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Kelley: The NFL Will Soon Have a New Position to Fill



New England Patriots safety Brenden Schooler (41) talks with New England Patriots place kicker Chad Ryland (37) after Ryland missed a field goal with seconds remaining on the clockduring the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J. Can new Patriots special teams coordinator Jeremy Springer help turn this unit around in 2024? (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

My brother Brian has a lot of ideas. Many of them make no sense to me, but occasionally he knocks one out of the park. He came up with the idea for an upside-down ketchup bottle years before it existed. This past week a new NFL rule has prompted another idea from the mind of Brian Kelley.

At the Annual League Meeting in Orlando, a modification was approved to the NFL kickoff rules. The new rules will have only a passing resemblance to the way kickoffs have been played for a hundred years. No longer will the kicking team be running down the field at the same time. Kickers booming kickoffs out of the end zone, or even into the end zone, are now penalized instead of rewarded.

With the new rule comes a new opportunity for teams to get creative. According to lifelong outside-the-box thinker Brian Kelley, that means a new position in the NFL should be on the way.

Kicking Into the Landing Zone

The landing zone is the area between the receiving team’s goal line and their 20-yard line. All kickoffs must land in the landing zone area. If not, the receiving team begins at the 35-yard line, a huge field position advance for the offense.

One way for the kicking team to counter this situation is to find somebody who can kick a line drive that bounces in the landing zone. The kicker could also try to kick it and drop it as close to the goal line as possible without going over. Neither of these kicking motions will come naturally to a traditional placekicker. It is also a different motion than punters who have previously handled kickoff duties based on the strength of their legs. Instead of trying to teach an old dog new tricks, why not bring in somebody who can work exclusively on this new landing zone kickoff?

Additional Skills

Brian Kelley reasons that the new format will put more pressure on the player handling kickoff duties to be more athletic and be able to tackle. The other ten players are all so much further up now. If the returner gets past that first wave only one player is remaining. Having that player be more athletic than the average kicker is suddenly more important.

Is it easier to find a kicker who can knock it into the landing zone and still potentially tackle, or teach somebody capable of tackling how to knock it into the landing zone? Maybe this is why rugby players are a hot commodity in the NFL all of a sudden.

New Positions Are Not New

The NFL is over 100 years old, but there are still new positions being added all the time. This includes jobs that previously existed. Matthew Slater recently retired as arguably the greatest special teams player in NFL history. Special teams have always existed, but special teams players have not always been acknowledged as their own position.

A special teams player was not selected to the Pro Bowl until 1985. A special teams player (Slater) was not named to the AP All-Pro Team until 2016.

Likewise, long snappers have always existed. Usually, it was the team’s center who also handled these duties. Occasionally it was a player from another position (linebacker, tight end) who handled this job. But there was not a roster spot for a player to exclusively handle long snapping duties. There is now.

Long snapper was added as a Pro Bowl position in 2005. The AP All-Pro Team added long snappers in 2020.

Matthew Slater would not have had an NFL job in the 1970s and now he could be headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Joe Cardona would not have had an NFL job in the 1990s and is now the longest-tenured New England Patriots draft pick still on the roster.

What Should This Player Be Called?

While my brother has worked out the need for this new roster spot, a name has not been developed yet. Kickoff specialist seems too boring. Zone kicker? X-Kicker (the kickoff rules began in the XFL)? Kickoff kicker?

If the new rule governing NFL kickoffs sticks, soon a position will exist for somebody who specializes in handling this new job. I’m going to use “Back Kicker” as a placeholder for the new job for now. They will be standing much further back than the rest of the coverage team, and be the backline of defense on a kickoff return. The BK can share initials with its inventor, Brian Kelley. It’s not the upside-down ketchup bottle, but it’s something.

Award-winning blogger, Dan's work has also been featured on Fox Sports, Boston Metro, Barstool Sports,, and many other outlets.