HBO is likely thankful that the Oakland Raiders’ training camp preseason is packed with captivating drama. Antonio Brown’s frostbitten feet and helmet dispute are enough on their own to make this year’s tumultuous season of Hard Knocks a must-watch for football fans.
Raiders fans’ compelling misfortune is HBO’s gain because many NFL teams now produce their own competing training camp documentaries. And several of them are the perfect way to fill up the time between the next entry in the Helmetgate saga.
Let’s take a look at three of the best NFL behind the scenes shows in production this year.
‘All or Nothing’ goes beyond training camp
NFL Films leverage year-long access for their Amazon Prime documentary series All or Nothing. The latest season follows the Carolina Panthers from the preseason through their 2018-19 regular season run, warts and all.
Despite NFL Films’ connection to the league, All or Nothing rarely sugarcoats things. Quarterback Cam Newton struggles to perform through the end of the season, pushing through lingering pain. Tight end Greg Olsen recovers from a fractured foot, which he aggravates over the course of the season until definitively injuring it all over again.
This season-long look is an interesting pair with the Panthers’ own Camp Confidential series. This series is more of a PR exercise than All or Nothing but still gives additional insight into how players cope with starting a new season after a heartbreaking run.
‘The Franchise’ pushes players to the forefront
Many NFL teams attempt to emulate Hard Knocks. They rarely match the experience due to the expected instinct to protect the image of their franchise. When HBO gets final cut, the finished product looks very different from the franchise marketing team getting the same.
The Kansas City Chiefs training camp show mostly rises to the task. It lacks the dramatic flourish of Hard Knocks. However, it makes up for it by turning the show into a more personal experience. It’s all about getting to know the players, at their best and worst.
Of particular interest is how much time the series spends with Patrick Mahomes. The charismatic fresh-faced QB shows a side of himself that no post-game presser can live up to. The Franchise is a rare look at NFL players as human beings.
The Emmy-winning gravitas of ‘Building the Browns’
The very best NFL training camp series not named Hard Knocks is easily Building the Browns. The recipe for success? Ironically, it’s the candor afforded by this struggling Cleveland team’s lack of success.
In the past, the Browns had little to lose in presenting a brutally honest version of their own players, coaching staff, and front office. They pulled no punches in allowing their frustration to show. Head coach Hue Jackson was the heart of the series during the two Emmy-winning years.
His genuine desire to get the best out of a struggling squad was presented unlike anything produced directly by an NFL team.
Jackson lost his job last year. Now, the combo of QB Baker Mayfield and wide receiver Odell Beckham are prepared to take the Browns to new heights. This could lead to a watered-down year for Building the Browns. After all, this version of the Browns draws all the attention they need with their capability on the field.
So far, the outlook for the series is surprisingly good. The season starts right off by acknowledging the ousting of Jackson. The same openness that defined the Browns’ losing seasons remains here. If any training camp documentary can compete with Hard Knocks during a banner year for that series, Building the Browns is it.