You wouldn’t think professional football players would care about their hair, especially considering their helmets cover it most of the time. Many players see this limitation as a challenge, achieving epic feats of length, style and wackiness. Just as football’s many positions require a variety of skills, the NFL’s most valuable hairstyles fall into a number of distinct categories, each reflecting unique personal achievements. This field guide will break down the five most notable hair positions in the current NFL and assess the top contributors in each group.
1. Voluminous Curls
Players in this category are blessed with an extraordinary capacity to grow their curls long and thick. Easy to spot even from the cheap seats, these hair MVPs prioritize quantity over all else -– including the ability to read their jersey numbers.
Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko’s enormous mane is kissed with gold highlights and paired with a thick beard. Despite numerous challengers, Peko’s hair remains the biggest in the league.
Troy Polamalu’s glossy black curls have become so iconic, he has an endorsement deal with Head & Shoulders. For press conferences and photo shoots, he tames them into elegant corkscrews.
While Pacific Islanders hold most of the NFL records for curly hair, Green Bay’s Josh Sitton has emerged as a major threat. His lion-like blond mane grows more fearsome every season.
2. Long and Sleek
Like the curly-haired overachievers, these players train for length. Straight-haired players can’t accomplish equivalent feats of volume, so they prioritize flow and sheen — often pairing their tumbling locks with an equally romantic beard.
Green Bay’s Clay Matthews loves to whip his hair back and forth for the camera. And with good reason: his well-conditioned blond locks have inspired a trend among fellow players as well as fans.
Kicker Dan Carpenter can use his feathered modern-day mullet to test the wind before attempting field goals. He contrasts it with a neatly trimmed goatee.
Charlie Whitehurst hasn’t made much impact on the game since his return to San Diego, but his layered, blow-dried look keeps him a high-ranking hair achiever.
3. Braids and Dreads
Balancing length and control, these players escape the fashion confines of their helmets with bouncing streams of braids and twists. This hair position requires extraordinary endurance, as these intricate styles demand hours in the salon chair.
The Jacksonville Jaguars may have released the aging Rashean Mathis, but his impressive mass of long, skinny braids only grows more impressive with time.
Six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald defies all the stereotypes of a guy with long dreadlocks. His multitude of narrow twists look dramatic on the field and classy with glasses and a pocket square.
Up-and-coming Kansas City nose tackle Dontari Poe is looking trim and athletic in the off-season, and his distinctive hairstyle has gotten more intricate. His patterned cornrows split into thin braids below his hairline.
4. Metrosexual Chic
While other hair MVPs flaunt their natural gifts, these outstanding players turn to fashion magazines and high-end stylists to keep their hair looking exceptional. They rely on a customized menu of hair products and a commitment to blow-drying skills.
Tom Brady is the undisputed king of trendy NFL hair. His style has encompassed shoulder-length layers and Bieber-esque bangs. These days, it’s short on the sides and gelled into a peak.
When the Vikings made Cordarrelle Patterson one of 2013′s top draft picks, they must have chosen him for his hair as much as his receiving skills. The signature gold twists at the tips of his braids reveal a serious commitment to fashion.
Blaine Gabbert’s flowing blond locks were legendary in Jacksonville. Now that he’s cut them short, his moussed and tousled spikes are the most improved hairstyle in the NFL.
5. Just Plain Bizarre
Imbued with an uncontrollable urge for self-expression and an immunity to ridicule, these one-of-a-kind MVPs push the boundaries of gridiron style. Each player in the position develops his own approach, employing strategies like dye, asymmetry and egregious weirdness.
A year ago, Mike Iupati would have been a shoo-in for the “long and sleek” hall of fame, but since he got a haircut, he’s a contender in a whole new category. His wide, spiky mohawk and sculpted sides have taken his look from romance novel cover model to “What did I drink last night?”
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is consistent in his unique hairstyle: an ’80s-throwback mohawk with a bright stripe of dye down the middle. The rationale behind his color choices remains mysterious.
No one in the NFL can compete with Antonio Garay for strange and fearless hair. His intricate, sculpted ‘dos change frequently, often celebrating a holiday or sending a message. This tribute to the Chargers’ uniform colors stands out as one of his most creative and memorable.
You can contact Sarah Rasher on Twitter @pas_dechat