The onside kick could soon be a thing of the past for the NFL, but a new and innovative alternative is reportedly gaining support around the league.
In the name of increasing player safety, the league has taken a series of measures in recent years to limit the amount of kickoff returns, first by moving the kick ahead five yards and then by banning wedge blocking formations and not allowing players to bunch together on one side of the ball for onside kicks. The measures worked in achieving the goal of increasing touchbacks and reducing runbacks, but another likely unintended side-effect was the near-elimination of the onside kick.
As USA Today reported last season, the number of successful onside kicks plummeted under the new rules, dropping from a success rate of close to 15 percent over the course of the last decade to less than half of that during the 2018 season under the new rules.
So heading into this offseason, the Denver Broncos proposed an alternative way to give teams a chance to get the ball back after a score. As Kansas City reported, the proposal would allow a scoring team to line up on the 35-yard line for a 4th and 15 play instead of kicking off. If the offensive team were to convert a first down, they would maintain possession and continue the drive. If the team didn’t convert, the defense would take over where the play ended.
The onside kick alternative would roughly recreate the odds of actually converting an onside kick. According to the blog Advanced Football Analytics, teams have converted the 4th and 15 at a rate of roughly 15 percent, the same as the historic success rate for an onside kick.
Broncos propose fourth-and-15 play in lieu of onside kick https://t.co/JLMdU8QWEe
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) March 9, 2019
As Pro Football Talk noted, the Alliance of American Football has already been using that format on its kickoffs, so NFL teams would be able to study how it works even before trying it out in the NFL preseason. The alternative was also popular in the AAF, leading to conversions for teams after a score while still eliminating the more dangerous kicking scenarios.
There's no such thing as an onside kick in the AAF. Instead you have the option to take the ball on your own 28 and face 4th and 12. It happened today:pic.twitter.com/snrzBSd5wO
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) February 25, 2019
There already appears to be some support behind the new onside kick idea, NFL.com reported, with teams liking the idea of bringing something like an onside back in play. There had also been some complaints among fans that with the onside kick essentially neutered, it became nearly impossible for teams to mount late comebacks once they had exhausted timeouts.