Skip to main content

NFL tested optical tracking devices for line-to-gain rulings during 2023 season

The days of the chain gang measuring first downs in the NFL could soon be numbered.

The league tested optical tracking in two stadiums this past season -- and during Super Bowl LVIII at Las Vegas' Allegiant Stadium -- for line-to-gain rulings, NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero reported on Thursday, citing league officials.

Pelissero reported the technology is not expected to be ready to be used during the 2024 season, and it would require a vote from ownership to be implemented.

The use of a metal chain to determine first downs has been a league-staple throughout the history of the sport, but its usage has been under scrutiny as technology has advanced.

Other technologies could soon find their way into NFL games, including a replay system with high-resolution cameras along the goal line, sideline and end lines in addition to a Skeletrack System tracking the ball, players and officials, per Pelissero. Smart watches with haptics to support officials also has been vetted and could be utilized this upcoming season.

Here are other potential rule changes following NFL competition committee meetings this week in Indianapolis:

  • NFL special teams coordinators are set to meet this weekend to try to craft modified kickoff rules with the hope of having a formal proposal in place for discussion by the middle of next week, Pelissero reported on Thursday. Revamping the kickoff play has been a priority for the league this offseason. NFL executive VP of football operations Troy Vincent told reporters in December that kickoffs had become "a dead ceremonial play" following rule changes to reduce injuries on the play. Only 22% of kickoffs were returned last season, and there were no kickoff returns during the Kanas City Chiefs' win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII earlier this month. One idea bandied about could be a version of the XFL kickoff model, which has the kicker kicking from the 30-yard line while the rest of the kickoff team begins at the opposing 35-yard line, separated from 10 members of the receiving team by 5 yards. Multiple onside kick options are also under discussion.
  • No changes are expected to the rule that an unrecovered fumble through the end zone results in a touchback for the defensive team, per Pelissero.
  • While the tush-push play remains a concern for the league's player health and safety committee, there is not expected to be a proposal from the competition committee calling for the elimination of the play, Pelissero reported.
  • There is expected to be a rule proposal that will outlaw the hip-drop tackle, per Pelissero. The play is defined by three components: grab, swivel and dropping weight on the back of the ankle. The penalty would only be called when it is clear and obvious that all three components are present, Pelissero added.

Any proposed rule changes would be subject to a vote as early as next month's Annual League Meeting.

Related Content