This year, we decided there should be a champion declared, and the current king of the hill is Athlete's Performance.
They have world class facilities, top notch coaching (hired Trevelle Gaines, who was another 1st tier program on his own), and an unrivaled alumni list. 14 of the 32 2011 1st round picks were at AP at some point last spring, that's pretty darn good and they earned their top spot. We have published this list before without a champion and reserve the right to do so in the future.
There is at least one location listed here where the camp is tightly accociated to a talent agency, we decided to include these programs based on how well they train athletes, period. We can't speak to the quality of the representation side, or the fact that you have to have a certain agent to go to a certain training program. Maybe that might be another ranking article idea for the future.
As always, it was extremely difficult to rank these programs, especially at the top end. The ranked programs are all very strong, and there is a case to be made for each of the 1st tier programs to be The Best. There are cases that the 4th tier should be 3rd tier.
If we over looked someone or have a case to make why should be ranked higher, please Contact DD and we are open to changing the rank after publish. We strive to be fair with these rankings, let us know why you are the best!
One could argue that a top prospect could attend any of these combine training programs and have a successful performance in front of NFL Scouts. Imagine a high school academic star choosing between Harvard, MIT, or Yale; while there are certainly differences, there is probably no "wrong" choice in the long run. Continuing the metaphor the top of the class at a mid tier school almost certainly will be better than the bottom of the class performers at the big schools.
In regards to taking credit for alumni, we are aware that a player can train at more than one program in a spring, we try to be sensitive to that and believe it counts for both programs.
Thank you to all the programs who responded to our survey. Draft Daddy did not receive special consideration for this rankings, and we thank our readers for their continued support.
For feedback or consideration in next year's updated top speed
camp list: Contact DD
Judging criteria include but are not limited to:
Number of Alumni who become high Draft Selections, Starters, Pro-Bowlers
Quality of Instructors
Quality of Facilities
Reputation among DD pro football & agent sources
(USA) denotes multiple locations, and/or franchise operation.
As with franchises in other industries, there can be differences
between locations, especially as distance grows from the the
Speed Camps & the NFL Draft
How the Combine Industry impacts the Draft Process
An oft overlooked aspect of the NFL Draft process is the Combine Prep industry, also known as Speed Camps. Speed Camps are locations where those players lucky enough to be perceived as the best draft-declarations spend the spare weeks between the end of the college season and their workouts in front of NFL scouts and decision-makers.
As the name would imply, a player goes to a speed camp with the main intent of improving their timed speed, especially in the 40-yard dash. While there, an athlete is housed locally and goes through an intensive program designed by professional trainers. The athletes are segregated from their previous life, no wild campus parties or sitting in academic classes, instead their days are filled with working-out, every day, for hours at a time. The founders of these locations often have advanced degrees in human physiology. Some of these professionals that run these camps are former pro football players, or even Olympic sprinters, and they convey the tricks and techniques that, over the course of a few weeks, should whittle tenths of a second off of a workout time.
In the case of the 40-yard dash, the opportunities for improved execution are everywhere; from a sound sprinters start, to staying low through the first few yards, all the way through to a well executed lean at the finish-line, these improvements can add up to significant improvements to the times that these athletes run. In the "speed-kills" mentality of NFL talent evaluators, those tenths of seconds often add up to millions of dollars in guaranteed money on Draft Day. With the pyramid salary structure of the NFL draft, the top picks earn exponentially more than those selected down the line.
The cynic will look at these institutions and question whether improving an athlete's timed track time in 2 months fundamentally changes their talent on the football field, and what that athlete can bring to a professional franchise. They can look at the infamous early cases such as Mike Mamula or John Fina, and question whether the league is being sold a bogus product, a trumped up athlete that looks great in shorts because of a couple months in a gym, but in the end will never live up to that workout potential on the football field. And in the beginning of these camps, there may have been a certain truth to that, as not all athletes worked out in such a manner and those athletes that trained extra did indeed separate themselves from the crowd, perhaps inaccurately so. However in recent years the best Speed Camps have become about much more than just improving speed.
These days, the elite speed camps are full service experiences, where instruction is provided on a variety of aspects of an athlete's life. They hire professional nutritionists to cook highly beneficial meals and snacks for the athletes. They retain former players to run the athletes through both agility and position-specific drills that they will encounter at the combine and teach them the veteran tricks learned through years of experience. They tutor athletes in the methods for acing the written exams such as the Wonderlic and verbal interviews they will encounter through the draft process. They advise the athletes on the risks of being a high profile target in a modern media circus, how to conduct themselves, stay out of trouble. In short, the best camps can teach players how to be a better person.
And it is with these elite camps, which we will be ranking annually (see below) all of this specialized instruction doesn't come cheap. An eight week stay at a top camp routinely runs into the tens of thousands of dollars. Successful sports agents know they have to invest money in top players before they can see the return of signing bonuses and incentives over the course of a good player's career. These camps also play a role in recruiting the top talent to the agents. Often, top player agents will buy the slots of the elite programs well in advance of signing a player, and use the promise of this training as a carrot to close the deal and get the rare athletes to sign with their firm. It is a persuasive pitch: "sign with me and train with the best, sign with the other guy, who knows where you will end up?"
Once in a speed camp, the athletes benefit not only from the modern advances in speed training (which are significant), but from the variety of other instructions and experiences they receive throughout the process. They often train side by side with veteran athletes (perhaps from other sports such as baseball, perhaps on the verge of a contract year), who use the off-season to improve their skills at these programs. In some cases they share the weight room with Olympic or elite athletes from other nations; the soccer star from Europe or the sprinting champion from the West Indies.
The athletes start their day by walking through a parking lot filled with Bentley's and Benz's, pick up a macrobiotic breakfast, and get to business. They can begin to understand in real terms the fruits of laboring as a professional at their craft. They have the benefit of top notch recovery facilities such as saunas and pools, and if they have injuries, the trainers will rehab the player as if they were already employed by a pro team. In the end, the top speed camps provide a distinct advantage to the top athletes, and the end result of a top draft pick becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
As fans of the site will know, we at Draft Daddy love to spotlight the underdogs: the undrafted players, the sleepers, the unknown small schoolers who go on to accomplish great things against great odds. However in an age of elite speed camps, the jump for these players is even more difficult than it was in years past. While it is possible for a player to train on his own, perhaps in his old high school or college facilities, and work hard to become a great player in the league, these players are at a distinct disadvantage when compared to the perceived elite players receiving elite instruction.
NFL Teams now know that the players who went to a top speed camp not only improved their speed but likely improved the entire package of what they bring to a franchise. They know that the cornerbacks may have learned about bumping the receiver in man-to-man or how they tip their routes. They know that the defensive ends may have learned pass rush moves and leverage tips. They are re-assured (albeit only slightly) that an top agency, participating in the free-market believed so strongly in this player's talent that they plunked down tens of thousands of dollars of investment, with no guaranteed return.
In summary, attending a top speed camp can be considered another period of productive development, not quite another season of football, but definitely a big bonus compared to other athletes who didn't get that attention. While there are obviously players who go to top camps, become top picks, and still become busts, the process weeds these rejects out with a greater percentage year-after-year. Risk management strategies have trickled down from pro franchises to the agents and the top picks are valued as much for their work-ethic as much as their 40 times.
Recent trends have borne out where the players that attend these top programs get drafted in the early and middle rounds, while the players that don't attend such camps get drafted late or not at all. Again, this is not to say that an athlete who trained in his backyard cannot be a great pro player, but that player is less likely to be drafted, compared to a player who trained with the top instructors at a top facility.
Special Thanks to Omar Abdul-Rahim a.k.a. "Coach O". He is among
the best man-to-man coverage
instructors in the nation, and even more important than that,
Coach O teaches boys to be men, and men to be professionals.