Posted by Mike on December 7, 2012
Since there's been talk lately of eliminating kickoffs altogether and moving to a "4th and 15"-style play I've updated the Play Finder tool to include onside kick success and percentage in the kicker table. For instance, from 2000-2012 we show 757 onside kicks, with 149 of those recovered by the kicking team for a 19.7% success rate. Contrast that to all 4th and 15 plays since 2000, where we show 21 out of 93 plays converted to either first downs or touchdowns at a 22.6% success rate. Since 4th and 15 attempts are generally a desperation situation against a team that may be playing in a prevent defense (and thus willing to give up the 15 yards in order to keep the offense out of the end zone at all costs), let's look at conversion rates on 3rd and 15: we show a 15.7% success rate in converting those.
Of course one of the primary benefits of the onside kick is the "surprise" onside kick. Broadly defining that as any onside kick NOT in the 4th quarter we see those recovered by the kicking team at a 47.5% rate (though only attempted 158 times in 3381 total games, roughly once every 21.4 games).