NFL's New Kickoff Fair Catch Rule Could Affect Vikings' Strategy

nfl's new kickoff fair catch rule could affect vikings' strategy

The NFL has approved a new rule: A fair catch of a kickoff inside the 25-yard line will result in the ball being spotted at the 25. Previously, any kick caught outside of the returning team’s end zone had to be returned.

Players and special teams coaches across the league were against this rule change almost unanimously, but the NFL’s owners still pushed it through, citing player safety as the reasoning. It’s on a one-year trial basis for now, though it’s not difficult to imagine how this could be the beginning of the end for kickoffs entirely.

It’ll be interesting to see how this affects the Vikings’ approach. Over the last two seasons, they lead the league with three kickoffs returned for touchdowns, all of them by Kene Nwangwu. The Bills are the only other team with two during that span, and Nyheim Hines is the only other player with two. 20 percent of all kickoff return touchdowns since 2021 (3 of 15) belong to Nwangwu.

Of course, they’ll still have the option to return any kicks caught outside of the end zone by Nwangwu or anyone else. Kickers are generally able to boot the ball far enough for touchbacks anyways, so the impact may not be that big. But with the possibility of a guaranteed spot at the 25, the Vikings will have to decide how aggressive they want to be with potential returns. A long one can change a game, but ending up at the 17 means you just sacrificed eight yards of field position.

“For us, we like to be aggressive on those special teams phases,” Nwangwu said this week. “It doesn’t change our mindset.”

So will he still be allowed to return a ball he catches at the 1?

“That’s a coach question,” Nwangwu answered with a smile. “I want to take every ball out, but I understand I have to play within the realms of the schemes we have.”

What say you, coach?

“I think it’s going to be on a team basis, depending on how confident you feel in your kickoff return team, how confident you feel in the blockers as well as the return man back there,” said Vikings special teams coordinator Matt Daniels.

“Quite frankly, I don’t think it’ll be much of a change, but it’s a one-year trial run so we’ll see. The game is constantly adapting, changing. The league’s continuously trying to find ways to protect the players. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.”

Thanks for reading. Make sure to bookmark this site and check back daily for the latest Vikings news and analysis all offseason long. Also, follow me on Twitter and feel free to ask me any questions on there.

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