First, I'm not making a comment here about whether I agree or disagree with the new rule change. Both sides have ample reasoning to support their claims, whether pro or con. It's a fait accompli, so teams will have to deal with both coaching their players toward the change, and dealing with possible penalty after effects.
While running backs bemoan the new rule, the biggest change is going to be on defense. It always is when tackling rules change, and I really don't see a running back's roll shifting much, other than in using their shoulders more and ball protection. It's the defensive players - like hard hitting linebackers and safeties - who'll be fight the animal-istic desire to take a receiver or running backs' heads off during a tackle. While blows to the head penalties for "defenseless" receivers has become the norm, the new rule will open the door to increased scrutiny by referees on every tackle.
If this is true, will teams be less inclined to pick a college player who's known for big time hits? It could, and though some will lean toward coaching as the solution - and it will be - the short term problem is adjusting what has become second nature for many player. While "coach-ability" has long been held as a potential barometer when gauging a college prospects draft status, it also adds - or subtracts depending on how you look at it - from a defensive player being seen as a "day one" starter. The more you have to teach a rookie, the less likely they'll be able to see a starting role on a team at the beginning of the season.
I've tossed around possible effects on hard hitting players in this coming NFL Draft, and I'm going to use a player named Khaseem Greene - an outside linebacker/safety prospect out of Rutger University. He played safety for two seasons before being moved to outside linebacker. While his production at linebacker has enhanced his value, he's kind of a "tweener" when it comes to how NFL teams are evaluating him, or at least he was before the rule change. Take a look at the hard hitting Greene, and make sure you study his initial contact style on a few of the featured plays.
Now to be fair, I did see quite a few tackle made using his arms, and not his helmet. This isn't meant to slam young Mr. Green in any way, and I'll follow this video with one that shows me a a great deal about his character. But will videos that show a player making helmet first contact drop their value? It's the question I'm grappling with right now, because when it comes to gauging possible draft picks, it's crucial to try and divine key positives or negatives a team might hold high on the evaluation lists. While few of you may think Greene projects as a safety at the NFL level, it's interesting to consider how the decision making tree for a player's potential could hinge on a rule change.
Let me add, Khaseem Greene is one of the players I've been watching. I think he'd be a great "in-the-box" safety for the St. Louis Rams, and worthy of consideration if he falls into the 3rd or 4th rounds. I'd like you to think about some of the hard hitting college players you've followed leading up to the coming NFL Draft. Now consider if a rule change might have shifted their value a bit, however slight.
I think it would be a shame if a great young player like Greene loses points with NFL scouts based on possible penalty yardage before they've interacted with their coaches at the next level. I also think there's something to be added to the "coachable" paradigm if a player is scene as an instinctive, versus technique driven.
Before I leave you with the video of Khaseem Green from the personal side, I'd like you to think about how a rule change can shift what is seen as high potential one year, and become a warning flag the next. This supposition could be baseless, but it was on my mind...