Thursday, March 17, 2011
Would rules change hurt Leon Washington?
By Mike Sando
The Seattle Seahawks recently re-signed Leon Washington to a four-year contract.
They did so largely because Washington re-established himself as a big-play kickoff returner.
Washington should only get stronger in his second season back from a severely broken leg. But with the NFL considering significant rules changes for kickoffs, Washington and other returners might have to adjust.
First, let's look at the changes to kickoffs NFL owners will consider adopting at their meetings that begin Monday:
- Moving kickoffs from the 30- to the 35-yard line;
- Allowing only the kicker to line up within five yards of the kickoff line;
- Giving teams possession at the 25 instead of the 20 on touchbacks;
- Eliminating wedge blocks, even among only two players.
Kickoffs out of bounds would still result in the receiving team taking possession at its own 40-yard line.
We could see more touchbacks unless teams feared giving offenses an extra five yards of field position. Proponents of the changes think limiting running-start distances for coverage teams would make for less violent collisions.
These sorts of changes can produce unintended and unanticipated consequences. The NFL previously moved back kickoffs from the 35 to the 30 because the league wanted to produce more exciting returns. The recent emphasis on safety has changed feelings.
The chart breaks down Washington's regular-season kickoff return averages by where he caught the ball, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
I'll be interested in speaking with him for thoughts on how these changes might affect him. First, though, it might be a good idea for me to dive into the NFC West chat that was supposed to begin 40 minutes ago. Oops!