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Oakland Raiders Jacoby Ford (12) celebrates his touchdown off of a kick-off return against the Indianapolis Colts in the first quarter at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. on Sunday, December 26, 2010. (Nhat V. Meyer/ Mercury News)

Raiders kick returner Jacoby Ford might want to sit down for this. Actually, taking a knee would be more fitting.

NFL owners passed a rule Tuesday that cripples the play-making ability of high-speed, kickoff returners such as Ford.

Kickoffs will be moved up five yards, from the 30-yard line to the 35. More touchbacks will ensue. Better safety will be the heralded cause. And returners will morph into simple receivers who become gun shy about taking balls out of the end zone.

This is not good for Ford or the Raiders.

As a rookie last season, he returned a kickoff for a touchdown in three of the Raiders' final four home games, the last coming on the opening kickoff of a Dec. 26 loss to Indianapolis.

Returns will decline 10 percent, as predicted by NFL competition committee chair Rich McKay.

Ford, a fourth-round draft pick out of Clemson and sub-4.3-second sprinter out of the Indianapolis scouting combine, returned 53 kickoffs for 1,280 yards. He didn't return a punt, but perhaps he should so the Raiders can maximize his talents.

Ford found his way into the end zone two other ways, scoring two touchdown runs and two touchdown receptions.

"The advent of Jacoby Ford gives us another bright, young star," Raiders patriarch Al Davis said Jan. 18. "I wish I could put No. 21 on him and make him the reincarnation (of Cliff Branch). I don't know if I can, but we're going to try."

Branch never returned a kickoff for a touchdown, however.

"They don't want to put the ball in the air to Jacoby Ford. And so, it's a weapon," Davis added. "We've gotta' use it, we gotta' do it better. ... We knew about him, but we didn't use him for a long time until he became a factor. And he had to prove to us, not us get him to prove to the teams that we're playing that he can do it. You can't just scout speed, you gotta' have it."

Ford's return skills the put him among the league's elite, including the Chicago Bears' Devin Hester and the Cleveland Browns' Josh Cribbs, both of whom criticized the new kickoff rule on their Twitter sites and on ESPN.

Ford wrote on his Twitter account: "Might as well just start at the 20yd line!"

Historically, he already rates among the most explosive returners ever in the Bay Area. He is the Raiders' best if you count touchdown returns. Ford's three are the most in Raiders' history, whether that's single season or combined tenure. Justin Miller had two kickoff returns for TDs in 2008, and Terry Kirby had one in both 2001 and '02.

Kickoff returners don't have long shelf lives. Each return, each year is vital.

A contrarian view of this new rule portrays the possibility of longer returns bolstered by better blocking, based in part how coverage teams are now allowed only a five yard running start on kickoffs (instead of 10 to 15-yard starts).

But Ford ranked only 39th in the league with an average of 24.2 yards per return. A higher average would indicate better blocking on a consistent basis.

Across the Bay, the 49ers once had a kick returner with three touchdowns in a season, Abe Washington in 1963. Since then, the 49ers haven't exactly had riveting returners, with apologies to Dexter Carter, Carl Monroe, Dana McLemore, etc.

Ted Ginn Jr. averaged 21.1 yards per kickoff return last season, ranking 74th. The 49ers' best returner these past eight seasons of non-winning football: Allen Rossum, who ranked eighth in the league in 2008 with a 26.8 average that was boosted by a 104-yard touchdown return against the Arizona Cardinals.

Cedrick Wilson had the 49ers' only other kickoff return for a touchdown beside Rossum's this decade. Wilson's came in 2003 against the St. Louis Rams.

Two in a decade? Yep.

Ford had three in his first season. Can he get three more in his career after this rule change? If so, he will have to go five yards longer each time.

The bigger question, of course, is exactly when or if the NFL will feature another kickoff pending a break in the labor lockout.

The Raiders certainly didn't catch a break Tuesday. And we didn't even get into how kicker Sebastian Janikowski's deep kickoffs won't be such a rarity anymore in the league.

Contact Cam Inman at cinman@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/CamInman