When the Riddell SpeedFlex was first introduced, its revolutionary design changed the way football helmets were viewed. The flex panel in the front of the helmet gave the SpeedFlex a look that was easily identifiable on the field, giving it an edge over other more traditional designs.
Two years later, Schutt introduced the F7 as a direct competitor to the SpeedFlex as a football helmet with a cut out pattern in the shell that adds extra padding to the top of the helmet. The helmet has a layer of TPU on top of the crown and then another level of plastic on top of it.
Both helmets are easily recognizable and considered top of the line options from their manufacturers. In addition to the information above, here’s a look at how these helmets measure up.
Both shells are considered light by traditional football helmet standards, but the F7 has a bit of an edge, checking in at just 3.3 lbs (without a facemask) for a size large shell. A size large SpeedFlex (without a facemask) has a weight of 3.45 lbs, making it slightly heavier, but not by a large number.
One of the biggest factors in evaluating shells is ventilation and both of these helmets have ample vents that allow air to escape. The SpeedFlex is one of Riddell’s more vented helmets with two large holes at the back of the crown that are unimpeded by the internal padding. In total, the SpeedFlex boasts eight vent holes, not including ear holes. The F7 uses a similar ventilation system with eight cut outs and a double ear hole, first introduced in the Schutt Z10. With the multiple layers of padding in the F7, none of the vent holes appear to have direct access to your head.
Design-wise, both shells have a unique look, with the SpeedFlex still getting the edge as more recognizable because of the flex panel. For equipment managers, the panel is easier to navigate with only one spot to cut the stripe in the center of a helmet. The panels in the F7 require more attention, with six different spots that need to be taken into account. The large front twist release bumper may be the most noticeable feature to the F7, looks-wise.
The F7 has more padding in the crown than any helmet on the market. With the additional layer of TPU on the top and in the rear of the shell, it has six layers of protection at some points. The inside also features Schutt’s noticeable blue TPU between the shell and the liner. The Radian Diffusion Liner (RDL) is new to Schutt and helps to provide independent movement to the shell, offering better protection against rotational forces. The helmet stabilization system using in Schutt’s Z10 and Q10 helps to provide a locked in feel in the jaw area. The F7 features new fireman’s leather jaw pads, made for comfort.
The SpeedFlex’s padding system is similar to other helmets in the Riddell line. Three inflation points allow for a semi-customizable fit and inflatable jaw pads help you to secure the helmet to the lower part of your face. It features a Tru-Curve liner system that is designed to better fit head shapes and is unique to the SpeedFlex shell. The Flex Liner adds some additional padding to the helmet and also helps to provide a more comfortable fit. The helmet also includes Riddell’s PSIP (Patented Side Impact Protection) that places more padding in the side of the helmet and covers more of the mandible than tradition helmets. This feature is found in all Riddell helmets.
This is one area where the SpeedFlex has pushed innovation. With its Rachet-Loc System, the chin strap on the SpeedFlex is like nothing else on the market. While it limits your options, Rachet-Loc straps are offered in soft cup, hard cup and a more padded TCP hard cup version. The chin strap is in a fixed position at the top and then has a plastic strap on the bottom that clicks into place. It releases by clicking a button on the side of the helmet and pulling it through. While it’s not preferred by all players, it doesn’t help to give you a better fit. The F7 includes Schutt’s top of the line chinstrap, the Elite Hard Cup, which offers a bigger shell and a soft padding on the inside. The helmet is also compatible with any standard chin strap, allowing players to mix and match brands if they prefer.
While a wide variety of designs are offered for both helmets, Schutt’s F7 styles cut down on weight by using titanium material. The stronger, thinner material is preferred by most players because it puts less weight on your head and less strain on your neck. Riddell’s SpeedFlex styles are made from HS4 (high strength spring stainless steel) material that’s lighter and more flexible than traditional carbon steel.
In both the Virginia Tech Helmet Study and the NFLPA’s Helmet Laboratory Test, the Schutt F7 outperformed the Riddell SpeedFlex. The F7 was the second highest rated helmet in Virginia Tech’s study, scoring 2.54. Only three helmets (Vicis Zero 1, Xenith X2E+) broke 3 on the test. The SpeedFlex checked in at 4.49, ranking sixth overall. Both helmets scored five-star marks, making them in a group of the best available helmets.
While the NFLPA’s test doesn’t give scores, it lists the F7 as the seventh best helmet in the top-performing group. The SpeedFlex falls below that threshold as the 18th ranked helmet. While the Precision-Fit version of the helmet scored well, the standard model was not in the group deemed statistically the same as the top two helmets.