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How to Buy the Best Football Shoulder Pads for Your Position

WriterAcademy Staff
football shoulder pads

Reeling in an interception, blitzing the QB, or hauling in a long bomb on offense are all exciting, adrenaline-boosting plays that any football team or fan loves seeing on the field. However, without the proper protection, those daring plays could put you or your star student-athlete at risk for injury.

Academy Sports + Outdoors carries all the necessary football equipment for players of every age, skill, and position. We’re sharing our expert advice to buy the best shoulder pads for the position you play, whether you’re making game-saving tackles, catching perfectly threaded passes, or jetting into the end zone.

EXPERT TIP: Find out if your school or local league has specific regulations on the shoulder pads you can wear before buying new gear.


In addition to football helmets, shoulder pads are an essential piece of equipment that protects players’ shoulders, chest, and upper back during tackles and collisions. To ensure your shoulder pads provide support, protection, and help with shock absorption, you’ll need to look for these key features:

  • Rigidity – Shoulder pads should provide a secure fit that won’t bend or move when tackled while still allowing adequate space on each side of the neck roll when you raise your hands.
  • Range of motion – While your shoulder pads shouldn’t slip once tightened, you should be able to move your arms and twist your torso without much effort.
  • Ventilation – You want to stay cool, dry, and comfortable while you work up a sweat. Newer styles offer breathability with innovative features to let cool air in and hot air out.

EXPERT TIP: You can’t perform at your best if you don’t feel comfortable! Look for shoulder pads that provide the previous key features and comfort while still offering enough protection to keep you confident during each play.

While youth leagues hand out shoulder pads by athlete size, middle school players and older will need to buy shoulder pads according to the position. If you know which position you’ll be playing, check out the features that will benefit and support you during the season:

Quarterbacks, Kickers & Punters
Since quarterbacks, kickers, and punters need a wide range of motion, most players opt for pads that provide the most mobility. Additionally, quarterbacks will need back plates and rib protectors to optimize their torso, ribcage, and lower back protection.

  • Lightweight pads with backplate
  • Low-profile design to keep pads from riding up and obstructing view
  • High-impact foam to protect you from hits
  • Greater flexibility to not affect throwing ability
football shoulder pads

Running Backs, Wide Receivers & Defensive Backs
Players in these positions will need padding that provides solid protection that’s lightweight enough to allow mobility.

  • Extra-lightweight pads to help with shock absorption and keep you running
  • Low-profile design to keep pads from riding up and obstructing your view
  • Untied hitting flaps for greater range of motion
  • Flexibility

Linemen need padding that will withstand the hardest of hits with a sleek design that doesn’t hinder quick movements.

  • Heavy, tough pads to protect against constant hits
  • Good range of motion and mobility
  • No excess shoulder flaps that opposing linemen can grab
  • Plated front instead of laces for less adjustment between plays

Multi-Purpose Players
Multi-purpose and special teams players should look for padding that supports flexibility and offers a good amount of protection.

  • High-impact padding
  • Plated front for a secure and locked-in fit
football shoulder pads


Q. How long will new shoulder pads last?
A. A younger (and growing) athlete may outgrow their new shoulder pads before they need to be replaced. Otherwise, football shoulder pads can last for several seasons. To maintain them as best you can, follow the care instructions provided by the manufacturer.

Q. Do shoulder pads need a separate travel bag?
A. People commonly carry their shoulder pads. To do this, you can slip your helmet into the pads and grab onto the facemask. However, if you prefer a bag, we have a wide selection of duffel bags that can house all your equipment.

Q. Can my child wear used shoulder pads?
A. Secondhand shoulder pads typically don't provide the proper fit that your athlete needs to play at his best level. We recommend buying new shoulder pads that are free from scuff marks, odor, and bacteria. Furthermore, potentially cracked plastic or damages that are not visible on the surface may make the pads unsafe to use.