As Nike unveiled the third Calvin Johnson signature cleats—the CJ Elite TD—they also revealed a three “silo” system of design that will cater to the needs of everyone from high-speed receivers to bigger, stronger lineman.
“We recognize different positions have different needs and wants,” Ken Link, Nike’s football cleat design director, tells SI.com. “Whether you are Rob Gronkowski, Ndamukong Suh, Richard Sherman or the cats coming out in the draft, we have the speed you want to play at.”
For those who need speed on the edges of the field, the Nike Vapor Speed silo features the Vapor Untouchable, the first football cleat with Flyknit, an engineered yarn. Link says the Untouchable is based around the mindset that the cleat feels like part of the foot, using the Flyknit for lightweight support that moves with the foot. The engineered yarn—made from recycled polyester—gives the feel of a low-cut shoe with the support of a mid-cut.
Developed with Marcus Mariota and the rest of the University of Oregon football team, the Untouchable also includes a carbon fiber plate. The carbon—lightweight by nature—has energy return built in so you can “load it and get a return on the energy you are putting down into the cleat.”
The stud configuration aims for immediate acceleration, using testing the Oregon-based company has done on cleats specifically for 40-yard dash designs.
But as athletes grow in size, so does their need for protection. Link says Johnson proves incredibly fast, but his strength requires the ability to explode and change direction at any time. For the CJ Elite TD, part of the Alpha Speed silo, Nike went with a Flyweave construction, a stronger design than Flyknit, that allows for lateral cutting.
Specifically, Johnson told Nike he wanted something that locked his foot in place, which led designers to the Flyweave design. “He’s seen it many times,” Link says of Johnson’s involvement. “He’s part of the aesthetic. He is one of those to help propel the look and feel.”
The one-piece woven Flyweave upper provides bulk where needed and flexibility in other places in a construction focused on strength-to-weight ratios. Extra thread was added to the lateral forefoot to enable more forceful cuts, but removed from places, such as the arch, where it isn’t needed. Flywire cables help support the midfoot like a harness system. The entire cleat is covered in a Nike skin, a single-layer engineered mesh that ads malleable protection.
A completely redesigned stud placement offers up an 18-point traction system that has studs for acceleration off the line, but still with a focus on lateral movement.
The big guys, though, they have other needs, found in the Strike Speed silo. The new LunarBeast Elite TD puts a focus on lightweight materials, but doesn’t skimp on protection and comfort.
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“Guys will try to wear shoes that aren’t built for their size because they want to be fast,” Link says about insight given from Suh, a longtime vocal Nike collaborator.
Nike built cleats with a wider base for comfort, but with lightweight Nike Skin for protection if stepped on. The Flywire cables add extra support to keep the foot in place, while the LunarBeast’s cushioned midsole plate adds comfort and a shield that wraps the ankle and Achilles tendon ups the protection.
While the lead cleats for each of the three new silos will originally launch in black, expect to see multiple colors in the future.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.