Time will tell if the various differences between the XFL and NFL result in a better product, but one thing the fledgling league is doing is its unique approach to kickoffs. It took a couple weeks, but we finally got the first kick return for a touchdown.
And damn, was it a fun one.
Not only was it fun, it included a bit of trickeration by the receiving team, the St. Louis BattleHawks. After fielding the kick, Keith Mumphery pitched it to Joe Powell on a reverse, and he outran the entirety of the New York Guardians team for a 90-yard touchdown.
— St. Louis BattleHawks (@XFLBattleHawks) February 23, 2020
Kickoffs in the NFL were altered in the name of player safety in 2011, when it moved the kickoff line up from the 30-yard line to the 35. This, along with changes to the league’s blocking rules, hoped to tone down the severity of injuries sustained when players had high-speed collisions with all the room to run afforded on kick returns. The rule change has resulted in more touchbacks, and fewer big plays in general, in the NFL.
The XFL went with a different approach, lining up both the return and defending teams on the receiving side of the field, five yards from one another. Blockers and defenders are not allowed to engage or move forward until the returner has fielded the kick, eliminating the speed disparity between the two units.
The XFL’s kickoff rules can be read in full here.
This makes things safer than the pre-2011 NFL rules (and, arguably, the current NFL rules), while opening the door for playmaking returners to do what they do best. Given how lackluster returns have become in the NFL, it may want to consider adopting the XFL’s take on them.
Packers president and NFL competition committee member Mark Murphy said on Monday that he was intrigued by the XFL’s version of the kickoff, per Kevin Seifert of ESPN. That’s a good sign for those who want the NFL to consider changing its rules.
Since it’s new, it also offers up an element of suspense absent from the NFL. And that’s doubly so when a team decides to run trick plays alongside them.
More kickoffs like this, please!