What is a fair-catch kick?
This is San Francisco 49ers kicker Phil Dawson lining up for a kickoff…but no! Wait! This isn’t a kickoff, it’s a fair-catch kick. A fair-catch kick is a kick attempt worth three points if it goes through the uprights.
When can it be used?
Rule 10 Section 2 Article 4 of the NFL Rulebook shows that there are two ways to put the ball in play after a fair catch is called.
Most teams snap the ball at the spot of the fair catch to start a drive, but in rare instances, a coach can elect to use the fair-catch kick.
How is this different from a field goal?
Like a field goal, the kick is worth three points if it goes through the uprights. Unlike a field goal, the ball can be dropkicked or held like a placekick.
The most important difference between a fair-catch kick and a field goal is that the defense cannot line up at the line of scrimmage, but instead must be 10 yards away from the kick.
Since the kick has virtually no shot at being blocked, the fair-catch kick is advantageous to the kicking team.
The fair-catch kick is ideal if your team is running out of time and if your kicker has a big leg.
Why isn’t the fair-catch kick used more?
One reason that coaches rarely call for a fair-catch kick is that if the kick is short, the defending team can run it back for a touchdown. Another reason? Eleven teams have attempted the fair-catch kick since the NFL merger, but only one team has been successful (San Diego Chargers in 1976). Statistically, this might not be the easiest way to score. Under the right circumstances though, why not give it a shot?