Green Bay Packers

How Will the New Kickoff Rules Affect Keisean Nixon?

Photo Credit: Mark Hoffmann via USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers brought back kick returner and cornerback Keisean Nixon on a three-year deal after Nixon previously played on a pair of one-year contracts.

The long-term contract and amount, up to $18 million over the next three seasons, mean that the Packers expect the two-time first-team All-Pro returner to play a big role in Jeff Hafley’s defense. Green Bay’s big three — CEO Mark Murphy, GM Brian Gutekunst, and head coach Matt LaFleur—reiterated this during the annual owners meeting.

Even if the Packers extended that contract with a defensive role in mind, they serendipitously brought back their star kick returner just before the NFL agreed to new rules that could revitalize kickoffs. Green Bay already returns the ball more often than the rest of the league. However, with these rule changes and Nixon back in the fold, it has an advantage heading into the season.

The NFL has been trying to fix the kickoff for a long time. It’s a play that invites a lot of danger, and penalties can easily nullify a returner’s efforts. The NFL also likes to pretend they care about safety when it’s convenient and doesn’t cost them anything. Many of Green Bay’s opponents didn’t return the ball with the current set of rules. The Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers didn’t return any kickoffs in the most recent Super Bowl, and only one kick was considered returnable.

This one-year test of new rules is based on how the XFL handled kickoffs.

Below is a complete summary of the rule changes:

The simplified version is that the kicker kicks the ball from their 35-yard line with the rest of his team at the opposing 40-yard line. The receiving teams’ blockers line up at their 35-yard, meaning the blockers and gunners begin only five yards apart. The kicking team can start running until the kicked ball reaches the returner.

The ball must land between the opponent’s 20-yard line and the end zone, which the league calls the landing zone. A kick out of bounds or short of the 20 means the receiving team starts at their 40-yard line. A touchback means the receiving team gets the ball back at their 30-yard line. Kicks must be returned, and there is no fair catch.

These rules should make things safer because the kicking team won’t be running the full length of the field at top speed like a cavalry charge. It should make things more exciting because teams must return kicks, leading to more action. These new rules offer a rare change that could make the game more fun.

Of course, the Packers were already attempting returns more often than any other team in the league. Nixon led the league in kick returns with 30. That’s eight more than the second-ranked player and 12 more than the third man up. Unsurprisingly, his 782 yards led the league.

Nixon will get to do what he likes under these new rules and seems excited about the change, believing he can be an All-Pro again in 2024.

Therefore, this new rule doesn’t give Green Bay any advantages because Nixon was already running the ball. But he’ll have more experience than other returners, who now must adaNixon’sto the return attempt non had.

However, Eric Galko, who was part of the XFL team that made and play-tested these rules, believes that a different build of returner is best suited for these new rules.

With pure speed and collisions ruled out, Galko compares the new rules to being similar to a spaced-out run play. With vision and reaction ability being more useful in the new rules, those with backgrounds as running backs might be the ideal returners. Therefore, a player like Packers punt returner Jayden Reed might be the perfect returner.

Interestingly, Mike Murphy was among the few voters against this new rule, citing that these rules are untested in the NFL. They could have significant consequences, and the league should have tested them in the preseason. But Murphy noted having the league’s top kick returner gives him faith in his team navigating this new challenge.

In short, the rules don’t necessarily help Nixon and the Packers beyond lowering injury risk and hopefully minimizing penalties that often brought back Nixon’s great runs. Nixon was already returning the ball every chance he got. However, his experience over the past two years should give him an advantage over his competition.

Nixon may have to adapt to these new rules because they favor a different skill set. But he’s proven willing to do what the team needs and has shown an aggressiveness not always found on special teams. He should adapt well.

Rich Bisaccia will have to coach his guys to avoid penalties for moving too early and get Anders Carlson to kick in the landing zone.

This is a rare rule change that could improve the league, and it prioritizes something the Packers are pretty good at. It will be interesting to see if Nixon can earn a third All-Pro nod with the new rules.

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