Before every NFL season, the NFL collaborates with the NFLPA to thoroughly test every helmet on the market. These helmets go through extensive laboratory research to evaluate which ones best reduce head impact severity. No helmet can fully eliminate the risk of a concussion but here are the ones that have been tested to be the most effective.
IMPORTANT: Keep in mind that the NFLPA testing and results is completely catered to NFL impact and that impact may differ from collegiate, high school and youth football. For a list of the top 5 youth helmets, click here.
With that being said, let’s count down the Top 5 helmets rated by the NFL and NFLPA.
5. Schutt F7 UR1
The Schutt F7 UR1 is the most innovative and newest helmet in the Schutt lineup. The F7 UR1 is Schutt’s custom fit model designed to fit a players’ head perfectly. The custom fit process uses a custom pressure map of a player’s head, utilizing ten, full-contact sensors. During the fitting process, the player will put on a Schutt F7 that will collect the pressure map data and create a diagram of the 20 different sized Opti-Fit inserts. These 20 inserts are custom to the player and can be re-configured as needed ensuring players’ have a custom fit all the time. Check out this video below to watch the process.
Now that we’ve talked about the internals of the Schutt F7 UR1, let’s talk about the outside – the shell. The shell of the F7 UR1 is the same as all of the other Schutt F7 models. The shell features Schutt’s innovative “Tektonic Plates” on the top of the helmet. These plates move independently from the rest of the shell that helps disperse rotational force and protect your head. These plates pair with Schutt’s “TPU” (thermoplastic urethane) cushioning which is one of the most advanced cushioning systems in the game and absorbs heavy impact. The TPU is the blue plastic you see around the plates on top. While the shell looks a little odd, and is a pain to put decals on, it’s proven to be very effective. Check out how the Tektonic Plates and TPU work below.
The Schutt F7 UR1 is one of the most expensive helmets in the game. The F7 UR1 is listed at $1,499 on the Schutt site, but I can’t find an option to actually purchase it. Since the custom fit process is so extensive, you likely need to call Schutt to plan a fitting session and to buy the helmet. You can shop similar Schutt F7s for $500-$1000 but those aren’t on the same level as the F7 UR1. Still, they’re great helmets.
4. Vicis 01
When it comes to innovation and helmet research, Vicis remains king. The company invests so much money into the testing and development of their technology, that the company went bankrupt in late 2019. They’re now back in action and better than ever, but let’s talk about the original, the Vicis 01.
The Vicis 01 was the first helmet from Vicis and debuted in 2016. It was quickly rated as one of the best helmets on the market and even 5 years after it’s initial release, makes this Top 5 list. What makes this helmet special is its’ super flexible shell and innovative padding. The helmet has 4 layers of protection, check out the diagram below.
The first layer is the Lode Shell. This shell is much more flexible than other shells on the market. The shell itself flexes on impact absorbing a lot of the contact. The second layer is the RFLX. The RFLX layer is made of tiny little structures that collapse to absorb impact and prevent it from getting to your head. The little beams inside fold from an “I” shape to a “C” shape on impact. Then, the third layer is the Arch Shell. This is simply a lightweight, flexible material that bonds RFLX to the fourth layer, the foam liner. The Foam Liner is military grade foam that provides a soft and comfortable fit on the inside of the helmet. The Vicis 01 is one of the most technologically advanced products to ever hit the gridiron. The Vicis 01 is no longer for sale but you can get the Vicis 02 which we will cover later on this list.
3. Xenith Shadow XR
Xenith is one of the most underrated helmet brands on the market. The Xenith Shadow XR is the latest innovation from Xenith and came out in Spring 2020.
Underneath the lightweight, advanced polymer shell is one of the most advanced contact absorbing innovations in the game. Inside the Xenith XR is something called “Rhenon.” These Rhenon cells are what make this helmet special. The Rhenon material is intelligent enough to cushion soft impacts, but strengthen against big hits. Not only do these cells compress to absorb big hits, they also have the ability to move side to side to absorb rotational force. This material will work well in the scorching Texas summer or the frigid Green Bay winter. They do an amazing job dispersing different types of impact effectively which is one of the main reasons they are #3 on this list.
Now let’s talk about a feature unique to Xenith’s helmets. That one-of-a-kind feature is their 360 Adaptive Fit system. Unlike other football helmets, the chinstrap actually wraps around your entire head. Most helmets chinstraps simply buckle up in 4 places on the side of your head. Xenith chinstrap straps go around to the back of your neck so when you tighten up or buckle your chinstrap, it tightens up all around. It gives you a custom fit without paying the price of a custom fit helmet. Not only does this ensure a custom fit, it also feels lighter on your head because it has a lower center of gravity. This custom fit will give you better balance and reduce the fatigue on your neck while wearing the helmet.
The Xenith Shadow XR is the most affordable helmet on this list. It retails for $459 on Xenith.com.
2. Riddell Speedflex (3 Models)
The Riddell Speedflex has been the most recognizable and most popular helmet in the game since its’ debut in 2014. The helmet is so impressive that 3 different versions are on this NFL list.
For all 3 Speedflex models, the shell and overall helmet structure remains the same. The Speedflex has a flexible, polycarbonate shell. The flex panel on the front of the helmet, along with the rest of the shell, flexes upon impact to absorb contact. Another piece of tech protecting you is the Patented Side Impact Protection. The PSIP helps protect players from hits from the side. This helmet also has a very unique Cam-Loc retention system. Riddell revolutionized the way players buckle up their chinstraps. These straps act similar to a ratchet strap – you can pull them tight and then push a button to release it. The Cam-Loc system doesn’t slip and won’t unbuckle during play like your traditional chinstraps.
As for the padding, first let’s talk about the highest performing Riddell Speedflex, which offers the Speedflex Precision-Fit Diamond. Riddell Precision-Fit is a process that utilizes 3D scanning technology to craft a helmet personalized for the individual player. Each pad is custom made for a player for a totally custom fit.
Not only is the padding in the Riddell Speedflex Precision-Fit Diamond custom fit, it’s also made from one of the most innovative manufacturing processes on the planet, Digital Light Synthesis by Carbon. (Note: The same tech is used in Rawlings new REV1X, which we featured in a recent YouTube video.) In a press release, Carbon talked about their partnership with Riddell, “Riddell and Carbon have partnered to bring customized, digital design innovation to head protection through Riddell’s new Diamond helmet platform. Powered by Carbon, the new platform features a 3D printed lattice liner that is digitally manufactured using Carbon’s proprietary Digital Light Synthesis™ (DLS™) technology. The technology is initially available in the Riddell SpeedFlex Precision Diamond helmet model, which features Riddell’s Precision-Fit head scanning and helmet fitting process. The result is next-generation head protection for today’s athletes–a customized, 3D printed helmet liner precisely contoured to the athlete’s head.”
Once you combine the innovative shell we described earlier with the Carbon DLS custom padding, you get one of the best performing helmets ever. Unfortunately, we can’t seem to find a place to get your own Precision-Fit Riddell Speedflex Diamond unless you’re in the NFL.
The next Speedflex on the list is the Riddell Speedflex Precision-Fit. This is the same shell and Precision-Fit technology that we talked about earlier. The only difference is that this version does not have the Carbon padding. This “‘flex” has the regular Riddell Speedflex padding and still scores incredibly well. The padding is custom fit to a players’ head providing a perfect fit and lots of protection. Again, I can’t seem to find any Precision-Fit models for sale from Riddell.
The final Riddell Speedflex in this Top 5 list is the Riddell Speedflex Diamond. This helmet has the super innovative Carbon padding but it’s not a precision fit. Still, a top helmet on this list and you CAN find this helmet from Riddell for $499.99.
1. Vicis 02 (3 Models)
This is the second Vicis helmet on this list, so I won’t waste my time telling you how innovative and cutting edge they are. Let’s talk about the three Vicis 02 models, because they are the top 3 helmets on the NFL and NFLPA list.
Let’s begin the with #3, the regular Vicis 02. The Vicis 02 is everything the Vicis 01 is and more. There are four layers to the helmet. First, the super flexible outer shell, the Deformable Outer Shell. This shell responds similar to a car bumper and flexes more than any other helmet available. It absorbs the impact, protecting your head. The next layer is the updated RFLX 2.0. RFLX, carried over from the Vicis 01, is Vicis’ system of pillars that bend to absorb impact and then spring back into place. For the Vicis 2.0, they slightly altered the pillars to lighten the helmet while increasing strength. The next layer is the Reinforced Inner Shell. The inner shell has been engineered through data collected from hundreds of head shapes to optimize fit accuracy, maximize player comfort, and accommodate a wider range of players. The final layer is the DLTA Fit System. These are their pad pods that are completely interchangeable ensuring every player can have a custom-fit feeling helmet.
The Vicis 02 is the safest helmet you can purchase right now. You can get one from Vicis for $699.
Now, the second highest helmet on the NFL and NFLPA list, the Vicis 02 Trench. This helmet is basically the exact same helmet as the Vicis 02 but with an extra external pad. This is the first position specific helmet to ever hit the market. Its built for lineman. That extra frontal pad is built for the low velocity impact that lineman face every single snap. Check out the stats on the Vicis 02 Trench below.
The Vicis 02 Trench is available from Vicis for $799.
It’s finally time to talk about the highest rated helmet by the NFL and NFLPA, the Vicis 02 Matrix. The first three layers on the Vicis 02 Matrix are unchanged from the previous two Vicis 02s featured here, but what makes this helmet special is the Matrix padding.
According to Vicis, “The Matrix system is a microfilament structure which is a replacement to the DLTA fit system for the Matrix helmet. Matrix provides ultimate flexibility in the fitting process without having to wait for a custom manufactured helmet. By providing multiple unique fit contours per location and adjustable comfort top layers, the MATRIX pods are ready for gameplay out of the box. This allows for immediate fit feedback from players that can be adjusted at any time.”
The Vicis 02 Matrix is unavailable to the public now but Vicis plans to release them in 2022.
There are the the top 5 helmets rated by the NFL and NFLPA. Its important to reiterate that these laboratory results are completely based off of NFL level impacts and impacts vary by level of play. For youth helmets, check out our top 5 list here. Let us know what you think and if you have experience with any of these super safe helmets, please comment below!