The NFL is extending a temporary rule this year that moves kickoff touchbacks to the 25. All other touchbacks (punts into and defensive recoveries into the end zone) will come out to the 20.
This was an experimental rule for 2016, and the owners voted to extend that for an extra season. The NFL Competition Committee will revisit the rule after this season.
The NFL wants to discourage kickoff returns, citing many concussions on such plays. In 2011 the NFL moved the kickoff line up to the 35-yard line (previously the 30-yard line), in trying to discourage returns. Touchbacks jumped dramatically.
Some teams started taking extra risks and ran the kickoff out from deep in their end zone, counter the NFL’s wish to avoid returns. With the receiving team getting a touchback at the 25, it’s an extra incentive to stay in the end zone.
The below table breaks down the percentage of kickoffs reaching the endzone, and of those kickoffs, the percentage returned or taken for a touchback. The interesting number is that there were fewer kickoffs reaching the endzone in 2016, compared to 2015. Why? Did kicking teams not want to give the receivers the 25-yard line? Did the kicking team want to squib the kicks to the five-yard line to try to pin the receivers deep? We will need to see more data before we determine a trend.
It will be interesting to see the 2016 data on kickoff reaching the end zone is an outlier. And, it will be interesting to see the receivers want to take more touchbacks.