2020 Rules Changes and Points of Emphasis

The NFL is committed to protecting players from unnecessary risk, while keeping the game fair, competitive and exciting.

Learn about the 2020 rules changes – narrated by NFL Pro Football Hall of Famer Cris Carter. 

The NFL Competition Committee receives and considers input from coaches, general managers, owners, current players and NFL Legends, the NFL Players Association, medical personnel and the media, and conducts hours of discussion and film study before recommending changes to any rule.

During this process, the Committee asks several questions about each potential rule change:

  • Does the change improve the game?
  • How will it be officiated?
  • How will it be coached?
  • How can the player play by the rule?

The league reviews changes with players, coaches and officials during training camp and the NFL Officiating Clinic to help everyone adapt to the rule changes and points of emphasis. The Officiating Department also provides training videos for players and coaches with specific examples.

2020 NFL Rules Changes

Defenseless Players on Punts and Kickoffs

The Competition Committee voted to expand the rule that protects a player in a defenseless position to include a kickoff or punt returner who is attempting to field a kick in the air, but who has not had time to clearly become a runner. If the player can avoid or ward off impending contact, he is no longer defenseless.

Game Clock Start After Foul in Fourth Quarter

Beginning in the 2020 season, if the offense commits a foul after the ball is made ready for play and causes the clock to stop before a snap during the fourth quarter or overtime, the game clock will start on the snap. Previously, if the clock was stopped for a foul before the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter, the clock would start on the referee’s signal.

Replay Initiated by Replay Official

The Committee has made permanent that reviews of the following types of plays can only be initiated by the replay official, even if a foul on the play negates the ruling:

  • All try attempts
  • All scoring plays
  • All plays with an interception
  • All plays with a fumble or backward pass either recovered by an opponent or that goes out of bounds through the end zone.

Points of Emphasis

Use of Helmet

The Officiating Department will continue to emphasize the Use of Helmet rule, first adopted in 2018.

Video Rulebook: Use of Helmet

The officiating standards for the Use of Helmet rule are: 

  • Lowering the head (not to include bracing for contact)
  • Initiating contact with the helmet to any part of an opponent. Contact does not have to be to an opponent’s head or neck area — lowering the head and initiating contact to an opponent’s torso, hips, and lower body, is also a foul.
  • Making contact on an opponent (both offense and defense)

The Committee is in support of issuing warning letters for any Use of the Helmet fouls in the interior line.