A couple of days ago, the NFL approved seven new rule changes, and one amendment pertains to onside kicks.
Approved 2021 Playing Rules and Bylaws: pic.twitter.com/p8X5sTNoGN
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 21, 2021
The competition committee brought about the amendment to establish a maximum number of players in the setup zone for one year only. The rule will require the receiving team to have no more than nine players lined up in this zone, which is between 10 and 25 yards from the kickoff spot.
Beforehand, teams would put 10 players to receive an onside kick, sometimes 11, but usually that last player would be closer to the endzone to deter pooch kicks. According to Pro Football Talk via NFL’s tracking data, receiving teams lined up with 10 players in the setup zone 87% of the time and all 11 players in the zone the other 13% of the time.
Receiving teams now have one or two fewer players to recover an onside kick, but the kicking team still can only have five players on either side of the kicker, which makes recovering onside kicks next to impossible. To make the game safer, the NFL has inherently harder to recover onside kicks, and the numbers support it. Last year, kicking teams only recovered three onside kicks across the league out of 67 attempts… They are trying to close the gap between the receiving team and kicking team in onside kick situations with this rule.
I still think the NFL should allow at least six players on one side of the kicker, but the new fourth-and-15 alternative to the onside kick is an interesting concept, though the NFL didn’t vote on it. They clearly see how improbable it is for a team to recover an onside kick, so they’re inching backward a bit. Even though he didn’t need the extra help, Younghoe Koo is the one who benefits from this rule change.
Other than the miss against Kansas City, Koo was one of the few bright spots of 2020 for the Falcons. He not only takes immense pressure off the offense every time they reach the 35-yard line but he’s proven to be one of, if not the best, onside-kickers in the league. He has often kept the Falcons in games by just putting the ball in a 50/50 position for the special teams unit — truly a weapon that almost no other team has and was one of only three successful attempts last year. There is only one kicker who has been better on average than Koo over the past two years, and it’s Ka’imi Fairbairn, who has been successful twice on three attempts while the former is three for five.
I always want the best for NFL players, and the league deciding that it would be safer to have an even number of players on each side of the kicker and not allow them to get a running start is something I can get behind. But when it taints part of the game, there has to be a happy medium because the onside kick has been effectively eliminated with these rule changes. This is one step in the right direction, but I hope the competition committee realizes it and doesn’t stop here.
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