This past offseason, the NFL Competition Committee changed the spot of the ball on a touchback after a kickoff from the 20-yard line to 25. Teams that stress special teams are going to have to shift their resources when formulating their rosters this season.
The rule will insure less kickoff returns, which means teams may choose not to employ kickoff returners and other specialists. They will just utilize what they have on their roster.
The new rule helps the Giants on coverage but hinders their return unit. Josh Brown, the Giants' placekicker, had the most kickoffs returned (54) last season and had only 37 touchbacks, 25th in the league.
On those 54 returns, the Giants held opponents to just 20.1 yards per, fifth-lowest in the NFL in 2015. They will be yielding five more yards per return should Brown choose to boot it as far as he can. He may opt for the "mortar" kick: A high, short kick aimed to pin the opponent back and induce a return.
'"I'm sure we are all going to research and see," Giants special teams coordinator Tom Quinn said when asked back in April what his strategy would be this season. "Obviously there [are] two schools of thought, one you bang it out and give them the ball at the 25 and the other one is you hang it up somewhere around the goal line with great hang time and location and you cover it and hope to gain -- tackle them inside the 20 or at the 20, so it is a five-yard swing there."
Quinn said he has been studying college tape to see which methods work best. The NCAA has used a similar touchback rule the last few seasons.
"They have had that rule for the last couple years and it is a mix," he said. "There are some teams that feel good about their athletic ability and hang it up there and try to keep it in and there are other teams that just bang it out so I think it will be a mix."
As for the receiving and returning end, the new rule will do very little for the Giants. Their return unit averaged 24.9 on 39 attempts last season, 10th best in the league. If the ball is in the end zone this season, however, it very likely they will attempt to take it out.
Last offseason, the Giants gave WR/KR Dwayne Harris a five-year, $17.5 million contract, which contains $7.1 million guaranteed and a $4 million signing bonus. That's a lot of money for guy who might return as few as 10 kickoffs under the new rule.
Harris was third in the NFL in kickoff return average with 28.7 yards per return on 36 attempts. The highlight, of course, was the Week 7 100-yard TD return against his former club, the Dallas Cowboys.
Harris' role will severely be diminished and he will have to establish himself as either a punt returner and as a backup receiver. To add to his challenges this season, the Giants signed RB Bobby Rainey, who averaged 24.7 YPR with Tampa Bay last season. Rainey is also a seasoned punt returner.