Cowboys Are the Biggest Winners From NFL Kickoff Rule Change

Dec 24, 2023; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver KaVontae Turpin (9) runs
Dec 24, 2023; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver KaVontae Turpin (9) runs / Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL approved major changes to the kickoff rules on Tuesady, and the changes will transform the special teams game.

I'm not going to tell you whether you should like the new rules or not (you should, and anyone complaining about them just hates change), but I will tell you one thing: Cowboys fans should be excited about them.

Nobody in the NFL stands to benefit as much as Dallas. Let's look at some of the context behind how dramatically this rule will shake things up, then why the Cowboys benefit so much.

New NFL Kickoff Rules Transform the Game

The number one reason I don't understand why anyone would complain about the kickoff rules is how high the current touchback rates are. In 2023, 30 of 32 NFL teams kicked touchbacks over 50% of the time. And 12 of 32 teams kicked touchbacks over 80% of the time.

As a viewer, how interesting is it to watch a kick go over the returner's head and land in the end zone? Is losing that experience really making the game less enjoyable to watch?

It's also not like that current touchback-heavy iteration of kickoffs is some longstanding tradition either. It may look like traditional kick returns, but it's not the tradition.

If you go back just 15 years, to 2008, the highest touchback rate in the NFL was 32.4%. We had 10 teams kicking touchbacks 10% of the time or less. Would the NFL have been more fun at the time if Devin Hester only returned 20% of the kicks that came his way instead of 80%?

These new rules are clearly designed to emphasize more returns, and if anything that makes them more traditional than what we had last year. It may look different, but the new rules mean that special teams matter more than they have in a long time.

Enter KaVontae Turpin.

KaVontae Turpin Just Became Way More Valuable in Dallas

KaVontae Turpin only got to return 10 kicks in 2023. It's not that he wasn't the top returner, but rather that the Cowboys as a team only had 16 kick returns.

When he got the ball in his hands, however, Turpin was better than anyone. His 29.2 yards per return were the most for anyone with eight or more returns on the season.

Now if we factor in punt returns, he also had Pro Football Focus' highest overall return grade on the season. And this was in a supposed "down year" for the second-year pro, who had made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2022.

And if we wanna up the sample size further, Turpin also averaged both 10.0 yards per carry (110 yards on 10 rushes) and 10.6 yards per receptions (127 yards on 12 catches), again showcasing that he is maybe the NFL's most dangerous player with the ball in space right now.

Now what happens when teams can't just kick touchbacks at a 70% rate against the Cowboys? Turpin suddenly becomes a major deciding factor in field position all game long. And if teams do want to avoid him? Well Dallas will happily start drives at the 35 yard line.

The Cowboys are already favorites to win the NFC East, and getting a boost from this new kickoff rule means the division is officially once again theirs to lose in 2024.

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