The NFL announced on Wednesday that touchbacks on kickoffs will be treated in 2016. Touchbacks previously meant the offense started on the 20-yard line. The new rule has touchbacks on kickoffs bring the offense out to the 25-yard line. The rule only applies to kickoffs, and is only applicable in 2016. More than likely, it will be made permanent a year from now, like the league did with moving back the extra point spot.
The rule change seemed to indicate touchbacks would be more likely, and the league was working to remove the kickoff from the game. However, current kicker Graham Gano and former kicker Jay Feely suggested otherwise.
So touchbacks go to the 25 now huh? I bet we will see a lot of shorter & higher kicks and more returns around the league this year.— Graham Gano (@GrahamGano) March 23, 2016
NFL Kickers I spoke with said they would now hit high hang time kicks outside the numbers to the goalline. https://t.co/xDBe2gzGT5— Jay Feely (@jayfeely) March 23, 2016
The impact on special teams is going to be interesting to watch. It will add a significant amount of strategic intrigue, with the "mortar kick" getting a little more exposure. ESPN's Field Yates described the mortar kick as follows:
A method to, in part, counteract a dangerous kick returner. The kicking team aims to kick the ball as high as possible, sacrificing maximum distance to heighten the chances of a fair catch or a minimal return. A mortar kick might not land further than the opposing team's 25-yard line or so, but if executed properly, the returning team will field the ball either on a fair catch or with the coverage team quickly closing in on the returner because of the height and depth of the kick.
Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis broke down the statistical advantage this change could provide. A potential start at the 10, or really inside the 20 decreases scoring opportunities, even if you don't get it right every time. There is the chance for big returns, but well-placed mortar kicks can be a difference-maker on special teams.