That is especially true of wide receivers and defensive backs, whose careers are built on being fleet and agile. Wide receivers’ shoulder pads are often more like a small harness wrapped in hard-sided plastic and weighing only a few pounds. Arms are always free of encumbrance. Quarterbacks often wear something called a flak jacket, which is a reinforced padding that hangs from the bottom of the shoulder pads to protect the rib cage, but wide receivers eschew anything so restrictive.
In fact, they consider extra padding a hazard.
“For a receiver, it’s about speed downfield and getting in and out of small gaps between the defenders as fast as you can,” Willie Snead, a Baltimore Ravens wide receiver, said. “If you’re weighed down by padding, you’re not necessarily safer at all. You’d be slower and probably get hit more.
“Right now, a good receiver doesn’t have to get hit that much. The only time you really get hit is when you’re getting tackled.”
As for defensive backs, they have to chase those receivers, so they swear off things they routinely wore in high school, like hip pads. (All high school and N.C.A.A. players are required to wear hip, thigh and knee pads, but in the N.F.L. rule book hip pads are merely “recommended.”)
“Nobody wears hip pads in the N.F.L.,” a laughing Eric Weddle, the veteran Ravens safety, said. “That would be crazy if I saw someone with hip pads in an N.F.L. game. Totally insane.”
It would be, Weddle suggested, career suicide.
“In the N.F.L., it’s about not wanting to be hindered,” he said. “We believe an extra pad might give a fast wide receiver six inches of separation from us in coverage and that might cost our team a touchdown. If that happens enough, it might cost you your job. Whether that’s really the case or not, in our minds, we believe it is.”