April 20, 2020
Nearly every NFL player wore a top-rated helmet last season in annual rankings conducted with the NFL Players Association, according to a report distributed this month to owners.
The milestone culminates a three-year project to push players toward better-performing helmets — and to ban players from using poorly performing or outdated models — as determined in biomechanical testing. About 41% of players wore helmets in the top category in 2017, and 74% in 2018. In 2019, that number was 99.5%, meaning only 0.5% of players wore helmets that were not recommended but also not banned.
The NFL and NFLPA credit the helmet project for part of a notable reduction in reported concussions in recent years. After players reported a league-record 281 concussions in 2017, there were 214 in 2018 and 224 in 2019.
“There was a lot of skepticism when we started this that helmets could significantly reduce concussions,” said Dr. Jeff Crandall, chairman of the NFL’s engineering committee. “We’ve looked at player migration into better-performing helmets, and what we’ve seen is that the laboratory performance has been supported on the field.”
Crandall’s team designed a laboratory process that sought to integrate concussion mechanics with helmet design, and then provide that data to helmet manufacturers. That process has spurred innovation, and the 2020 poster, released Monday, includes four new models among its top 10. Three Riddell models earned the top three spots, led by the Speedflex Precision Diamond.
The NFL’s focus on helmet models surfaced last summer when then-Oakland Raiders receiver Antonio Brown asked for an exception to wear a helmet that was banned because it was more than 10 years old. The NFL denied his request, and Brown eventually moved into an approved helmet.
One helmet was added to the list of banned helmets for 2020: the Light LS1 Composite.
“When you do designs to the testing methodology, we see concussions going down,” Crandall said. “I think we’ve proven the hypothesis that there is a lot that can be done to reduce concussions through helmets and I think we’ll see many more opportunities.”
Among those new opportunities are position-specific helmets that would be designed based on current research for how their concussions occur. The first version will be for quarterbacks, who suffer 40% of their concussions when the back of their helmet hits the ground, according to Crandall. The NFL and NFLPA plan to transmit quarterback-specific data to manufacturers in 2021.
Next in line will be data for offensive line-specific models, most likely in 2022. They will focus on protecting linemen from the frequent head contact they absorb after each snap, according to Dr. Kristy Arbogast, who is co-scientific director and director of engineering for the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and an adviser to the NFLPA.