Breaking Down New NFL Rule Changes: Instant Replay, Kickoffs, Etc.


GREAT NEWS!!! For the next three day in New Orleans, NFL Owners will be back at the tables for discussions about football. Unfortunately, the three day meeting in The Big Easy it's to talk about new potential NFL rules that don't currently, in a league which also doesn't currently exist.

Am I the only one who feels that this meeting is putting the cart before the horse? Instead of visiting with each other for 3 days in one of our nation’s finest sin cities, fueling each other’s fire against the players, eating well, and spending time at the casino tables, the owners should get their fat asses up and sit at another table across from some players.

Seeing how that isn't going to happen, let me lay out some of the key rule changes they'll be discussing while eating surf and turf for 3 days. I'll also include my take on these proposed rule changes.

NFL Competition Committee Chairman, Rich McKay, spoke on the rule changes and this is how he laid them out. McKay stated that there are less proposed changes this year, than in years past. There will be 3 major changes that they'll be looking to get implemented. Let's start off with the proposed, defenseless receiver rule.

1) Re-write the defenseless player rule - The defenseless player rule has 8 categories

  • QB or player throwing the ball - In the act of throwing or just after. 
  • Receiver - Catching pass or hasn't had a chance to protect himself 
  • Runner - In the grasp and his forward progress has stopped 
  • Kick Returner or Punt Returner - Fielding the kick in the air. 
  • Player on the ground - After the end of the play. 
  • Kicker or Punter - During a kick or during a return 
  • QB - Anytime after change of possession. 
  • Player - Receives blindside block

The main change will come on receivers. The NFL wants receivers to be able to establish that they can protect themselves or clearly become a runner. This is in an effort to cut down on receivers taking hits to the head or by the head.

They also want to add "Illegal Launching" as a penalty in these categories. The way they define this is “a player leaving his feet, springing upward and forward and delivering a blow with the helmet or facemask.” The hit on Desean Jackson by Dunta Robinson is the image they want you to recall when thinking of these last two paragraphs.

The NFL is also looking to punish repeat offenders and will use 2 years as the time frame to gauge who is a repeat offender. Basically, anyone that had punishable hits in the 2009 and 2010 season will be punished more severely with illegal hits in 2011.

My main problem with this rule comes from the verbiage of letting the receiver become a clear runner. These are the most elite athletes in the world. Imagine someone as quick and shifty as Jacoby Ford catching the ball coming across the middle of the field and the safety is bearing down on him. The safety has perfect timing for the hit as his body will meet the receiver shortly after the ball arrives.

As per this new rule, the safety would have to stop his momentum, let Ford show he's got the ball and turn up field as a runner. There won't be too many defensive backs that can stop themselves, regain composure, and then be quick enough to stick with a player that can change direction in a millisecond.

Another good example is a running back like Chris Johnson catching the ball in the flat. Defenders have to let him establish himself as a clear runner in the eyes of the official. The YAC (yards after catch) will be a new high in 2011.

Repeat offenders will be unfairly watched like a hawk and have every borderline call go against them. You can also expect "illegal launching" to be wrongfully flagged. Big hitting safeties and linebackers in this league will lose value due to the new rules.

2) Modification to the Kickoff - 4 key changes to this facet of the game.

  • Kickoffs - Ball will be kicked from the 35 instead of the 30.
  • Kickoff returns - All touchbacks will be placed at the 25 instead of the 20.
  • Wedge Blocks - All wedge blocks will be completely illegal, even the 2 man wedge.
  • Kickoff Position for Players - All players on the kicking team other than the kicker, will have stand at the 30, 5 yards from the ball.

The NFL is trying to limit injuries on kickoffs. These injuries are routinely the most severe and occur at the highest percentage of plays. I don't like the ball being kicked off from the 35 yard line, as this will take away one of the keys to the game for some teams. The Pro Bowl has a kickoff returner voted in every year, because the good ones are key factors in the game and game plan. McKay stated that the average ball came down at the 5.5 yard mark last season. He doesn't factor in that kickers who now will be 5 yards closer to the endzone will change the trajectory to get the touchback. Previously kickers booted the ball with more air under it to give their coverage guys time to get to the ball. With this rule change kickers will have the ability to routinely boot it in the endzone, so they don't have to worry about the coverage as much.

The ball being placed at the 25 doesn't bother me, especially if the touchbacks are going to go up because the average starting position after kickoffs last season was the 27.6. I do believe it's unfair to eliminate the wedge block. During the game, a huge return can be the momentum shift a team needs. It's football's version of the half court shot as time runs down. Eliminating the wedge block and kicking from the 35, almost ensures teams won't get the momentum shift from their return game.

The general principle in all of these rules is to shorten the field. The best way I believe they'll accomplish this, is the last part they're trying to put into place. In the past, the kicking team could have their player’s line up as far back as they wanted to. Many players would line up at the 15 or 20 to be at full speed by the time the ball was kicked. Now with them only getting a 5 yard running start, the locomotive won't be going as fast when it collides with the wall. Amazingly some teams proposed doing away with the kickoff altogether! If that's the alternative, I guess we should just be glad these are the proposed changes.

3) Modify Instant Replay - 2 main changes to be considered.

  • Much in the same way that the officials review plays in the last 2 minutes of both halves, they'll review all plays resulting in scores. NOT a play that wasn't ruled as a score.
  • They want to eliminate the 3rd challenge for coaches.

The booth will review every play that results in a score and buzz down to the officials if they believe it should be looked at. I would change it to be on all plays where a touchdown is on the line. Why should the defense be able to get a review to overturn a touchdown but the offense has to use a challenge to get a bad call overturned into a touchdown? Field goals and safeties will also be reviewed by the booth automatically.

It seems the NFL feels that that most of the coaches challenges are used on scoring plays and this will reduce the use of coach’s challenges, so they want to do away with the 3rd challenge that coaches get when they are correct on their first two challenges in a game. That's fine if they make the automatic reviews as I laid out in the previous paragraph.

Catch-No Catch Issue - They don't plan to discuss it, only put new language into place (more confusing verbiage but new).

McKay stated that the same rules have governed catches for the last 70 years and they all felt that the Calvin Johnson catch wasn't a catch. He goes on to lay out the 3 elements to a catch.

  • Secure the ball.
  • Maintain control with 2 feet down or any other body part other than hands. 
  • Must control ball long enough after A & B, meaning you've caught it cleanly and got feet or body parts down after those 2 elements then you've got to maintain control long enough to make any act common to the game (HUH?). It doesn't mean you have to perform the act, but it's an element of time (HUH, WHAT???).

If God himself told me that Calvin Johnson didn't catch that ball, I would still disagree. There’s an old saying, if it walks like a catch and quacks like a catch it’s a catch. Calvin Johnson’s catch was a much clearer catch than this definition of what a catch is. In fact, after reading this definition, it appears that the entire rule proposal is nothing more than an oxymoron. I feel like I just walked off the used car lot with a Pinto with a flux capacitor installed for a Cadillac price. Thanks for the clarification on the rule guys. Now I understand why we don’t have a new CBA……

Jayson Braddock is an NFL Scout / NFL Writer & NFL On-Air Personality. Jayson is also a football insider for the Dylan Gwinn show on 790 AM in Houston, TX - Listeners NOT in the Houston metropolitan area can hear Jayson on iheart radio or You may email Jayson directly @ or follow him on Twitter @ JaysonBraddock

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