National Football League
March 24, 2022
Rate of innovation has multiplied nine times since the start of NFL-NFLPA helmet testing program
The NFL and NFL Players Association (NFLPA) released today the results of their 2022 helmet laboratory testing. Jointly appointed biomechanical engineers ranked 47 helmet models, including six new models. Five of the six new models tested ranked in the ‘top-performing’ group, continuing an unprecedented rate of improvement in helmet performance that is nine times what it had been before the start of the helmet testing program in 2015.
As helmet models that previously ranked very well have been overtaken by new, better-performing models, the NFL and NFLPA have further raised the bar for what is considered a ‘top-performing’ model. Six helmets ranked last year as ‘top-performing’ are now categorized in the ‘not recommended’ group. For the first time, ‘not recommended’ helmets are not available to players who did not wear those models in the 2021 season.
The helmet rankings poster identifies models in the ‘top-performing’ group in green. Helmets that performed poorly in laboratory tests are listed in the yellow ‘not recommended’ or red ‘prohibited’ groups. New players and players who change helmets for the 2022 season must select from the ‘top-performing’ helmets. New players and players who did not wear a helmet from the ‘not recommended’ group during the 2021 season are not permitted to select a helmet from the ‘not recommended’ group this season.
The change to prohibit players from moving into helmets in the ‘not recommended’ group builds on the NFL-NFLPA’s joint decision in 2018 to prohibit, for the first time, players from using helmets that performed poorly in laboratory testing. The ‘prohibited’ list, which began as 10 helmets in 2018, has grown since, with one additional helmet added this year for a total of 16 prohibited helmets. These prohibited models performed poorly in laboratory tests or were produced by companies no longer manufacturing football helmets. Several additional permitted but lesser-worn models have been removed from the 2022 rankings poster and are included on a ‘legacy’ list of helmets.
“NFL players are the winners here. Helmets keep getting better and they will continue to get better in the years ahead,” said Jeff Miller, NFL Executive Vice President overseeing Player Health and Safety. “Our joint engineers have used NFL data to refine this testing program and ensure performance in the lab correlates directly to the equipment’s safety performance where it matters – on the field of play. By sharing this information with helmet manufacturers, we are excited to continue to foster continued innovation that allows players to have more and better choices year after year.”
The NFL-NFLPA helmet laboratory tests and ranking are part of an ongoing effort to both drive innovation in helmet technology and help players make informed choices about their protective equipment. Results of these tests are displayed on a poster that is shared with club medical, training, coaching and equipment staffs so they may discuss with players their best helmet choice options. Through conversations between these club staff and players, the aim is to encourage players to adopt the best-performing model that suits their needs, considering comfort, fit and style, among other factors. Between the 2020 and 2021 seasons, 27 percent of returning players opted to switch to a better-performing helmet; nearly 100% of players wore top-performing helmets for each of the last three years.
Adoption of better-performing helmets has contributed to a sustained trend for each of the last four seasons (2018-2021) of a 25 percent reduction in concussions among NFL players compared to the 2015-2017 seasons. Even with the addition of an extra game during the 2021 regular season, concussions were at their lowest compared to any other regular season since 2015.
This is the eighth year the league and the NFLPA have collaborated to assess the performance of all helmets worn by NFL players. All helmets tested in 2022 met the current National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) certification standards to protect players against severe traumatic skull and brain injuries. The NFL-NFLPA helmet testing results were based on testing intended to represent NFL impacts and thus, the conclusions on helmet performance cannot be applied to collegiate, high school, or youth football.
The tests were conducted by an independent helmet testing laboratory. For the eighth year, the study formulation, experimental design, and data analysis were performed by engineering consultants appointed by the NFL and NFLPA. An independent biostatistician was retained to assist in the analysis of the data.