People tend to ignore Special Teams except when they score or lose you points; however, this season that’s about to change because fans will want to see how kick-offs help or hurt teams.
In case you missed it, Kickoff teams now must line up with five players on either side of the ball and only one yard off the line of scrimmage. They can’t having running starts and can’t start the previous five yards back (if they wish) to get a running start.
They must have at least two players outside the yard line number and at least two between the yard line number and the hash marks. Players on kick return teams can no longer perform wedge blocks. Once the ball lands in the end zone, it becomes a touchback, no matter the circumstances.
This more than likely will have smaller returners and quicker guys like Tyreek Hill. If kick-offs are now glorified punts, and returners are going to be the speedy little guys, does this make typical sized kick-off gunners obsolete?
If a quick little guy is catching, won’t it be easier to avoid a bigger, but slower gunner? Teams aren’t using Tyreek Hill sized guys to stop him, but now maybe they can because his speed could be stopped with a smaller CB who can match him.
Not to mention, since the returner is no longer being bull rushed by a speeding horde, how does that change the dynamic of teams? For many players, ST is how they get their start. How will tall fringe receivers get a chance to make the 53?
One can imagine that the big WR’s are going to need to be good enough to be starting material or else they waste a spot. Typically, WR3, 4, 5, 6 also play on ST. So, imagine you’ve got three WR’s over 6’2″ (we don’t), but these wide-outs aren’t great at one-on-one blocking, now what? They’re returning because their first step isn’t as quick as the smaller guys.
Does a team just keep only starting tall guys? If teams start doing that, what happens to corners? CB’s over the years have grown from being 5’8″ to 5’10” to over 6′ to stay up with 6’5″ WR’s and TE’s.
Will these tall backs now be too slow to cover smaller, quicker receivers? Also, players come from the college level where kick-offs remain and tall WR’s are the preferred option. Will there be a shortage of talent?
Or will colleges really focus on Usain Bolt type freaks of nature who are tall, but have a wicked quick first step? Spending time at track meets scouring for them?
Who knows how this changes the face of the NFL? Maybe it’s too much and they do away with kick-offs altogether and players only make teams based on depth at one position, not two.
One thing is for sure, crappy quarterbacks need tall guys (reach radius) and the veterans will make the loudest noise against these kick-offs if they see their receiving corps are full of guys under 6’0″. In return, fans may complain, too because their so-so QB now becomes dreadful without long-armed guys.
Does this make TE’s more or less valuable? Because they know how to block one on one and can catch, could we see teams with four WRs, five TE’s and/or five RB’s?
This then brings up catching running backs who are also good at blocking. RB’s by nature have a quick first step, could they be who starts returning both Kick-offs and punts? These sturdy guys know all about running between blockers. Find one who can catch well and you’re golden. Christan McCaffrey types.
The list of, what ifs, is long, I wonder if the NFL thought through all changes this one rule could affect? When ST coaches aren’t sure what’s going to happen, how do the suits in LA? Bottom line is, the 2018 season is going to be a giant mystery with the kick-offs and I don’t think week 1 shed a ton of light on it.