Devin Hester. Josh Cribbs. Leon Washington. Dante Hall.
These are just four names that the average NFL fan is familiar with as players. Why is the average fan familiar with these names, though? Why do we know who these NFL players are?
Well, it's pretty simple actually. We are familiar with the likes of players like the ones named above because of one thing that each of those four players have done: the way that they have impacted football games with their play on special teams.
Decades ago, special teams was considered just a break from the "real action" that was taking place when it was offense vs. defense on the field. Now, though, that's no longer the case.
If you ask any NFL head coach, they'll tell you that special teams, just like offense and defense, is one-third of the football game. Special teams can often swing momentum in favor of one team, and if you're special teams unit isn't up to par, it can really come back to bite you.
You don't believe me? Here's my proof.
Last season, the San Diego Chargers led the NFL in both total offense and total defense, yet somehow only finished the season with a 9-7 record and missed the playoffs. If the Chargers were so efficient on both offense on defense, how could that not equate to more wins? The special teams unit for San Diego must have been lacking, and it shows in the statistics.
Despite leading the NFL in total offense and defense in 2010, the Chargers were tied for first in most kickoff return yards allowed (1880 yards) and were first in kickoff return touchdowns allowed with three. San Diego also led the league for most punt return yards allowed on average, as they surrendered an average of 18.9 yards on each punt return by an opponent. That's a full four more yards than the next team, the New York Giants, who allowed 14.9 yards per punt return. With that being said, I think it is more than clear that special teams is a very crucial part of the game and most certainly cannot be overlooked.
So when the NFL announced on March 22nd that the kickoffs during NFL games would take place at the 35-yard line instead of the 30-yard line, it wasn't exactly a minor change.
Throughout the 2010 NFL regular season, when kickoffs still took place at the 30-yard line, 16.4 percent of all kickoffs went for touchbacks. Throughout Week 1 of the 2011 preseason, with kickoffs taking place from the 35 yard line, 31.4 percent of all kickoffs went for touchbacks. That means that 15 percent more kickoffs were now being ruled touchbacks and therefore taking away the explosive and exciting returning aspect of the game.
With the returning aspect of the game being taken away much more often, that means that names like Devin Hester, Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington will become much less relevant, as they won't be able to showcase their athletic abilities on special teams nearly as much. That also means that NFL fans likely won't be seeing any future Dante Halls returning kickoffs, as the demand for speedy and talented kickoff return men will rapidly go down as long as the current kickoff rule is in place.
Therefore, the NFL needs to veto the rule change of having kickoffs take place at the 35 instead of the 30-yard line immediately. If it is common knowledge that special teams is equally as important as offense or defense, than how can the NFL slowly be headed towards eliminating the worth of the kickoff return man completely?
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