Tom Dahlin/Viking Update

NFL adds, deletes excitement from special teams

The NFL is trying to make the point-after-touchdown play a little more exciting and entice coaches to go for two. However, rules changes are also taking away excitement from kickoff returns, as the stats show.

The NFL moving extra points back created a noticeable effect on the success rate and also achieved what had been hoped with the move.

Before moving the line of scrimmage for extra points back to the 15-yard in 2015, the conversion rate on extra points was above 99 percent in each of the previous five years. In 2010, kickers were making 99.1 percent of their extra points attempts and in 2013 it peaked at 99.6 percent. However, the move back created a kick more like a 32- or 33-yard field goal and the percentage dropped to 94.2 percent in 2015.

While making the kick more challenging was part of the impetus for the move, some in league circles believed that a change to extra points could yield more excitement if coaches would consider going for the 2-point conversion more often.

That also happened. The previous five-year high was 69 two-point conversions attempted in the 2013 season (in a year when extra points were being made at a 99.6 percent clip). But after a decrease to 59 two-point attempts in 2014, last year there were 94 two-point conversions attempted. That was almost double the number from 2011, when only 50 were attempted.

The NFL has also made changes to kickoffs in recent years and this year is no different. Instead of placing the ball on a team’s 20-yard after a touchback, the spot will be moved to the 25-yard line.

The percentage of kickoff returns had already been on the decrease before that change and it seems likely that will only increase. Since 2010, the percentage of kickoffs that have been returned has fallen from 80.1 percent to 41.1 percent last year. Incentivizing teams to take the touchback and get the ball at the 25-yard line will likely mean another drop in the percentage of returns the league sees.

Interestingly, however, when the NFL had the biggest drop in the percentage of returns, from 2010 to 2011 with the spot of kickoff changed from the 30-yard line to the 35, it also experienced a gain in length of returns. In 2010, the average return was 22.8 yards. In 2011, that increased to 23.8, and it has remained above 23.4 ever since.

So while the NFL tries to add some excitement to the extra point by making it less successful and enticing coaches to go for the 2-point conversion, it is also taking the excitement out of kickoff returns, calling it a safety issue. 

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