The second biggest topic of last offseason — after the lockout, of course — was a rule change that would most certainly affect the way the game is played on a weekly basis. The NFL Rules Committee voted to change where kickoffs would be taken from, pushing them forward 5 yards to the 35 in order to promote more touchbacks and fewer concussions.
After the first season of the rule's institution, the results are in and they're exactly what the NFL Rules Committee intended: more touchbacks and fewer concussions.
Touchbacks for all teams during the 2011 season accounted for 43.5 percent of all kickoffs, more than three times as many as 2010. At the same time, concussions dropped 12.5 percent from the previous year, perhaps plainly showing a correlation between kick returns and the number of concussions.
The rule was, and still is, a polarizing one for fans and even players, especially the ones who make their livings on returning kicks.
Take Eric Weems, for example. Weems returned 24 kicks in 2011, down from 40 in 2010, but the starkest of contrasts comes in the yardage difference between the two years. Weems accounted for 1,100 yards in kick returns in 2010. In 2011, just 563 — about half of his yardage production from the previous year.
Those figures seem to be consistent across the board; however, while there was a wide gap between returns for some players, there was little change for others. For example, Seattle's Leon Washington dropped from 58 in 2010 to 44 in 2011, while Cleveland's Josh Cribbs returned only one fewer kick in 2011 than 2010.
The premium placed on player safety, however, certainly seems to have paid off with this change.
What do you think?