Five players to watch with new NFL kickoff rules

The NFL is significantly altering its kickoff rules for the 2024 season to enhance player safety and encourage more returns. The changes include lining up kickoff teams five yards apart, restricting movement before the ball is touched by the returner to just the kicker and returner, and imposing stricter penalties on touchbacks for the kicking team. These adjustments aim to increase the frequency and excitement of returns.

It will also be impactful for some individual players around the league.


So let’s take a look at five players to keep an eye on this season with the new rules in mind.

Justin Reid, DB, Kansas City Chiefs

Reid will be an intriguing player to watch as the Chiefs consider utilizing him as a kickoff specialist. This strategy aims to preserve kicker Harrison Butker and protect him from potential injuries while adding an extra defender for kick coverage. Reid has prior experience kicking in games, making him a potentially unique asset for the Chiefs’ special teams. If successful, this approach could inspire other teams to seek out position players who can also kick.

Cordarrelle Patterson, WR/RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Statistically, Patterson is one of the top kickoff returners in NFL history, and the Steelers quickly signed him as a free agent after the new rules were approved. His prior experience with new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith as a running back and wide receiver is beneficial, but his greatest impact in Pittsburgh is likely to be on special teams. Given the Steelers’ recent struggles on offense, they need better field position to improve their attack. Patterson’s ability to flip the field could be crucial for a team with two new quarterbacks, Russell Wilson and Justin Fields, and a new offensive coordinator, Smith, especially since they lack major playmakers on offense.

The Bills drafted Hardy, primarily a defensive back, in the sixth-round in 2024, but he is a potential wild card in the special teams game.


He might be undersized as a DB (5-foot-9, 182 pounds), but he has elite athleticism and made a huge impact as a punt returner at Penn State, returning two punts for touchdowns in 2023.

Daequan Hardy, DB, Buffalo Bills. 

He was not used as frequently on kickoff returns, but the potential is there, and it might be his ticket onto the field as a rookie.

Justin Tucker, Kicker, Baltimore Ravens

The new rules have shifted much of the focus to returners, but kickers will still play a crucial role. As the best kicker in the NFL today, Tucker will still have plenty of opportunities to excel.



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