At the NFL meetings in Atlanta yesterday, the league’s owners voted to approve two rule change proposals. One of the modified rules will alter the way kickoffs are played (at least in 2018; the rule is up for reevaluation next year) and it would not be a surprise if the New England Patriots felt good about it. After all, they invested in one of the league's best returnmen earlier this offseason – and his value might have just increased a bit more.
In March, New England sent a fifth-round draft choice to the Oakland Raiders to acquire wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and a sixth-round selection. While Patterson never quite lived up to his first-round status as an offense weapon, he did turn into one of the NFL's most prolific kickoff returners: The two-time All-Pro selection owns a return average of 30.2 yards per runback and returned five kicks for scores since entering the league in 2013.
Under the new set of rules and considering how the alterations might impact the play, Patterson might become even more dangerous as a kickreturner: Eliminating the running start for the kicking team, for example, will slow down the entire procedure and give returners more time to process and react to defensive schemes. Furthermore, spreading out coverage units in even 5x5 sets could also create more space for them to operate in.
Patterson has already shown that he is capable of being a productive returner under the seemingly more competitive “old” rules. With new rules in place now – guidelines that appear to favor the receiving team – his impact could become a bigger one than initially anticipated when New England made the trade to acquire him. Both the player and the team should therefore be happy about the rule change.
The Patriots, more so than any other team in the NFL, have always been able to adapt quickly to change and now have a truly elite player to take advantage of the newly implemented kickoff rules. The 27-year old, meanwhile, could excel under the 2018 version of the rulebook: His breakaway speed and vision as a ballcarrier might become even more highly-valued traits with a new kickoff format in place.
The NFL's owners, therefore, might have just increased Patterson's chances of making New England's 53-man roster as a depth wideout and the team's primary kickoff returner. He still will need to beat out his competition over the course of the next three-plus months to earn one of the spots on the team, but his prowess as a kickreturner in combination with the new rules governing the play could give him a significant advantage over his competition.