NFL Equipment Breakdown: Cleats

In one of the greatest regular season games of the 2020 season, the Ravens faced off against the Browns in week 14. In what would be a shootout between the two teams, the Ravens would close out the game with a final field goal and put them up 3 points, winning the game 45-42. However, the game didn’t start off well for the Ravens. 

A small detail during the first half of the game was Lamar Jackson’s cleats issue. After taking a snap and moving around the backfield, Lamar would slip multiple times and even take a sack. After switching cleats on the sideline, Lamar would never have this issue again and make a throw in the second half to ice the game and set up a game-winning field goal.

Now what does this mean for any of the casual fans probably reading this article? While we see the game from a broader perspective, a lot of small factors decide how our favorite team or player performs. Whether it be the gear, the field conditions, or even the mental state of a player, it will still affect their level of play on the field. Today, I’ll be covering the different cleats and the history of footwear on the NFL field.

History of the Turf

Prior to the switch to artificial grass and natural grass on most stadiums, a lot of teams used a carpet-like material as their playing field. The footwear worn on these fields ranged from basketball shoes all the way to running shoes and similar designs as those. Since it wasn’t grass, there was no need for studs on the bottom of the shoes. However, these fields slowly lost their popularity and were eventually replaced due to scientific studies regarding the safety of the players on the field. These fields deteriorated the player’s knees over time and also added to the risk of injury when being tackled.

When they were replaced by artificial grass or even natural grass, players started to switch over to wearing cleats designed by many of the major sports companies. The difference between regular soccer cleats and football cleats are primarily the weight, the length of the cleats, and the number of studs on the bottom of the shoe. A football cleat has more studs on the bottom of the shoe and typically give more structure to the wearer since the game relies heavily on upper body movement. They are also heavier than your average soccer cleat but some models of the modern football cleat are praised for their lightweight nature.

Cleat Types

Over time, much like the receiver gloves, cleats were diversified to help the player maximize the potential of their position. There are three main categories I’d categorize the modern cleats into: skill position cleats, hybrid cleats, lineman cleats.

The skill position cleats are the most popular cleats you’d see on the field. Your favorite wide receiver would most commonly be seen with this cleat as that is the position they are most usually found in. The skill position cleat has a lightweight build, around the minimum number of studs on the bottom, and a low-cut to mid-cut base on the ankle of the wearer. You would see this on your receivers, corners, safeties, and even some QBs prefer to wear this type of cleat to maximize their playstyle. Mobile QBs usually opt for this option as it helps them move around the pocket and go off for a run, rather than staying planted on the ground.

The hybrid cleats are also one of the popular cleats on the field as players usually opt for an extreme of the 3, skill position or a lineman cleat. Hybrid cleats are a little bit heavier to provide stability for the wearer in their respective positions. These positions require the player to be mobile around the field, but has to also remain planted on the ground in certain scenarios. Based on the description, some of these positions include your tight-ends, linebackers, running backs, and also QBs. Wide receivers don’t usually opt for these types of cleats. However, depending on their preference and their route tree, you could sometimes see a receiver wearing these, but it’s not that common. These types of cleats also provide more ankle stability and more studs on the bottom of the cleat. 

Finally, we come to the lineman cleats. Lineman cleats are usually never seen outside of the trenches. They are mostly exclusive to your offensive lineman, and you might even see a defensive lineman on some of these cleats. The lineman cleats provide some of the strongest support out of all the cleats due to the position of the offensive lineman. They also have the largest stud count, and the heaviest as well. Rarely running and primarily keeping a sturdy base, cleat creators kept this in mind when creating the lineman cleat.

Conclusion

Each cleat type I’ve shown here today are just some of the things you’ll see on Sundays on the big screen. In my opinion, the equipment department of each team doesn’t get enough credit on how much they contribute to the team winning their games. Today, I’ve analyzed only one out of many pieces of equipment an NFL straps on before they run out on the field. Now, while a bad player can’t just simply switch to the best cleats to become a better player, they certainly won’t be worse off without it.