Getty Images

The NFL kickoff will be different in 2024 since the league's competition committee added new rules this offseason

These new rules came to be because touchbacks became more expected on kickoff returns than actual returns themselves. The rules incentivize action and returns -- and tackling -- will be more important than ever, particularly on the last line of defense for the kicking team. 

That's why the back-to-back Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs have decided to insert safety Justin Reid as their new kickoff man. He filled in for kicker Harrison Butker in this capacity at different moments in the 2022 and 2023 seasons because of injury. Reid went 1 of 2 on extra points in Week 1 of the 2022 season at the Arizona Cardinals, a 44-21 Chiefs victory. His seven career kickoffs have traveled an average of 63.6 yards, and Reid has recorded five touchbacks. 

"The advantage for us is that if I'm doing the job, which is what we're planning on doing, then I can fill that last gap, so it makes it a little bit easier, and nobody needs to win two gaps," Reid said on the "Green Light with Chris Long" podcast on Tuesday.  "We're in a great place with it. Although I know he [Butker] can make some tackles, I think he's excited to preserve himself, and we can use him where we really need him, which is those fourth-quarter situations to go nail a 60-yard field goal and win the game. It would be devastating to try and trot a guy out there who's still nicked up from trying to make a tackle in the second quarter."

With kickoff coverage units lined up at the receiving team's 40-yard line, and only the kicker back at his own 35-yard line and being unable to cross midfield until the ball is in play -- which is if the returner catches it or if the ball hits the ground in the landing zone or if the ball gets to the end zone -- having a reliable tackler back there is now more important. 

"Justin can cover, he can kick, and he can go down there and make tackles," Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. "He's an extra guy they're probably not accounting for. ... A guy like Justin is a guy they have to worry about. They have to get him blocked and they have to give up blocking someone else."  

"The whole dynamic of hang time has completely flipped," Reid said. "Normally, on kickoff, kickers are great at trying to have a four-second hang time to give guys time to get down the field, but now you're trying to keep the ball as low as possible while still in play. You're trying to get it to hit the ground because when the ball hits the ground, that's now your hang time. Guys can take off at that point and however much time it takes the returner to pick up the ball, that's them wasting time."

Ultimately, Reid, a six-year NFL veteran, feels like he could have an even longer pro football career than he could have imagined because of the rules changes. More teams may follow the Chiefs' example and look for defensive players who happen to have been youth soccer players growing up

"We might have added some time to my career. You might've extended my show a couple years," the 27-year-old Reid said. "When I'm done being the starting guy on safety, I can turn into that rotational third safety and also be a kickoff specialist."