NFL Kickoffs should be Abolished


Via Pixabay

A kickoff in American football

The most embarrassing kickoff in football history occurred on New Year’s day 2017, in the game between the Bills and the Jets. During Jets’ kickoff in the 4th quarter, the ball flew a bit over Bill’s return man, Mike Gillislee, and landed at the 15, so he didn’t touch it and let it roll in to the end zone. Which was the right thing to do… if this was a punt. But, this wasn’t a punt; it was a kick, meaning that it was a live ball where both teams could recover it. Gillislee had only fielded one kickoff and didn’t realize this as Jet’s Doug Middleton dove on the ball in the endzone. In the books, it was known as a kickoff recovery touchdown. The play by play made Jet’s kicker Nick Folk look like a God, Nick Folk, “kicks off 65 yards, Touchdown.” Nick Folk was out there kicking touchdowns?! This play was humiliating, but it was only a few of many laughable mistakes that came as a result of a kickoff. Kickoffs should be banned.

The best possible outcome for a kickoff is a return touchdown. If thought about the coolest return touchdown are probably thinking of a punt return. Punt returns are great because they include misdirection and missed tackles, but kick returns don’t. Out of the 30 kick return touchdowns since the 2011 season, all 30 have been returners seeing a whole and running through it. That’s it. Returners don’t even have to make anyone miss most of the time. There is no creativity, techniques or decision making involved in the process. It’s so boring. All type of plays in football have changed and evolved or time do to rule changes,except the kickoff.

In 2016 the average kick return went out to the 22 yard line. Exactly the same number as the average 50 years ago. Between 2011 and 2016, there were approximately 15,598 kickoffs. 51 of those ended up as a touchdown, meaning only 1 in every 306 kickoffs scored. Even a good return is extremely rare. Only 409 were returned past the 40 yard line of the returning team, making it a 2.6% average. The kicking team doesn’t have a good chance to pin their opponent inside the 10 either as it has only happened 179 times, making it a 1.1% chance.The biggest majority of kickoffs end up between the 20 and 30 at a 76.4%. This number is mostly due to touchbacks, which are usually half of all kickoff results. Touchbacks placed the ball at the 20, until 2016 where the league decided to move it up to the 25.

Whether a player starts a drive at the 40 or the 15 it doesn’t really matter. Teams that started their drives between the 40 and 49 had a average of 2.10 points per possession. Similarly,teams that started their drive between the 35-40 had a average of 2.37, and teams that started 25-29 had more points per possession than between the 30 and 34 at 1.94 and 1.89 points per possession. Benefits are extremely inconsistent and extremely small even if they have better field position. Even if they pull off a super rare kick return, they are barely better off than if they just take a knee.

Kickoffs aren’t just boring and useless, they are the most dangerous play in a extremely dangerous sport. Kickoffs have a 1 in 157 concussion rate while all other plays are just 1 in 241. Kickoffs account for 60% percent of concussions in football! The league tried to fix this in 2016, when they moved the touchback line from the 20 to the 25, so returners chose more touchbacks. It made returners take more touchbacks, but even touchbacks aren’t safe. When blockers turn around to block for the return man, the ball isn’t in his hands yet. They don’t know if he is taking it out or taking a knee, so they are taught to play it through. The kicking team is also flying in at full speed not knowing if it will be a touchback of not. When the return man starts to take a knee, impact has already happened. Before the returner takes a step, the most dangerous part already occurs.

Nothing can fix the kickoff. It’s boring, dangerous, uses no strategy, and results in little rewards. The problem with taking it out is that we would lose the onside kick, which is important. It allows a team that is down to come back into the game, and it keeps fans still invested in the game. A surprise onside kick has a 25% success rate, but if they run it when they expect, it has a 5.2% success rate. Still, the whole point is that it’s still possible. The problem of the onside kick is that it’s the ugliest play in sports.

There is only one way to fix the kickoff, and it’s to kick it out and bring in something new. Coach Greg Schiano found a possible solution years ago while coaching the Rutgers. He got his idea after seeing one of his star players get a concussion on a kickoff that left him permanently paralyzed. His idea was that the team who is kicking off would get the ball at their own 30. The catch is they wouldn’t get 1st down, they would be placed at 4th and 15. Teams would most likely choose to punt in this situation, which is good. A punt return is much more interesting that a kick return and it’s a lot safer since teams line up at the scrimmage line.  Games would be more interesting if teams run fake punts and plays to get the ball back. This would be a better replacement of the onside kick. 4th and 15th conversion rates are 22%, which means you have an unlikely chance of getting it, but much better chance than in an onside kick. I love this idea, it’s simple, less dangerous and much more entertaining.