The NFL plans to make material changes to its punt play, possibly as early as the 2019 season, league officials confirmed to ESPN on Tuesday. The exercise includes a twist: the NFL will crowdsource ideas from the analytics community.
The effort will be part of the 1st and Future project, an innovation competition that culminates in a Feb. 2 presentation in Atlanta, site of Super Bowl LIII. It will continue an ongoing initiative to modernize special teams, most recently through a redesigned kickoff.
Before this season, concussions were five times as likely to occur on kickoffs than the average run or pass play, making it the most dangerous play in the game. Punts are next on that list, causing twice as many concussions, according to Jeff Miller, the NFL's executive vice president of health and safety initiatives.
ESPN reported last month that league officials were confident enough in the kickoff changes -- which were driven by internal data study -- that they were ready to move on to punts.
Rich McKay, the Atlanta Falcons' CEO who also chairs the NFL competition committee, did not commit to adopting any of the public submissions. But he said the punt has long frustrated the league because of not only injuries but also its penalty rate.
Annually, it is the most penalized play in football.
"We know our fans are not big fans of every play ending in a penalty," McKay said, "and that's one thing we definitely want to look at."
The league will provide data from every punt play during the 2016-17 seasons, said Chris Sherwood, a research engineer at Biocore, a biomechanical engineering firm that works with the NFL. The data set will also include injury information and Next Gen stats, the X/Y position and speeds of every player on the field.
1st and Future will be presented by Arrow Electronics and hosted at Georgia Tech's Ferst Center for the Arts.