Source: Only eight of 19 supposed concussions on kickoff plays could be seen on film
The NFL’s push for further changes to the kickoff play came in large part from the fact that 19 concussions happened during kick returns in 2022. But there’s an important caveat to that.
Per a league source with knowledge of the situation, only eight of the concussions could be actually spotted with the human eye.
For the other 11, there was no evidence on film that a concussion happened during a kick return. It could have happened during the week. It could have happened at other times during the game.
None of the other 11 were reported at the time they supposedly happened. In most cases, the player who supposedly suffered a concussion during a kickoff return left the field in a way that suggested he was perfectly fine.
Some who oppose the latest change, which allows a fair catch between the goal line and the 25 to become first-and-10 possession at the 25, believe the league is deliberately fudging the numbers in order to support the change that was made. Then, next year, the numbers will be properly counted and, if/when they are lower, the league will claim that the rule change reduced concussions.
Some wonder when that will be the case. The concern is that, before the fair catch is called, there will potentially be head impacts by and among the players who are jockeying for position. Obviously, the kick coverage team can’t lollygag under the assumption of a fair catch; otherwise, they’ll potentially get burned by a return specialist who decides to take off with the ball.
So the players will have to block and try to get past blocks before the hand goes in the air for a fair catch. Even then, the players covering the kick will want to be in position to recover a muff.
These are all problems with this new rule. The biggest problem is that the factual foundation on which this current rule change was based is deeply flawed, with more than half of the 19 concussions on kickoff returns possibly not happening on kickoff returns at all.