NFL helmet testing: 5 models deemed highest-performing ever, 6 others banned (Paywall)

The Washington Post

April 9, 2024

The helmet options for NFL players next season will include five newly developed models that outperformed all existing helmets in laboratory testing simulating on-field impacts, according to testing results compiled by the league and the NFL Players Association.

Those five high-performing models are among 12 new helmet models available to players for the 2024 season that were evaluated, officials said.

Eight of those 12 models are position-specific helmets developed for quarterbacks or offensive or defensive linemen.

Some of the best-performing helmet models would enable any player who wears one to avoid the NFL requirement for players to wear protective Guardian Caps over their helmets during practice.

The latest round of annual testing by the NFL and NFLPA also will lead to about 10 percent of players leaguewide being required to change their preferred helmet models over the next year. Those players wear helmets that were moved to the “prohibited” or “not recommended” categories, based on the testing results, as helmet technology and testing performances improve.

“We’re most excited about the pace of innovation among helmets, the level of protection offered to our players in general and then the level of position specificity being offered by the manufacturers for the first time,” said Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy.

The league and union oversee the testing conducted by jointly appointed biomechanical experts with Biocore LLC. The testing results are depicted in posters displayed in teams’ locker rooms.

“We’ve seen about 10 times the rate of innovation in the helmet space since before we started issuing these posters,” said Ann Bailey Good, a senior engineer for Biocore.

The lab testing evaluates a helmet’s ability to absorb impacts that replicate concussion-causing impacts on the playing field, based on the study of about 2,000 such hits. Five of the new helmet models performed better in the testing than any helmet ever worn in the league, officials said.

This year, for the first time, four different helmet posters will be on display for players, reflecting the proliferation of position-specific helmets.

There will be one poster for the overall helmet-testing results and one each for the results of the testing for quarterbacks, offensive linemen and defensive linemen.

“For the position-specific posters, we’re trying to replicate the specific impacts that those positions are seeing,” Good said. “That should really cater to the education of those individual positions so that they can understand how helmets are performing specifically for the impacts that they’re going to sustain on-field.”

The 2024 season will be the third in which NFL players have position-specific helmets available. Nine quarterbacks and approximately 20 linemen wore such models last season. Officials said they hope those numbers will increase with the greater variety of position-specific models becoming available.

“There is an increased personalization aspect of this that includes the position-specific attributes,” said Thad Ide, Riddell’s executive vice president of research and product development. “I think that train has already started, and I think it will continue.”

A new helmet model made by Riddell tops the overall testing results. That new model also has position-specific versions for quarterbacks and offensive and defensive linemen. It uses the manufacturer’s personalization technology — also used in previous Riddell helmets — that incorporates scans taken of the player’s head.

“It’s great to see it topping the poster because I think that will help drive adoption at the league level, which of course will help drive adoption in college and benefit high-schoolers and youth players,” Ide said. “It’ll help drive the newest and best-performing helmets onto the field at all those levels of play as well.”

A new helmet model manufactured by Xenith tops the testing results for offensive and defensive linemen. A new model by Vicis is the top-rated model in the quarterback-specific testing.

Officials said the next position-specific helmet to be developed, based on planned testing, could be a model or models for wide receivers and defensive backs.

The NFL will waive requirements for players to wear Guardian Caps during practice for those who choose one of six specified new helmet models.

“There are [six] helmets that performed so well in laboratory testing that they would outperform a traditionally well-performing helmet plus a Guardian Cap,” Miller said.

The NFL and NFLPA placed six other helmet models into the prohibited category. Players no longer can wear those helmets next season. Less than 1 percent of players leaguewide wore those helmet models last season, officials said.

In all, about 10 percent of players wore helmet models last season that now are prohibited or not recommended. Players who wore a helmet model last season that is now in the “not recommended” category have one year to change; no player who did not wear that helmet model last season can begin wearing it during the 2024 season.

“Our goal in the offseason … is to share as much information as possible with the clubs and the players so that they can make choices for the betterment of their specific position and their own health,” Miller said.

NFL players suffered 219 concussions last season, according to the league’s injury data. That was roughly on par with the 213 from the 2022 season but remains down sharply from the 2015 to 2017 seasons, when the annual number of concussions reached as many as 281.

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