Will the New NFL Kickoff Rule Impact Fantasy Football in 2024?

    With a new kickoff rule in place for the 2024 season, will fantasy managers need to adjust the way they approach their drafts this year?

    This offseason, the NFL has made a major shift in how one of its staple plays will operate in 2024. NFL owners voted through a new kickoff rule that will see kickoffs look similar to those we saw during the XFL’s brief stint on our television screens.

    With kickoff-return rates now expected to rise exponentially in 2024, what impact could that have on fantasy football? Could this change in how kickoffs operate boost the value of players involved, and should it impact your thinking on draft day?

    Should Fantasy Manager Consider the Impact of the New NFL Kickoffs?

    First off, let’s understand a little more about the change and how it could impact the game. Here are the key details of the new rules:

    • The kicker will kick off from the normal spot (35-yard line).
    • The other 10 members of the kickoff team will line up at the returning team’s 40-yard line.
    • At least nine members of the receiving team will line up five yards away at the 35-yard line.
    • Up to two returners will line up in the “landing zone” (between the 20-yard line and the goal line).
    • Only the kicker and returners can move before the ball hits the ground or the returner within the landing zone.
    • The ball will be placed at the 40-yard line if it fails to reach the landing zone.
    • The ball will be placed at the 30-yard line if it lands in the end zone.
    • If the ball lands inside the 20-yard line and rolls into the end zone, it will be placed at the 20-yard line.
    • No fair catches are allowed.

    The key question for most fantasy managers will be whether this rule change will lead to more kickoff returns for touchdowns. In the majority of fantasy leagues, points for players on special teams are only awarded for touchdowns or fumbles.

    Points for yards on kickoff returns are not common in the majority of fantasy leagues. When they are, the point value is usually much less than that of a rushing or receiving yard, which carry a value of 0.1 points per yard in traditional leagues. Kickoff-return yards are usually closer to 0.01 points per yard.

    So, let’s look at the 2023 XFL stats to see if we should expect an exponential rise in kickoff-return touchdowns in the NFL this season. In the 40 regular-season XFL games, there was one kickoff returned for a touchdown. If we prorate that out to a 272-game NFL season, that would give us 6.8 kickoffs returned for touchdowns in 2024.

    While that would be an increase on the four kickoffs returned for touchdowns we saw in 2023, it’s slightly lower than the average of 7.33 kickoff-return touchdowns we saw between 2020 and 2022.

    MORE: 6 Fantasy Football Breakouts to Target in 2024 Drafts

    Even if we look at the small sample size of just 40 games in the XFL, it’s unlikely we suddenly see an average of 20+ kickoff returns in a year result in scores following this rule change.

    Therefore, managers in more traditional fantasy leagues where kickoff-return touchdowns are rewarded but not kickoff-return yards are unlikely to see any major change in player values based on this rule change.

    If you do play in a league where yards for kickoff returns are rewarded, then this rule change is worth noting. In the 2023 XFL season, six players had more than 500 return yards compared to just two in the NFL. That’s despite each XFL team playing just 10 games compared to 17 in the NFL.

    In the NFL last year, Keisean Nixon led the league with 782 yards on 30 returns. Let’s project that those numbers roughly double under the new scoring system, and he has 60 returns for 1,550; what does that mean for fantasy managers?

    Ultimately it comes down to the value of a return yard in your league. At 0.01 points per yard, it’s 15.5 fantasy points, which is not a huge amount but not completely inconsequential either. Below is the difference that 15.5 points could have made in 2023 at the WR position in PPR scoring at different levels:

    • WR6 (DJ Moore) would have finished as the WR4.
    • WR20 (Amari Cooper) would have finished as the WR16.
    • WR30 (George Pickens) would have finished as the WR23.
    • WR40 (Cooper Kupp) would have finished as the WR36.
    • WR50 (Jerry Jeudy) would have finished WR44.

    As you can see, at 0.01 fantasy points per return yard, there would be an impact on a player having a massive 1,500 return yards. But we’re talking about the difference of 2.5 touchdowns and a handful of spots in the finishing order. The difference would be relatively small and have little impact on draft day.

    Naturally, in a scoring system where you get more fantasy points per return yard, the relevance of the new rule rises. How much depends on the scoring. If a return yard is equal to that of a receiving yard, then there is a huge change in how you view players on draft day if we find out they would have a role in the return game on a consistent basis.

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