NFL owners voted to make significant changes to the kickoff rules on Tuesday in an attempt to improve player safety. Also agreed upon by owners is a "use of helmet" rule, which makes it a penalty if a player "lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against his opponent." Additionally, the "disqualification of a player" was added to the list of reviewable plays for 2018.
The full details on all the changes can be found here.
The kickoff rule changes, which will be reevaluated next offseason, include eliminating the running start for the kicking team, banning wedge blocks and changes to how the receiving team can line up.
Prior to 2018, coverage teams could get a 5-yard running start on the kick, but now players cannot line up more than 1 yard from the restraining line (the 35-yard line). The receiving team, meanwhile, must have at least eight players lined up in the 15-yard "setup zone" prior to kickoff. The receiving team may no longer use wedge blocks, whereas in the past two-man wedge blocks were allowed. Also, the receiving team can no longer initiate blocks before the ball is caught or hits the ground.
The new "use of helmet" rule also includes ejections standards:
- Player lowers his helmet to establish a linear body posture prior to initiating and making contact with the helmet.
- Player delivering the blow had an unobstructed path to his opponent.
- Contact was clearly avoidable; player delivering the blow had other options.
Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, said on twitter that more than 40,000 plays were reviewed from last season through the lens of the new "use of helmet rule," and only three ejections were identified.
Earlier this offseason, owners approved a handful of changes at the annual league meetings, most notably rewriting the catch rule.