If we're short on archaeological finds of leather or padded armour from the A-S period, we're also lacking in depictions. I'm not good on Old English, but I'm not aware of an OE word meaning 'leather/padded' armour (I'd be very interested to hear if there is one). The one I have come across is later Icelandic 'panzar' (used for akheton/gambeson), but that really means 'armour'.
We do have a reasonable amount of leather preserved at various sites (York, Dublin come to mind) and armour doesn't feature. In the OE 'Colloquies' of Aelfric and Aelfric Bata a leatherworker appears and lists all the different things he makes, but I'm pretty sure that armour doesn't appear (assuming that 'gloves' aren't padded for safety
Yes, 'absence of evidence is not evidence of absence' (which all early medievalists should say three times before getting out of bed), but the evidence *is* distinctly not there, and arguments about what they might have done really aren't very convincing.
As others have said, the concept of the "poor warrior" is something of a contradiction (like "sympathetic traffic warden", "understanding tax officer" etc). Fighting men were, by definition, somewhere on the spectrum of the aristocracy, ie by birth/self-aggrandisement had good diet, good health, and people to do the manual labour so they could concentrate on hunting, exercise, weapons practice and telling others what to do.
Certainly from the end of the ninth century (and probably long before), warriors were expected to muster with a high minimum level of equipment - sword, helmet, horse, spare/pack horse, shield(s), spear(s) and money. The same requirements are found through the tenth and eleventh centuries in 'heriot' payments, and it is likely that 'heriot' continued to be paid in kind at least to the Conquest. What isn't clear is how many men the heriot was expected to supply - a king's thegn owing two swords, two helmets, four horses, four shields and four spears might mean two properly armed men and spare (breakable) arms, or two fully armed men and two rear rankers/attendants/grooms/light infantry.
Mail shirts were certainly widespread from c.1000, and probably for some time before - at least for the elites equipped with sword, helmet and horse. Interestingly, the poem of the 'Battle of Maldon' refers to vikings wearing maille, but not the English; there is debate about whether Ealdorman Byrhtnoth wore a hauberk or had valuable arm-rings. However, by c.1000 the will of Bishop Aelfwold of Crediton disposes of half a dozen mail shirts in his heriot and to thegns in his household. It's possible that there was a major re-armament effort in the early eleventh century, prompted by the repeated viking raids under Aethelred (for example every 8 hides supplying a mail shirt and helmet for a fleet in 1008).
The whole subject of heriot and armour is discussed in several excellent articles by Nicholas Brooks, collected in 'Communities and Warfare 400-1400'. Well worth a read.
Thinking of the technology itself (and bearing in mind discussions of leather vs metal armour on the 1100-1500 forum), it is striking that mail shirts remained the primary form of armour from c.500-c.1400 (please quibble dates round the edges). During that time the medieval West came into plenty of contact with leather and metal scale/lamellar armour (through the Roman empire, its Byzantine successors and the Islamic world) and chose not to adopt it. Padded armour does seem to have been embraced at some indefinite point before the mid-twelfth century, quite possibly from Byzantine/Arab usage. Later on, when solid armour came back into vogue, 'pairs of plates' and 'coats of plates' may have started with hardened leather, but very rapidly progressed to using steel. Yes, leather was known as a possible armour material, but I can only conclude that it was consciously rejected for something considered better.
I do wonder if there is any significance in the preferred ways of fighting in the east and the west. The east made extensive use of archery (mobile horse archery and static 'shower shooting') in both Roman/Byzantine and Islamic armies; a hard surface (hardened leather/metal) with padding was good protection against arrows. By contrast, shooting wasn't particularly important in the early medieval west. Showers of javelins/spears before charging, but not really massed archery. With a lot of slashing weapons, maille offered appropriate protection. Spears would aim at the face and might well split maille anyway, and presumably the main defence was a shield. Oddly enough, when missile weapons started to become more popular in the west (later eleventh century/twelfth), we suddenly find a trend for padding under maille and helmets which cover the face. Am I being daft in supposing a period with relatively little change in arms and armour - a 400-500 year pause in the 'arms race' where there was relatively little need for innovation and limited technology/infrastructure to produce complicated equipment?
So, leather or padded armour pre-Conquest? I don't think we can give a definitive answer, but "probably not" or "not too much of it" seems reasonable. If you're a thegn, you would have the wealth to afford a mail shirt or be given one by the lord you served (the king or an ealdorman/earl/bishop), certainly from c.1000. If you're just turning up to battle with a shield and spear, I suspect you'd be wearing your normal clothes. A felted tunic might well be a good idea (would also keep you warm at night), but how many people would invest the time/effort into making a garment for military service which they might or might not be called to use? Thegns, yes (part of the job). Thegns' retainers, perhaps. Ceorls/dependant farmers? Estate workers? Possible, but not necessarily probable.
Sorry for the extended "I wonder if" waffle.