Hitting the punter (NFL rules)

When does it become legal to hit the punter?

Immediately after he has kicked the ball if a receiving team player runs into him it is either a 5 yard or 15 yard penalty. But at some point the receiving team has the ball and the punter might actually try to make a tackle and, I’m assuming, it is now legal to block him. When is that transition?

As long as the ball isn’t in possession of either team, the punter is still considered a kicker, and is immune from intentional contact.

So once the other team has possession the kicker is free game? Any idea where I can find that in the rules?

Check the NFL Rules on the section ‘Kicking from Scrimmage’

What if the punted ball isn’t fielded but allowed to roll and still hasn’t come to a stop? The punter well may be running downfield but the ball isn’t in the other team’s posession. What then? Surely he can’t be allowed to hit without being a target himself.

ETA: Hmmm… it says “unless contact is caused by the kicker’s own motions”. Maybe that covers it.

The NFL doesn’t publish its complete rule book, which makes it difficult to answer questions. The college rule is (9-4-a-5) “The kicker of a scrimmage kick loses protection as a kicker when he has had a reasonable time to regain his balance.” I believe the pro rule is similar, if not identical.

Despite the rule, there’s a fairly strong ethical standard that you don’t blast punters unless they’re really trying to make a tackle. Nobody wants to get their own punter clocked in retaliation.

Oddly enough, NFL 12.2.6 does not address when the kicker stops being a “kicker”

6.2.5, which refers to running into a kicker on kickoffs, says you can hit him after he regains his balance.

In equity, I imagine this is applied to scrimmage kicks as well.

Little trivia - in the CFL, if punter can field his own kick, his team retains possession. So the receiving team has to block the punter.

I can’t access YouTube here at work, but there is a clip of a Philadelphia Eagles punter getting absolutely drilled. It was a legal block, but the commentators found the hit to be in very bad taste. If someone can please find the link and post it, great. If not, I will when I get home.

Here we go: Punter Sav Rocca gets blocked into oblivion

The punter, or anyone else onside to the kick,

Definitely not a legal block. Helmet-to-helmet contact? That’s the kind of thing that gets not just penalties, but fines later.