2018 NFL Rule Change Grades

Grading the NFL Rule Changes

Updated March 28, 2018
By Walt – @walterfootball

Last year, I graded nine rule changes, so I thought I would do the same this year. I’ll delve into the two big rule changes – catch rule, ejections for targeting – and I’ll also discuss some of the rule changes the media didn’t really touch on.

1. Revised standard for a catch

Kenny went on a lengthy rant about this in our podcast episode for this week, which should be posted in the coming hours. In short, it’s pretty ridiculous that it took the NFL eight years to finally make this rule change. Once the Calvin Johnson reception in 2010 was ruled incomplete, the league should’ve made adjustments.

That said, it’s better late than never. Now, catches are granted if a receiver controls the ball, establishes himself inbounds and performs a “football move,” whether that’s a third step or a lunge of some sort. There might be some debate as to what a “football move” is, but I think we can all agree that the NFL will be better off with a simplified standard for a reception. Everyone should know what a catch is, and I think we’ll have a better idea of that now.

NFL Rule Change Grade: A

2. Fifteen-yard penalty for lowering the head to initiate contact

Player safety is paramount, so if this leads to fewer concussions, I’m all for it. What’s more interesting is this next rule change, which will work in conjunction with this one…

NFL Rule Change Grade: A

3. NFL command center can eject players for helmet-to-helmet hits

I like the spirit of this rule. It’s made to protect the players, which is the most important thing. If a crazed individual like Vontaze Burfict is out there headhunting, he deserves to be ejected. That sort of conduct on the football field needs to stop.

However, I’m concerned that the enforcement of this rule will be abused. I believe we’ll see situations where there are accidental helmet-to-helmet hits, and the players are ejected for it. Imagine if Luke Kuechly or Sean Lee is kicked out of a game for an unintentional hit, and then their team loses as a result. That would be horrible. Malcolm Jenkins had that sort of instance against Brandin Cooks in the Super Bowl. Had Jenkins been thrown out, the Eagles may have lost.

In summary, I’m fine with this rule change if the NFL only ejects repeat offenders like Burfict on blatantly intentional hits. Unfortunately, I have a bad feeling that the league is going to screw this up somehow, and we’re going to have way too many ejections from an overzealous command center.

NFL Rule Change Grade: C-

4. Touchbacks will permanently be on the 25-yard line

This rule has been in place for two years as a temporary measure. It is now a permanent rule change.

Last year, the Redskins attempted to have a rule passed where a team would start on the 20-yard line if the kicker happened to boot the ball in between the uprights on a kickoff. The proposed rule was rejected, but I think it would’ve been cool. It would make kickoffs, which have become extremely boring, at least somewhat more entertaining, and it also would incentivize kickers not to try one of those blooping attempts that lands on the 5-yard line and doesn’t give the opposition any sort of chance to return it anywhere.

At any rate, I think this is perfectly fine. I’d prefer to have kickoffs more exciting, but this rule wouldn’t affect that at all. Revitalizing kickoff returns would entail moving the kicking team back five yards, but that’s not going to happen until significant advances are made in preventing concussions.

NFL Rule Change Grade: A-

5. No extra points at the end of regulation

Thank the lord. If you have +6.5, you won’t be sweating it out if a team scores a touchdown on the final play of the game to break a tie. Now, the victorious team can just celebrate, while the losers won’t be asked to come back out of the locker room. Asking them to do so in the past was absolutely ridiculous.

This is an A+ all the way. In full disclosure, however, I lost an opportunity to win $2,500 because of the previous rule. I was in a season-long picking pool with Awesome Kelly from Arizona, and we tied for first and split the pot three ways. Had this new rule been in place, we would have won the pool outright because the Eagles wouldn’t have kicked an extra point at the very end of regulation against the Raiders in Week 16. As you can tell, I may have a gambling problem.

NFL Rule Change Grade: A+

Withdrawn rule: 15-yard penalty for pass interference

The Jets proposed a rule change that would change all pass interference penalties to 15 yards, rather than spot fouls. This seemed like a good idea, but it wasn’t passed. The concern other teams had was that defensive backs would commit intentional pass interferences to stop big plays, and I can understand the worry there. However, I think some sort of compromise should have been made. Like, maybe in the final five minutes of a game, the command center can rule if there’s an egregious pass interference penalty way downfield – i.e. like an intentional foul in basketball – and rule that a spot foul instead of a 15-yard infraction.

I’m not exactly sure what the solution should be, but I think the NFL needs to improve its current enforcement for pass interference because 50-yard penalties seem like a bad idea.

NFL Withdrawn Rule Grade: C

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