The recent decision by the NFL to not move kickoffs once again could have a major impact on Devin Hester and this year’s Falcons return game. The league considered a proposal to move kickoffs to the 40-yard line from the 35-yard line, the location introduced with kickoffs rule changes in 2011, but voted it down and one of the players happy about that decision is Hester.
Moving kickoffs forward five more yards would make returns difficult, even for the best, which Hester certainly is. In Chicago, Hester seemed to have the green light to return nearly every kick, regardless of its depth in the end zone. Keeping the kickoffs where they are might mean another year like last year for Hester.
In 2013, Hester fielded 79 kickoffs and managed to return 52 of them while 27 of them were touchbacks. Hester’s return numbers are impressive regardless of where he fields the kick, but last season, as we saw all around the league, kickoffs landed deeper in the end zone and many returners weren’t able to return them. Hester fielded and returned 36 kicks last year from inside the end zone and returned the kicks for an average of 29.6 yards.
Hester returned 11 kicks from outside the end zone and three that were fielded on the goal line.
We don’t yet know how Hester’s aggressiveness will be used in special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong’s return game with the Falcons, but he may be expected to take some chances and produce. Last season, Hester’s average inside-the-endzone return started six yards deep so he was able to generate, on average, around three extra yards at a minimum.
Compared to the Falcons kick return game in 2013, any positive yards from Hester should be an improvement. The Falcons faced 128 kickoffs last season and 101 were touchbacks.