Some observers think it won’t be long before the kickoff is banned from football altogether. For now, at least, the NFL has established new rules for kickoff returns in 2018 that it hopes will make the game safer. The biggest changes are the elimination of running starts for the coverage team and no wedge blocking for the return team. As Kansas City Chiefs special teams coach Dave Taub recently told ESPN.com, it’s going to make kickoff returns more like punt returns.
“You’re not going to have a point of attack where you’re hitting (the hole),” said Taub. “It’s going to look more like a punt return.’’
If that is the case, it might also have an effect on how NFL rosters are constructed. When training camps open next month, many players that are “on the bubble” will look to make themselves more valuable on special teams in order to make the final cut. Historically, players such as Matt Slater have been able to make a career out of special teams play. A fifth-round pick of the New England Patriots in 2008, Slater has been with the team for 10 years. He’s listed as a wide receiver, but he’s only got one career reception. As a special teamer, though, he’s been to the Pro Bowl seven times.
Will a gunner like Slater be less valuable now that teams don’t have to focus as much attention on kickoffs? There could be some roster implications and every coach and GM will have a different approach based on their special teams philosophies.