Fans and players rush out to buy the latest models every year, but who are the most famous helmet brands, and which of their models are approved by the NFL? Here is the answer.
There are four prominent helmet manufacturers in the NFL. They are Riddell, Schutt, VICIS, and Xenith. These four brands dominate the NFL approved helmet list. There are currently 31 recommended models on the list, 13 of them are Schutt, 11 Riddell, 6 Xenith, and 1 VICIS model. Riddell models occupy the top three spots and the Riddell SpeedFlex Precision Diamond (R41106) proved the safest in testing.
Although these four gigantic companies are the face of the industry, there are hundreds of smaller companies that make up the supply chain. Working under the umbrella of the big four brands, they work alongside the NFL and NFL Players Association to ensure their designs are safe and dependable. They can be creating anything from buckles to sensors, but these businesses have a singular vision – to reduce the incidents of concussion and find new innovative ways to protect players.
Let’s get to know the big four brands.
Riddell – A brief history
In 1922 John T Riddell invented the world’s first removable cleats. The company found initial success in manufacturing innovative performance shoes, and in 1939 they invented the “plastic shell” – the world’s first plastic football helmet. It later became the famous Riddell RT2 model. Before the outbreak of WW2, General Patton requested the newly-famous Riddell to get in touch with him at the war department. The army needed to find a support mechanism for their new M1 combat helmet. Riddell rose to the task, and the football manufacturer’s design passed with flying colors. Following the war and buoyed by the success of the 60’s Riddell has gone from strength to strength and is probably the most recognized brand in the sport today.
Schutt – A brief history
Schutt started manufacturing metal eyelets for basketball nets in 1918 and was the brainchild of Bill Schutt, who plied his trade out of his hardware store in Lichfield, Illinois. In 1935 the company became the first manufacturer of football faceguards, which became mandatory from 1962. Over recent years, Schutt has been locked in a vicious battle with Riddell. Riddell successfully sued Schutt for patent infringement, which eventually forced the company into bankruptcy. However, the good name of the company continues under new management with new investment and is still one of the most popular helmet brands in the NFL.
Xenith – A brief history
Xenith is a relatively new brand and was only founded in 2006 by ex-Harvard quarterback Vin Ferrara. Xenith launched its first helmet in 2009 and has quickly grown to become one of the world’s best-known football equipment brands. Xenith is now worn by hundreds of thousands of players across the globe.
Until recently, there was another major player in the industry, but their future looks bleak.
The plight of VICIS – A brief history
Vicis is the newest name among the mega businesses that dominate NFL helmet manufacturing. However, their future is all but certain as they find themselves in a precarious financial position, staring bankruptcy in the face. Their team consists of engineers, doctors, and data scientists who found recognition for their work shortly after leaving the University of Washington in 2014. “The company raised in excess of $85 million from more than 400 investors, but now find themselves in a deficit and have had to furlough the majority of their staff.
On a happier note, they were the first company to take seriously the plight of young footballers who often suffer severe concussions and traumatic brain injury up and down the country each week. To combat this, the team at VICIS invented the world’s first destructible helmet. The ZERO1 has a deformable outer shell that crumples to better absorb the impact from a heavy blow, much like how crumple zones react in a car. That helmet topped the approved safety list in 2017 but has since taken a slide down the rankings. Who knows what is next for VICIS.
Which brand is the safest?
Each year the NFL carries out destructive testing on new helmet models and issue their findings on their official website here.
This information is also passed onto the managers, coaches, and medical staff of each team to help players make informed choices about their equipment.
Thirty-one helmets achieved the best performance rating in lab testing and have approved status in 2020.
The best performing helmets from each brand are as follows:-
- Riddell SpeedFlex Precision Diamond (R41106)
- Schutt F7 LTD (208400)
- Xenith Shadow XR
- VICIS Zero 1 (2018)
How do NFL players choose a helmet?
For the most part, it is a personal decision. However, most NFL players receive substantial endorsement deals from the top brands. Drew Rosenhaus of the Oakland Raiders favored a Schutt Air Advantage helmet, but this has recently been banned from the league and removed from the approved helmets list. It caused a great deal of anguish for the player. Bleacherreport.com said this, “Brown’s preferred Schutt Air Advantage helmet was banned initially because it was over ten years old, thus automatically disqualifying it for approval.” However, since then, Rosenhaus has been offered lucrative endorsement deals by the top brands.
The NFL’s stance is abundantly clear, as a player will not be allowed to take to the field unless they choose a helmet from the approved helmet list. So, besides endorsement deals and the NFL’s seal of approval, a player has two other main priorities. Comfort and the field of vision.
It is important to note that the tests carried out by the NFL only replicate impact severity. Therefore the tests only indicate the best helmets when considering their protective properties. The tests do not include fit, retention, temperature control, or longevity, and these qualities are very much different from helmet to helmet.
Here is a YouTube video from CNBC about the technology behind the number one helmet on the NFL approved list, the Riddell SpeedFlex Precision Diamond (R41106)
The NFL prohibited helmets list
Every year following testing, the NFL publishes a list of prohibited helmets. These models are excluded from that day forwards and forbidden for use on-field in the NFL. Also, helmets over ten years old are automatically relegated from the list.
Notably, there are some models from the big brands that also didn’t quite make the grade. Here is a list of NFL’s prohibited helmets.
|Lights||LS1 Composite (LS1-CV)|
|Schutt||Air XP Pro|
|Schutt||Vengeance Z10 (204100)|
You can still purchase the above models, but as a high school or college player, an approved helmet is always the recommended choice for the best protection.
In most cases, schools and colleges will sign up to deals with the leading brands to supply them with safe and approved equipment.
So it seems Riddell is the safest brand in the NFL so let’s take a look at the number one helmet.
Speedflex Precision Diamond helmets are unique. They are made individually for each player. Riddell will evaluate the players preferred positioning of the helmet and scan the contours of the head to make custom pads for the inside of the helmet. The internal pads are made out of a pattern pending foam mesh, which Riddell has engineered to move as the athlete moves. That means the helmet needs no adjustment and always fits correctly, providing maximum protection at all times. Because an athlete chooses the helmet’s preferred position on his head, it dramatically improves his field of vision. Therefore, his reaction times are considerably quicker, enabling him to spot and avoid collisions that could potentially lead to injury.
Riddell is famous for its footballing innovation. They tend to lead the way when implementing new technologies. In addition to the life-changing helmets, they also employ Insite technology. Insite collects live data from the field of play to inform coaches and players about impact data. Sensors inside the helmet actively monitor impacts and alert training staff when a player is exposed to a force that exceeds the recommended threshold. It’s much like an early warning system to alert staff of fatigue or potential injury. In the future, they hope to use this data to build training and recovery programs for athletes at all levels of the game.
If this is your first visit to my blog, welcome and I hope you have enjoyed it. I discuss all aspects of owning or buying new helmets. From crash helmets to the humble hard hat, this blog has the answers. I talk about the best brands, safety ratings, value, and maintenance. Please, choose another article if you would like to know more.
My name is Matt, and I am a helmet sports enthusiast. I love climbing, motorcycling, kayaking, amongst other things. But no matter what sport you love, please stay safe.