NFL offering research to help find safer and position-specific helmets

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The NFL isn’t trying to get into the helmet business. But they are willing to share their concussion research with manufacturers in an effort to end up with better helmets.

NFL executive vice president of health and safety policy Jeff Miller brought Dr. Jeff Crandall, the chairman of the league’s head neck and spine engineering subcommittee to meet with reporters Tuesday at the owners meeting. And while Crandall said the science is still a few years away, the eventual benefit could be position-specific helmets in hopes of reducing the chances of concussions.

Crandall said that since different position groups already wear unique cleats or shoulder pads for the specific demands of the jobs, customizing helmets is a logical next step.

“We know that players in different positions receive different types of severity and frequency of impacts,” Crandall said. “So we think a position-specific helmet makes sense.”

For instance, linemen tend to receive lower severity hits to the head at a higher frequency than skill position players, the result of banging into each other on every snap as opposed to taking high-speed hits in the open field. So focusing the protection at the front of the helmet would be a more effective way to protect linemen.

Crandall, the director of the Center for Applied Biomechanics at the University of Virginia, said the first step is coming up with a reliable sensor to detect impacts, and the hope is that one can be found by 2018 or 2019. If that can be found, they’re willing to share the research with manufacturers, in hopes of such helmets being available by 2020.

Miller also reiterated that concussion rates were down 8.7 percent during the 2016 regular season, and down around 10 percent when you include the preseason. They also noted that there has been a 40 percent reduction in concussions suffered from helmet-to-helmet hits, which they see as evidence that rules changes are helping make the game safer. Of course, that means more concussions are coming from helmet-to-body contact, but the league hopes their research efforts can help lead to better equipment.