The NFL’s new kickoff format: Everything you need to know

USA Today

The NFL adopted a radical new kickoff and kick return format for the 2024 season during the annual owners’ meetings in Orlando this week. The changes effectively transform what has become a yawning procedural touchback into the exciting, potentially impactful play it was in the XFL.

In fact, the new NFL kickoff is taken straight from the XFL’s innovative twist on the special teams play.

New NFL kickoff diagram (Courtesy Eric Galko on X)

It’s going to look quite a bit different. Among the primary changes:

  • Kickoffs are now from the 35-yard line.
  • Rather than all members of the kicking team lined up at the 35, now they’re advanced to the opposing 40-yard line, or 25 yards in front of the kicker.
  • The receiving team starts out more condensed. All the players on the receiving team, with the exception of one or two designated returners, start out between their own 30- and 35-yard lines.
  • Kick returners, no more than two of them, line up anywhere behind the 30-yard line.
  • No players other than the kicker and the returners are allowed to move until the ball is either caught by the returner, lands inside the landing zone (between the 20-yard line and the goal line), or is brought out of the end zone by the returner.
  • Any kick that hits the landing zone must be returned, including if it bounces into the end zone. The returner can kneel for a touchback on kicks that bounce from the landing zone into the end zone, and that touchback goes to the 20-yard line.
  • If a kick doesn’t reach the landing zone or goes out of bounds either on the fly or via bouncing out, the receiving team gets possession at its 40-yard line.
  • If the kicked ball enters the end zone on the fly, the receiving team can either return it or kneel for a touchback that goes out to the 30-yard line.
  • No fair catches.

This is a sample kick return from the XFL, which is now merged into the new UFL, that is effectively what the NFL kickoffs will now look like.

As for onside kicks, they are now only allowed in the fourth quarter of games and must be declared to the officials before the onside kick attempt. No more surprise onside kicks.

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