Among the new rules passed at last week's NFL owners meetings was an important alteration to how the league is going about kickoffs.
Now, instead of bringing the ball to the 20-yard line after a touchback, the offense will get an extra five yards of field position and begin drives at its 25. It's only five yards, what's the big deal, right?
Well, ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen explained that it actually is a fairly big deal and could change how teams approach kickoffs.
As Bowen points out, teams are now more likely to search for kickers who won't simply knock the ball out of the back of the end zone. On the contrary, a kicker who can accurately hit the ball high in the air at a particular angle could be more valuable than ever because it could put opposing offenses in bad situations and limit returns.
How will that affect the Los Angeles Rams? Well, at the moment the team doesn't have a kicker under contract. They have interest in bringing back Greg Zuerlein, but coach Jeff Fisher has been clear that the team will add legitimate competition for Zuerlein even if he does re-sign.
Zuerlein has one of the strongest legs in the league, but accuracy on field goals hasn't exactly been his strong suit as evidenced by his league-worst percentage in 2015. However, Zuerlein has actually proved pretty adept at angling his kickoffs and not just taking touchbacks. He had just 38 touchbacks in 2015, which tied him for 24th in the NFL.
But Zuerlein was fifth among regular kickers in opponent distance to the goal line after a kickoff with an average of 78.5 yards. That's due in part to his ability to kick at angles and prevent return teams from setting up.
So while the Rams might be on the lookout for more consistency on field goals, Zuerlein's ability to handle kickoffs efficiently should at least keep him in the mix. Especially with the new rule in place.
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