The NFL’s New Kick Return Rule Is Good News for One Viking in 2024

Dec 26, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Kick returns have been a major topic of discussion in the NFL for years.

Over the past 30 years, many different rule changes have been put in place to try and adjust the play to make it safer while also ensuring excitement for it remains. However, return rates have steadily been on the decrease for multiple seasons, and 2023 resulted in the lowest kick return rates in league history.

As a result, the league has decided to put a new overhaul on the play for the 2024 season, which will emulate the XFL kickoffs of recent years.

NFL Approves New Kick Return Rules

NFL: NFL Draft
Apr 28, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell looks on during the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft at the NFL Draft Theater. Mandatory Credit: Gary Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

For this new rule, kickers will continue to kickoff from their own 35-yard line as they have since that was put in place back in 2011. However, the major change is that the other 10 players on the kicking team will line up at the receiving team’s 40-yard line.

Meanwhile, at least nine players on the receiving team with be in the “set-up zone” between their own 35 and 30-yard lines while a maximum of two players can line up in the “landing zone” between the goal line and the 20-yard line. Here is a visual of how kickoff alignments will now look:

The goal with this rule is to bring more returns back to the game while eliminating injuries that can occur with players running at full speed at each other for blocking purposes. Meanwhile, touchbacks will be heavily penalized as they result in the ball being placed at the receiving team’s 35-yard line.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals
Dec 16, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Minnesota Vikings place kicker Greg Joseph (1) kicks off against the Cincinnati Bengals in the second half at Paycor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of the Vikings’ roster construction, this is great news for return man Kene Nwangwu. The running back has yet to capture a role with Minnesota’s offense throughout his career, but he has a knack for putting together explosive plays as a kick returner.

Over his first three NFL seasons, Nwangwu has returned 68 kicks for 1879 yards (27.6 yards per return) while taking three kicks all the way to the house for touchdowns. He was named a second-team All Pro during the 2022 season for his efforts as he led the league with 35 returns.

Had kick returns continued to trend towards becoming obsolete, Nwangwu may have lost his spot on the Vikings roster considering he only has 27 carries throughout his NFL career with the offense, including just five during the 2023 season. With Aaron Jones joining Ty Chandler in the backfield, that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.

Kick Returns
Aug 27, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu (26) during the second half against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Regardless, the NFL kickoff will have a fresh new look during the 2024 season, and this should be considered a huge win for spring leagues such as the newly united XFL and USFL. The two leagues have merged to form the UFL, which kicks off on Saturday, March 30th.

The NFL is expected to reevaluate the rules again next offseason to see if any further tweaks need to be made.

Editor’s Note: Statistics for this article were found via Pro Football Reference.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.