The onside kick in the NFL is on its deathbed. Heck, the whole idea of kickoffs may be going the way of the dodo bird, but for now, it still exists. The recent rule changes to how kickoffs are performed has had the unintended effect of driving down the success rate of an onside kick. Through the 2017 season, onside kicks were successful on average at around 21%. In 2018 that number plummeted to 7.7% and in 2019 it rebounded slightly to 12.9%.
Based on that, the NFL is going to experiment with something new at the Pro Bowl. It’s a rule change that was suggested last year but was voted down by the owners in March. The NFL front office doesn’t want to give up on it so they are going to try it in the Pro Bowl.
The new, second option for the scoring team would serve as a substitute for an onside kick. It would allow it to run one additional play from its own 25-yard line.
If the scoring team gains 15 or more yards, it would retain possession. If it falls short, the opposition would take over at the dead ball spot. Essentially, it will be a fourth-and-15 play.
This is similar to the rule in the short-lived AAF which used a fourth-and-12 play from the 28-yard line as the substitute for the onside kick. For reference, success on third- and fourth down-attempts with over 15 yards to go in regular NFL play over the last two years has been 14.1%. That’s a slight uptick from what we are now getting from onside kicks, but not quite the 21% average that we used to have.
The Cowboys tried four onside kicks in 2019 and were unsuccessful on all four. Three of them were at the end of games attempting a comeback (Jets, Bills Bears) and the other was at the end of the first half when they were kicking from deep inside their opponent's territory because of penalties with very little time left on the clock (Lions).
While the onside kick as it exists today is a pretty neutral play since the real factor is just how good your kicker is at popping the ball up in the air (or other variations on making it difficult to recover), this new rule could benefit certain kinds of offenses. For instance, let’s take the Super Bowl participants of this weekend. It certainly seems like a passing, big-play offense like the Chiefs would be more likely to hit on a 15-yard pass play than a ground-and-pound offense like the 49ers where play-action would have no effect.
But it would certainly be more exciting to watch these plays occur than the new onside kicks of the last few years that are almost always unsuccessful. Imagine a scenario where a team is down 11 points late in a game. They score a touchdown to cut it to four points then elect the 4th-and-15 onside kick option. On that play, the receiver gets behind the secondary and goes all the way. Boom, they are now leading by three.
Let’s hope that the two squads in the Pro Bowl try this out just for kicks (pun intended), even if the situation doesn’t call for it. It would be nice to see it play out a few times.
Would you rather have the new rule or stick with the current onside kick format?
Onside kicks in the NFL should be:
This poll is closed
the traditional kick
the new rule being tested in the Pro Bowl