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What is the new NFL kickoff rule? Everything you need to know about the new NFL kickoff for 2024

new NFL kickoff rule
Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The National Football League realizes it has a problem with the kickoff. Once one of the most exciting things in football because of legends like Devin Hester, it’s now a non-event. That will change in 2024 following the approval of a new kickoff on Tuesday.

In Week 1 of the 2023 season, only 20.5 percent of kickoffs were returned and by the end of the regular season, the NFL finished with just a 22 percent kickoff return rate. With the kickoff now becoming a time when fans turn away from the game, league officials are pushing for a change that could bring more excitement to football moving forward.

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According to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, the NFL is approving the new kickoff for a one-year trial period in 2024. It will be revisited in 2025, with owners determining if it will be renewed or replaced.

Here’s everything you need to know about the new NFL kickoff rule proposal.

What is the new NFL kickoff rule?

new NFL kickoff rule
Dec 10, 2023; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (19) catches a kickoff against the Seattle Seahawks during the first quarter at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

After meetings on Monday and Tuesday, NFL owners officially approved the new kickoff rule on a one-year trial basis for the 2024 season. Here’s our breakdown with help from information gathered from NFL Operations.

The new NFL kickoff rule will have the football kicked off from the 35-yard line, which is the same spot as the current rule. However, the 10 remaining players on the kicking team will line up with one foot on the receiving team’s 40-yard line and they can’t move until the football hits the ground or a player in the landing zone or it hits the end zone.

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Setup Zone

The setup zone is a 5-yard area from the 35 to the 30-yard line on the receiving side of the field, with at least 9 players on the receiving team lined up in proper positions. Seven of those players must have a foot on the 35-yard line. Players not on the restraining line (35-yard line) must be lined up in the setup zone outside the hash marks.

Under the new NFL kickoff rule proposal, all players in the designated setup zone can’t move until the kick hits the ground, a player in the landing zone or lands in the end zone. This also applies to the kicking team.

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Landing Zone

The landing zone – between the receiving team’s goal line and its 20-yard line – is where the football is designated to land along with the end zone. If the kicking team hits the football short of the landing zone, it is an illegal kick treated like a kickoff out of bounds, giving the receiving team’s offense the football at its 40-yard line.

Importantly, any kick that hits inside the landing zone must be returned by the receiving team. If the football lands in the landing zone and then naturally makes it into the end zone, the returner must either return it or it must be downed by the receiving team with the football

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Details of new proposed NFL kickoff rule

  • Kickoff Spot (Kicker): 35-yard line (standard spot)
  • Kicking Team (10 players): 40-yard line (opponents)
  • Receiving Team (7+ players): 35-yard line
  • Setup Zone: 5-yard area between the receiving team’s 35 to 30-yard line.
  • Landing Zone: Between the receiving team’s goal line and its 20-yard line
  • Returners: 2 maximum
  • Kickoff Lands Short of Landing Zone: The offense starts at the 40-yard line
  • Kickoff Lands in the Landing Zone: The receiving team MUST return the kickoff
  • Kickoff hits the Landing Zone then downed in the End Zone: Touchback at the 20-yard line
  • Kickoff into the End Zone on the fly: Touchback to the 30-yard line
  • Kick Out of Back of End Zone (Air or Bounced): Touchback to the 35-yard line
  • No fair catch/signal is allowed
  • Safety Kicks: Kickoff from 20-yard line (standard rule)

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For more visual learners, Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) of CHGO Bears created a very useful graphic that shows what the new NFL kickoff rule proposal would look like if implemented for the 2024 season.

Graphic of new NFL hybrid kickoff created by Adam Hoge
Graphic of new NFL hybrid kickoff created by Adam Hoge Credit: Adam Hoge

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