There were 13 punts returned for touchdowns last season in the NFL, as well as 7 kickoff return touchdowns. Each and every one of these special teams plays had huge effects on the games they happened in, and these plays can really determine the outcome of a game.
They can even win a game, as we saw in 2010 when DeSean Jackson stunned the Giants and the entire NFL with this return.
But what if there was a way to prevent these plays from happening?
While there is no way to shut them down completely, there is one way to help stop them.
To find this, we must look at the reason they happen in the first place. While poor awareness, laziness, and bad tackling can all be accredited with their fair share of touchdown returns allowed, the main reason is that the kicking team is always one man down.
These punters and kickers are specialists, trained to do one thing and one thing only (kicking or punting). As soon as their jobs in the play are over, they become ghosts on the field, serving only as jerseys in the crowd. They cannot make a difference when pursuing a returner or making a tackle.
Well, lucky for the NFL, there is a whole sport-sized crop of players who have the polished skills of punting and kicking, yet also can dish out some real punishment in a tackle.
This sport, of course, is rugby, the gentleman’s sport of Western Europe and the pasttime of Australia and New Zealand. The sport has already produced a few NFL players, including Hayden Smith of the New York Jets, Stevan Bradley of the Philadelphia Eagles, and Super Bowl winner Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens.
The position in rugby that does the majority of the kicking is called the fly half. One of the best fly halfs in the game at the moment is British national Owen Farrell. Farrell is an extremely talented kicker for his English club team, Saracens FC.
But Farrell, who stands at a massive 6″2″ and 211 pounds, doesn’t just kick the ball. He does a lot more than that.
Imagine if a team had Farrell serving as their punter and/or kicker. We would see a whole lot more hits from him and prevented punt / kick returns and a whole lot less of this.
The addition of these big hitters and players who are willing to contribute in the coverage would prove wonders for special teams defense.
While the possibility of other positions being filled by rugby players is also an option, rugby-NFL crossover players would best be served on a special teams role, whether it be kicker/punter or chaser.
In a league where every yard matters, teams can no longer afford to have a risk in their special teams plays. The need for capable, tough players at every position on the field is as big as it ever was, and teams need to take advantage of the first true overseas crop of possible NFL players.