XFL kickoff and punt returns way up, compared to NFL

Kevin SeifertESPN Staff Writer


Early returns on the XFL’s slew of rule changes reveal at least one significant takeaway. The effort to increase the number of kickoff and punt returns, compared to recent NFL averages, has been largely successful.Through the first eight games of the XFL’s 40-game season, 90.1% of kickoffs and 63.4% of punts have been returned. Last season in the NFL, 34.1% of kickoffs and 36.2% of punts were returned.

“It’s early in the season,” XFL commissioner Oliver Luck said Tuesday. “But we’ve had enough kickoffs and punts to begin to see some trends and get an idea of where things are going to be at the end of the season. The kicking numbers are really something that have crystallized right off the bat.”

XFL kickoffs feature the place-kicker alone at his own 30-yard line, from where touchbacks are less likely. The coverage and blocking teams line up across from each other between the returning team’s 30- and 35-yard lines, an alignment that minimizes high-speed collisions. The average drive after a kickoff return has started at the 30-yard line, five yards ahead of the 2019 NFL average.

The XFL has taken a two-pronged approach to punts. It has tried to discourage coaches from punting when in the “Go Zone” between the 40-yard lines. Any punt that goes out of bounds or into the end zone will be spotted at the 35-yard line, a rule that discourages attempts to pin opponents near their goal line. But when punts do occur, the XFL has tried to encourage returns over fair catches by requiring the entire coverage team to wait at the line of scrimmage until the ball is punted.

So far, 25% of the XFL’s punts have come from the “Go Zone.” That compares to 35% during the 2019 NFL season. Overall, Luck said that he hopes the punt-return rate would hit 80% by the end of the season.