NFL players will be sporting some new headgear in the 2024-2025 season. The league has introduced several new football helmets for players to choose from, five of which, it says, tested better in laboratory simulations than any previous helmets worn in the league.

That, ideally, will offer players greater protection against head injuries, an ongoing concern among players and medical practitioners. In the 2023 pre-season and regular seasons, the NFL saw 219 concussions, a slight increase from 2022. Overall, the numbers are lower than a few years ago, but league officials have not been satisfied with the reduction.

All totaled, 12 new football helmet models will be available to players. Eight of those will be position-specific helmets, which have been designed based on game impact data collected by the leagues and shared with the companies that make the helmets, including Riddell, Xenith, and Vicis. (Position-specific football helmets were first made available to offensive and defensive linemen in 2022 and quarterbacks in 2023.)

Last season, nine quarterbacks and roughly 20 linemen wore the position-specific options.

“We looked at over 2,000 concussion causing impacts, then deconstructed those into variables,” Jeff Miller, NFL executive vice president overseeing Player Health and Safety told Fast Company. “From those, we created testing to replicate the hits players take on the field.”

Riddell had the top-rated football helmet of the bunch, the Axiom 3D. The company says the headgear uses a 3D-printed lattice liner technology that provides added impact resistance. It uses a proprietary fitting technology that the company says gives it a combination of “energy-managing interior padding with unique thicknesses, shapes, and contours, providing comfort and protection benefits.” The company captures a 3D image of an athlete’s head for an individualized fit and protection. 

As part of the helmet review, six helmets that were used last year have been banned from the 2024 season. Each of those, the league said, was a top-ranked helmet when they were introduced. The NFL calls this “a testament to how helmet performance has increased.” (Less than 1% of players wore those helmets last season.)

Roughly 10% of players will change their headgear over the next year though only 1% of players are currently using helmets that will no longer be allowed. (The rest are wearing those which will be banned in a year.)

The NFL conducts annual lab tests for its helmets. The results of those tests are put on display in club locker rooms in a series of posters. This year, there will be four helmet posters on display—one for helmets available to any player and one each for those designed for quarterbacks, offensive linemen, and defensive linemen.

The NFL is so confident in six of the new helmet models that players who wear them will be allowed to bypass the Guardian Caps worn during practices. Those are puffy protective covers made of closed cell foam covered by a spandex fabric that sit atop helmets during training camp and practice sessions to further reduce the severity of impact.

Not having to wear the Guardian Caps is not only a vote of confidence in the new helmets, it’s an incentive to get players to switch to them. That hasn’t always been easy to do.

“Historically, there has been some resistance to changing to new helmets,” says Miller.

The improvements are from a variety of changes in everything from materials and modeling techniques to customizing the helmet’s fit, including how manufacturers fill the space between the player’s head and the shell of the helmet. This was an especially innovative year. Typically just one or two new helmets beat the ones being used, versus this year’s five.

Some of the helmets the league is discouraging or prohibiting players from wearing are relatively new, from either the 2016 or 2017 season, says Dr. Ann Bailey Good, PhD, Senior Mechanical Engineer, Biocore, a biomechanical engineering firm that works with the NFL.

The fact that they’re already outdated shows how quick the pace of change is—and Good says she expects that pace to continue at its current rapid pace.

“If anything, it’s starting to speed up,” she says. “We are still on a positive trend compared to where we were before the introduction of the [locker room] poster, at about 10X the rate of innovation.” 

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