Former Player Suggests NFL 'Juicing' Footballs Used for Kicking
Former NFL special teams great Brian Mitchell suggested last week that the NFL may be "juicing" footballs used for kickoffs and field goals. His comments may reverberate more after Denver's Matt Prater set an NFL record with a 64-yard field goal on Sunday.
Mitchell told The Buffalo News that he thinks the NFL wants more touchbacks on kickoff returns and may be doctoring the special footballs used only for kicking.
The News noted that so-called "K-balls" were introduced in 1999 because players and equipment managers were manipulating game balls, and the NFL wanted to halt the shenanigans. Back then, the NFL wanted thrilling returns, and kickers and punters reportedly often complained that the "K-balls were too waxy and stiff, didn’t travel as far and permitted juicier return opportunities."
Now, the NFL does not want as many kickoff returns to reduce concussions, and Mitchell suggested that the K-balls could be altered to make the football travel further, which can impact field goals as well.
"There are guys that couldn't kick the ball in the end zone when they were kicking from the 30," Mitchell said. "Now they're at the 35 and kicking it out of the end zone. Is it leg strength, or are the footballs doctored up now?"
The News noted that "touchback percentages not only skyrocketed in 2011 compared to the previous season, but also compared to the last time the NFL kicked off from the 35-yard line." In 1993, the NFL also allowed three-inch tees. Only one-inch tees are allowed now, which means "kickers are blasting the ball farther and more consistently off a shorter tee."
"What is the league doing?" Mitchell said. "I know these kickers ain't got that strong that quick. It doesn't add up. It does seem like they’re trying to take kickoffs out of the game, doesn't it?"
When the News told Mitchell that two NFL spokesmen said the K-balls were "introduced specifically to prevent tampering," Mitchell texted: "LOL."
An analysis by TheBigLead also found that the five oldest kickers in the NFL "have made more 50+ yard field goals in the last three years" than they collectively made in the entire previous decade." The study found that "from 2001 to 2010, this group was slightly below average at making really long kicks (45%). Over the last three years, they have been an astronomical 74%."