncos coach thinks there will be a lot of kick return touchdowns in 2024. “I don’t know what the average touchdown — it’s been a while — but you might get a couple a year [per team],” Payton said. “You’re going to get double-digit touchdown returns [throughout the league]. You’re going to see a lot more plays, and I think that was the intention of the rule.”

There were only four kickoff return touchdowns during the 2023 season, which is an extremely low number when you consider that there were nine return touchdowns as recently as 2020. Payton clearly thinks the number of kickoff return touchdowns could approach the 2020 number with the new rule.

Anyway, if you need a quick refresher on the new kickoff rule, you can check that out here

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