New Draft Order, More Rule Changes

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This year, the Ravens hold the 26th spot in April's NFL Draft.

That was determined after the team finished 11-5 during the regular season, regardless of its run to the AFC Championship.

Such playoff success could work against teams in the future.

The NFL Owners Meeting concluded Wednesday with clubs passing the proposal that would reshuffle the picks from No. 21 to No. 30 based on their postseason performance.

Because the Ravens got so far last year, they would select 30th according to the new directive, which will take place in 2010.

Previously, teams were ranked inversely because of their record, with only the Super Bowl winner and loser guaranteed the 32nd and 31st position, respectively.

Now, clubs that advance to the conference championships will pick 29th and 30th, the divisional round losers earn the 25th through 28th spots, and 21st through 24th go to the Wild Card losers. The reseeding will follow the inverse records each playoff team.

The proposal really gained momentum when the AFC West champion San Diego Chargers made the postseason, but still got the 16th-overall selection after posting an 8-8 record. They are also picking ahead of five clubs that were left out, as well as the Indianapolis Colts, who were eliminated in the first round by San Diego.

Owners approved the change in draft order by a unanimous vote.

In addition, there were several other rules that were tweaked during the Owners Meetings this week.

  • In what is being called the "Hochuli Rule," instant replay is now allowed to be used to determine if a quarterback fumbled or attempted a pass when the initial call on the field is incomplete pass.

The unanimous approval stemmed from a Week 2 matchup between the Chargers and Denver Broncos, when referee Ed Hochuli mistakenly ruled Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler had thrown an incomplete pass. Replays showed he had fumbled, and the Chargers had recovered the ball. A short time later, the Broncos were able to win the game.

  • A team can challenge whether a kickoff, punt or loose ball hit the sideline.
  • All illegal onside kicks will result in the receiving team getting the ball instead of a penalty being called and a re-kick.
  • The referee will start the clock as soon as he places the ball down after a fumble or lateral goes out of bounds.
  • Teams will no longer get a second chance at an onside kick if the first attempt goes out of bounds. That previously had applied only to the final five minutes of a game.

Player Safety Rule Changes

  • Blindside blocks cannot be delivered by the helmet, forearm or shoulder to an opponent's head or neck. Doing so will result in a 15-yard penalty.
  • Illegal contact to the head of a receiver will also garner a 15-yard penalty.
  • On kickoffs, teams can no longer have five or more players bunched up to pursue an onsides kick.
  • Finally, no blocking wedge on kickoffs can have more than two players or a 15-yard penalty will be assessed.

The wedge rule will have a major impact on how special teams coaches draw up their game plans in 2009. Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg and assistant Marwan Maalouf immediately got to work on the playbook when the rule change was announced.

"It's going to affect everyone, to some extent," said Rosburg. "We're still in an adjustment period as to how we're going to coach it. Some teams will have to make a wholesale change because they always use a three- or four-man wedge. Some teams will only have to change a little bit.

"It will change the look of kickoff returns because you're not going to see the mass of humanity running in front of the returner."

Last season, the Ravens primarily used defensive tackle Justin Bannan as the wedge captain in the middle, with linebacker Jarret Johnson and tight end Edgar Jones flanking him.

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