49ers aren't fans of new kickoff rule (but they might still benefit from it)

It'd be nice if the NFL could settle on a kickoff rule after multiple changes over the years, but fans will again see something different in 2024.

San Francisco 49ers punter Mitch Wishnowsky (6)
San Francisco 49ers punter Mitch Wishnowsky (6) / Jim McIsaac/GettyImages

The NFL is adopting a new kickoff rule for 2024, and the 49ers weren't fans of it. But they ultimately could take advantage of it anyway.

If you liked the way kickoffs were handled in NFL games as of late, apologies. It's going to be changing again.

At the 2024 NFL owners meeting, the league adopted a rule change that will shift the way kickoffs work entering the new season. It's supposed to be a one-year experiment, allowing for further changes and tweaks after a full season's worth of trial and analysis.

But, per the ESPN news release, here's the gist of how the new kickoff rule will work:

"During the 2024 season, kickers will continue to kick from the 35-yard line, but the other 10 players on the kickoff team will line up at the receiving team's 40-yard line. At least nine members of the return team will line up in a "setup zone" between the 35- and 30-yard lines. Up to two returners can line up in a "landing zone" between the goal line and the 20-yard line.

No one other than the kicker and returner(s) can move until the ball hits the ground or hits a player inside the landing zone. Touchbacks will be marked at the 30-yard line, and no fair catches will be allowed. In the event a team wants to attempt an onside kick, it will have to inform officials of its intent and would then be allowed to use the NFL's traditional formation. No surprise onside kicks will be allowed."

If you're wondering what it'll look like, check out the share from ESPN's Adam Schefter of an XFL game that features this kind of kickoff play:

49ers didn't vote for new kickoff rule, but they might end up liking it anyway

The new rule passed by a vote of 29-3. According to Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer, the three dissenting teams were the Las Vegas Raiders, the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers:

It's not yet clear why the Niners voted against the rule change. Perhaps because they lost their primary return specialist from the last two years, wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, to free agency earlier in March.

That said, and as The Athletic's David Lombardi pointed out, the new kickoff format does resemble more of a traditional offensive play instead of the chaotic nature of traditional kickoffs from years prior.

Also mentioned by Lombardi, this could allow San Francisco to feature its most lethal offensive weapons, wide receiver Deebo Samuel and running back Christian McCaffrey, on special teams in return roles. Both players have a reputation for being explosive with the ball in their hands, and extra touches could mean bigger gains on kickoffs, even if it does come at the risk of increased injury chances.

It also might alleviate the 49ers' need to find a true replacement for McCloud, too.

In 2023, the Niners ranked 20th in average kick-return yards with 21.9. That data is likely to be scrambled aplenty in the wake of the latest rule change, which will turn special teams on its head.

Exactly how, though, is anyone's

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