Listening to former return man Brian Mitchell tell it, players aren't the only ones suspected of juicing in the NFL. Mitchell told The Buffalo News that he suspects kickoff balls are being juiced to result in more touchbacks and reduce the volume of violent impacts that occur on those plays.
In 1999, the NFL began directly shipping K-balls to the officiating crew and guarded them like they were the president's nuclear codes to halt teams from their controversial methods that made them easier to kick.
Via The Buffalo News:
Twenty years later, is the shoe on the other foot? Mitchell claimed the K-balls could be altered at the factory at the league’s whim.
"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?"
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.
The "conspiracy" extends to field goals as well according to The Big Lead.
In 2011, the same year as the kickoff rules changes were implemented, kickers made 64.3% of their kicks from at least 50 yards away, the highest rate ever. The previous five years, kickers had made 53.4% of the same kicks.
It's an intriguing idea, which only someone who spent his entire career on special teams would have noticed. Each of ours eyes have been opened. The NFL has denied Mitchell's claims, but it's something worth keeping an eye on.
Listen to Brian Mitchell's discussion he had with TSL Sports Talk a few weeks ago below: