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Why The Running Back Market Will Boom With The New Kickoff Model

With the new hybrid kickoff made official this morning, if there is one position group that should be happy, it is the running backs.

As outlined by NFL Football Operations, the new kickoff model should have the following structure:

  • The kicking team will kickoff from its 35-yard line, with 10 members lining up on the receiving team's 40-yard line.

  • For the receiving team, a minimum of nine members will be lined up between the 30-and 35-yards lines.

  • Once the ball is kicked off, play commences when the ball is either caught or hits the area between the receiving team's 20-yard line and goal line (called the landing zone),or if it returned from the end zone.

  • If a kick fails to reach at leas the 20-yard line, the receiving team should receive possession from its 40-yard line.

Inspired by the format used in the XFL, the shorter distance between both the kicking and receiving teams should minimize the number of collisions, making it safer, while also addressing last year's kick return rate, which was the lowest in NFL history. Perhaps what needs to be acknowledged as well is how this format benefits running backs, who have seen their position diminish in value the last few years

In his latest posts on Twitter, Eric Galko, director of operations for the East-West Shrine Bowl outlined how the shorter space completely changes the evaluation for the ideal returner. In previous years, it would depend on top-end speed and acceleration; the model leans more towards "vision and reaction." These prerequisites are generally seen in players with a running background, as he noted:

"Don’t be surprised if we see more RBs (or those with RB backgrounds) get more opportunities as returners, and for those returners to be a bit based on which “kick scheme” the team runs (man vs. zone)."

For teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, signing running backs like Cordarrelle Patterson should become commonplace in the NFL. While some may choose to continue to rely on speedy receivers, they are better suited to find running backs willing to attack open gaps. 

Oddly enough, team president Art Rooney II was one of the few who reluctantly agreed on the new kickoff format. Yet, considering the talent they have on their roster at the running back position and the possibility of finding new talent in this year's draft, he has every reason to be excited about this change.

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