Historical, statistical look at kickoffs

Editor's Note: Details were added to this post after the NFL owners voted to move kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35 at 1 p.m. ET.

AP Photo/Jim Prisching

Will returners like Devin Hester be more likely to take a knee if the rules change for kickoffs?

On Tuesday, NFL owners voted to move kickoffs up five yards to the 35-yard line, where they were from 1974 to 1993. Touchbacks will remain at the 20-yard line.

One reason the proposal was brought forward by the competition committee was to try and reduce the number of injuries on kickoffs.

The move is the third time the league has changed the kickoff yard line. Originally, kickoffs were at the 40-yard line, then moved to the 35 in 1974. In 1994, the league moved kickoffs back another five yards to the 30.

Now that Tuesday’s vote is approved, can we expect kickoff returns to fall in line with what we saw from 1974-93?

Moving kickoffs to the 35-yard line would most likely make touchbacks even more prevalent than they were in 2010, when 16.4 percent resulted in touchbacks.

In 1993, the last year kickoffs were at the 35-yard line, touchbacks occurred 27.0 percent of the time.

Kickoff Returns Since 1941

Teams have averaged more yards and more touchdowns since kickoffs were moved to the 30-yard line in 1994; however, returns from 1994-2010 have been somewhat similar to what they were from 1941 (the first year data was available) to 1973.

Do recent kickoff trends justify such a move? Over the last six seasons, kickoff return touchdowns have jumped. There were an NFL-record 25 kickoff returns for touchdowns in 2007, and 23 in 2010 (second most in NFL history).

But, even as kickoff return touchdowns increased, so too has the percentage of touchbacks.

Over the last six seasons the touchback percent has increased each year, from 9.1 in 2005 to 16.4 in 2010. The average kickoff return was just over 22 yards, and the average starting field position has been just beyond the 27-yard line.