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Onside kick: Success rate doesn’t make it exciting

By Lee Cleveland - January 23, 2023

For decades in the NFL, teams had only one option after scoring a touchdown.

The extra point.

It equated to about a 19/20 yard field goal and the seasonal success rate was usually between 98 and 99 percent.

Finally, for the 1994 season, the NFL introduced the two-point conversion which made the game much more exciting.

And in 2016, the NFL decided to spice things up yet again, forcing one-point conversion kicks to be taken 32/33 yards from the goalposts, adding about 14/15 yards from the previous standard to make it a bit more difficult and less predictable. As a result, its success rate has dropped several percentage points and added a little intrigue to extra-point kicks.

In 2020, the success rate of one-point (or kick) conversions was 92.9%. And in 2019, kickers connected on just 93.9% of one-point conversions.

Good job, NFL.

Now, it’s time for the league to address the onside kick. It’s not nearly as mundane as the pre-1994 point after touchdown, but the NFL can make things more exciting by further tweaking rules to counter recently-amended adjustments that have made onside kick results a little too predictable.

Onside kick primary rule: The ball has to travel at least 10 yards before the kicking team can recover it. Hence, a kickoff from the 35-yard line means the receiving team can’t touch the ball until it reached the 45-yard line.

Addendum: In an effort to improve player safety, the kicking team, starting in the 2018 season, was not allowed to get a running start. Moreover, kicking teams can’t load one side of the field with extra players; Hence, teams must line up five players on each side of the kicker, and at least two of them on each side must be lined between the numbers and the hash.

As a result of the rule changes, onside kicks in 2018 were successful just 6 percent of the time. The previous year the success rate was 21 percent while last year, in 2019, onside kicks were recovered 12.7 percent of the time.

Overall, for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, only 12 in 115 (10.4%) onside kick attempts were recovered by the kicking team.

Are onside kicks becoming too predictable these days?

Professional sports thrive on excitement and unpredictability so the NFL should consider further changes to spice up that part of the game.

To keep fans on edge during onside kicks, the NFL should consider changes that would boost the success rate from 10 percent to 20 – 30 percent.