In an effort to reduce the number of injuries that occur on kickoffs, the NFL changed the rule on touchbacks before this past season. After one regular season of the new rule, the results are in and the number of injuries didn’t change the way the NFL wanted them too.
The rule that changed wasn’t that major: the NFL owners voted to move touchbacks after kickoffs from the 20 to the 25-yard like. The move gives players a little extra incentive to not return the ball as their team gets an extra five yards on a touchback.
However in the end, those five yards weren’t enticing enough to reduce the amount of injuries and dramatically alter the number of returns. Overall, touchbacks only increased by about 2% in 2016, so the number of injuries not changing dramatically isn’t too surprising.
Pro Football Talk has the numbers from the study: concussions slightly decreased from 20 in 2015 to 17 in 2016, while hamstring injuries actually increased from 11 to 13. The other two big injuries that were taken into account were ACL and MCL tears and both increased: ACL from one to four, and MCL from three to five.
At the end of the day, the rule was changed so players would most likely take a touchback and thus reduce the amount of major injuries that occurred on kickoffs. That backfired, as only the number of concussions decreased while hamstring injuries and ACL and MCL tears are on the rise.
The NFL held a conference call recently to take a closer look at injuries in the league. On the call, they said the data from the kickoff study will be looked at further to determine why the numbers mostly increased and that as of now it looks like “a natural fluctuation.”
One injury that may not change at all in a major way is the number concussions. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick mentioned during the season the number of concussions won’t necessarily go down. The reason why? Some players who get them are blocking for the returner and don’t know their player has taken a knee until after they start blocking. In short, they get the concussion before they’re told their teammate isn’t returning the ball.