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The New Running Back Rule: What It Is And What It Isn't

There are many half truths and flat out lies being spread about the NFL's new RB rule. What is the new rule actually?

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL's owners just finished finalizing new rules for the 2013 season. The "tuck rule" is now gone, which is a great move by the league in my opinion. The NFL also made one other major change -- RBs, or anyone carrying the ball, cannot lead with the crown of their helmet.

As with all rules changes that deal with hits to the head, players and fans alike are accusing the league of going soft again.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>In order to lower ur shoulder u obviously have to lower ur head. It's a way of protecting ur self from a tackler and a way to break tackles</p>&mdash; Matt Forte (@MattForte22) <a href="">March 17, 2013</a></blockquote>

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>@<a href="">ipead</a> get ready for FLAG FOOTBALL</p>&mdash; Fredrick Saunders (@FredakaSmoooth) <a href="">March 20, 2013</a></blockquote>

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This is the same type of mentality we saw when the NFL started cracking down on hits to the head by defenders.

What is missing here for these people is the reality of the situation. There are two key factors with this rule: 1. Concussions and 2. The new rules doesn't really change what a runner can do.


Concussions are terrible and that is almost the extent of knowledge we have about them. Science still needs time to fully understand concussions and how to properly diagnose and treat them.

About 4000 former players are currently suing the league over concussion issues. There are also thousands of families keeping their sons (and daughters mind you) from playing football due to risk of concussions.

The future of the NFL is at stake, and the owners know this. The issue of concussions can no longer be ignored. Football needs to take action.

We have already seen the new kickoff rule reduce concussions along with the new rules limiting full contact practices.

The NFL then decided not to allow defensive players to make themselves projectiles by leading with their helmets on tackles. Wouldn't it then make sense to make the rule the same for offensive players? I believe so.

What the rule actually changes

The new rule does not make it illegal for a running back to duck his head and it doesn't automatically penalize him for making contact with other players with his helmet. This is what the new rule is...

"It is a foul if a runner or tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players are clearly outside the tackle box (an area extending from tackle to tackle and from three yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team's end line). Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or tackler against an opponent shall not be a foul."

This rule does not make it so a running back can no longer lower his shoulder to break tackles or duck down to protect himself. What this rule does is make is so a running back cannot lower his head like a bull and use his helmet to hit someone. That's it. That's the rule change.

Does this change how RBs will play? Yes, but only in a extremely small way. Will it change the physicality of RBs? No. Under the new rules, these runs are still legal.

This is an example of what would now be an illegal run. He leads with the crown of his helmet and makes a forcible blow. 15 yards and I have no problem with it.