The new kickoff touchback rule, which brings the ball out to the 25-yard line instead of the 20, has special teams coaches looking at their options.
Should kickers ever intentionally kick the ball high and just short of the end zone, forcing the returner to try to run the ball back to at least the 25-yard line?
Coaches probably won’t want to get cute with opposing teams with talented return units.
Based on 2015’s kick return averages, the Green Bay Packers’ opponents with top-grade returners include the Vikings, Bears, Lions, Giants and Cowboys — all of whose primary returners averaged from 28.3 to 31.8 yards per return. That’s half of the Packers’ regular-season games right there.
Earning middling grades, with averages from 25.8 to 26.9, are the Falcons, Jaguars and Seahawks. The odds here still solidly favor kicking for the end zone.
Opponents with lower-grade returners are the Ravens (24.5), Redskins (24.4), Texans (24.1), Eagles (23.7) and Titans (21.9).
Even for these teams, it’s likely that kicks short of the end zone would be returned past the 25-yard line more often than not.
Adding to the calculations, coaches might not want to risk injuries in exchange for maybe gaining a few yards of field position.
Based on the numbers, kicking high and short will likely be a little-used kickoff strategy for the Packers and probably the entire NFL in 2016.