Football shoulder pads do not just protect the shoulders. In fact, shoulder pads of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s provide coverage from the base of the neck to the rib cage. To protect the player from injury, these pads shield the spine and shoulders, as well as the major organs, muscle groups and bones in the chest from impact. The best shoulder pad varies by position, offering range of motion or protection based on the needs of the player.
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Quarterbacks, Placekickers and Punters
Drop-back quarterbacks want to find a lightweight pad that offers the shoulder full movement for throwing, according to the buyers guide from Dick's Sporting Goods. The pad should also sit flat on the shoulder and not creep up the neck, limiting head movement and range of view. Quarterbacks on the run, like those at the helm of the option offense, may choose a shoulder pad cut for running backs. Punters and placekickers generally select quarterback-style shoulder pads, as they are the lightest weight pads and these players are at the lowest risk for being tackled.
Running Backs, Wide Receivers and Defensive Backs
Running backs and wide receivers are the focus of offensive plays and typically tackled most during a game. These players, as well as defensive backs, need lightweight shoulder pads that can absorb the force of a hit while not limiting the player's agility or ability to stiff arm or fend off tacklers. These players should seek pads that provide flexibility and unrestricted movement yet absorb the hard hits you will take.
Fullbacks, Tight Ends and Linebackers
Bigger bodies require a bigger pad. Fullbacks and tight ends will catch or carry the ball for yards, but most of the time these players will provide blocking support to the quarterback or offensive skill positions. Linebackers combine speed and strength to catch up with ball carriers or short-yardage receivers. Because these players take the most hits to the chest from blocking or tackling, HRS Informer reports that the pads should have a plated front instead of laces to offer upfront strength and greater impact cushioning. Plated fronts also do not require adjustments after hits. Without laces in the front, the pads will secure under the arm with a vinyl and elastic strapping system.
The most grueling positions in football are on the line of scrimmage. Offensive lineman provide a protective wall for the quarterback and open holes for running backs to advance the ball. Defensive linemen attempt to plug those holes, as well as pressure the quarterback. These pads, like ones used by linebackers, have straps around the arm to secure them. They also prevent the opposing blocker from grabbing flaps or laces to dislodge the pads.