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What Is a Touchback In Football?

A touchback in football can often be seen on kickoffs as well as on offense and defense. It’s a ruling in football that moves the ball to a certain position on the field.

From the NFL Rulebook, “A touchback in football is when the ball becomes dead on or behind the goal line a team is defending, provided that the impetus comes from an opponent and that it is not a touchdown or an incomplete pass.” The ball is automatically reset at the 25-yard line for the offense.

In this article, we’re going to go through all the possible scenarios for a touchback.

Touchback On a Kickoff

A touchback on the kickoff is the most common type of touchback.

On a kickoff, a touchback occurs when the player on the receiving team catches the ball and takes a knee or runs out of the end zone. Once the receiving player takes a knee or runs out of the end zone, the ball is declared dead and will automatically be placed at the 25-yard line.

The receiving team’s offense will then come to the field, and the kicking team’s defense will come on to the field.

In college and the NFL, kickers have strong enough legs where they can reach the end zone. When the player receives the kick, they need to decide to take a touchback or return the kick.

Teams will often elect to take a touchback because it gives them a better field position to start their drive. Rarely will a returning player take the ball out from their end zone, as it may result in poor field position if the kickoff players aren’t blocked properly.

Only if the return team has a player they feel can impact the football game by returning the football will allow the player to return.

Players may also elect not to catch the football and let it roll out of the end zone. This is also considered a touchback; as long as no kickoff return players touch the football before reaching the end zone, they try to run it out.

Touchback On a Punt

Another common touchback is when the punting team punts the ball out of the end zone. As soon as the football crosses the opponent’s goal line after being punted, it is automatically ruled a touchback.

This is an exciting play in football, as players typically are acrobatic, trying to save the football from going into the end zone.

If the punting team touches the football and the ball travels into the end zone, this will also result in a touchback. The ball must stay in the field of play or out of bounds when punting to avoid a touchback.

Touchback On Offense

The second type of touchback is on offense. This type of play is rare, but it can happen. The most common offensive touchback is when the player fumbles out of the opponent’s end zone.

A perfect example of this is when DK Metcalf caught the football but celebrated a bit too early, which resulted in a receiver punching the ball out of his hands.

The ball rolled out of the end opponents’ end zone, which is automatically ruled a touchback.

Once the ball is fumbled out of the opponent’s end zone, the opposing team takes over possession, starting at the 25.

It’s a weird rule that may not make sense to some, but touchbacks on offense can hurt a drive.

Touchbacks on offense are also seen where offensive players try to dive for the pylon but lose control of the football and fumble it out of the end zone.

This happened to Cam Newton as he dove for the pylon and lost control of the football, ultimately fumbling it through the opponent’s end zone.

Touchback Rules In Football

If a touchback occurs, the ball is automatically brought to the 25-yard line.

After a touchback on a kickoff return, the returning offense will come on the field, and the kickoff defense will come on the field.

If the team fumbles the ball out of the opponent’s end zone on offense, the ball is then turned over to the other team, and their offense comes on the field.

Touchbacks play an important role in football as they help keep the football in play. If teams decide to kick the ball as far as they want, they may elect to have the other team take the ball at the 25-yard line.

If the other team has a dangerous returner, this may be a good idea to prevent him from making an explosive play. Kicking the ball deep into the end zone or deep enough not to return is beneficial to prevent the returner from making a big play.


Touchbacks can be seen in almost every NFL & college game. They’re really seen in high school games, as kickers don’t often have the leg strength to reach the end zone.

Touchbacks can help a field with starting position if they choose to take it. Oftentimes coaches will play it safe and have their returner take a knee to bring their offense onto the field and get the ball at the 25-yard line.

Sharon Jeffords

Monday 13th of September 2021

Sometimes the ball is placed on the 20yd line...why?

Alina Luong

Tuesday 12th of October 2021

@Sharon Jeffords, Usually in the NFL it is going to be 20, I don’t know if this is talking about high school football. But unless the ball is not caught or the player takes a kneel it is 20 yards. Otherwise the ball is live.