What Is the NFL’s New Hybrid Kickoff Rule? Explaining the Kickoff Rule Change Coming in 2024

NFL owners approved a new hybrid kickoff rule that will go into effect for the 2024 season. Here's everything fans need to know about the change.

NFL kickoffs will look much different next season. On Tuesday, league owners voted to approve a new hybrid kickoff rule that will go into effect for the 2024 campaign. The change is designed to increase the relevance of NFL kickoffs while prioritizing player safety.

NFL Owners Approve New Hybrid Kickoff Rule

Franchise owners voted 29-3 in favor of the new rule, according to CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones. The Las Vegas Raiders, Green Bay Packers, and San Francisco 49ers were the only teams that voted against the proposal.

The change might not be permanent, however. The rule will be in place on a one-year trial basis and be subject to renewal next offseason.

Still, this is a big change, one that will force an adjustment from fans and, especially, players and coaches. But what is the new kickoff rule, and how will it work in practice?

Details of NFL’s New Hybrid Kickoff Rule

Last season, with new rules in place, the NFL saw returns on just 22% of kickoffs. While the league arguably achieved its goal of increasing safety on one of football’s most dangerous plays, the byproduct was the reduction of the kickoff to a play many considered ceremonial and pointless.

So, the NFL turned toward the XFL for inspiration on how to fix kickoffs. And the results are fascinating.

Here are the key details:

  • 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 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 hope is the new rule will decrease violent, high-speed collisions by forcing players to line up closely and remain still until the return begins. Additionally, kickers likely will try to avoid kicking the ball into the end zone, resulting in an uptick in returns.

ESPN’s Jeff Darlington broke down the new kickoff rule in this helpful video:

And here’s a video of what kickoffs look like in the XFL:

But that’s not all. Onside kicks will change, too.

How Onside Kicks Will Change Under NFL’s New Kickoff Rule

The rule’s radical realignment of both teams created an obvious need to tweak onside-kick rules. After all, there wouldn’t be anyone near the kicker at the time of the onside kick.

Now, teams can use unbalanced formations for onside kicks: Six players on one side of the kicker; four on the other. This should dramatically raise the odds of recovery, which became extremely rare in recent seasons.

However, teams also now must declare an onside-kick attempt before the play begins. So, surprise onside kicks — like the one the New Orleans Saints executed in Super Bowl XLIV — will be prohibited.

Some won’t like that change, as surprise onside kicks were one of the more exciting plays in football. But the likely result of increased onside-kick conversations could be viewed as a net positive.

Again, all of this is subject to change next offseason. But, for at least the 2024 campaign, NFL kickoffs will be more interesting than ever before.

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