The Wise Guy’s Definitive NFL Broadcaster Power Rankings: The Elite 59
Welcome to Part II of my breakdown of the best and worst NFL broadcaster. If you missed Part I, where I counted up to my least favorite broadcaster, you can find that by clicking here. But no more zeros, let’s get to some heroes. Here are my 59 favorite NFL broadcasters.
59. Jason La Canfora (Reporter, CBS)
58. Albert Breer (Reporter, NFLN)
57. Sal Paolantonio (Reporter, ESPN)
These three are my favorite NFL general reporters (the rest of them I do not have strong opinions on, and you can find at the bottom of this piece). L. Jason La Canfora consistently breaks news and never backs down from a good Twitter fight. I feel in love with Albert Breer (figuratively speaking) since the NFL lockout, where his job was to stakeout the completely unfruitful early negotiations and would report details down to what pizza the owners were ordering. Sal Paolnatonio, well I just love his name.
56. Kenny Mayne (Comedy, ESPN)
I have always loved Kenny Mayne from his SportsCenter days, and his early “Mayne Event” comedy bits for NFL Countdown were pretty groundbreaking. Check out this piece on Brett Favre, which is even funnier in hindsight. Though a big part of me wishes Mayne could go back to riffing off highlights, as I think this concept has run its course.
55. Michelle Tafoya (Sideline Reporter, NBC)
54. Erin Andrews (Sideline Reporter, FOX)
My favorite sideline reporters, for completely different reasons. Michelle Tafoya has the best on-screen presence in making you feel like there’s a big game going on (which SNF usually has).
As for Erin Andrews, she’s obviously overreached a bit in trying to become an anchor and general media personality and has received a ton of backlash (some justified, some not). But in terms of a pure sideline reporter, Andrews always have a special ability to be light and fun but also credible. That’s tough to pull off in this job.
53. Stephania Bell (Injury Analyst, ESPN)
Stephania deserves to be on here because she is truly one-of-a-kind. It also helps that Stephania is a friend of TFG, and you can check out her “Featured Football Girl” profile here. As that profile shows, Stephania has legitimate medical credibility as former physical therapist specializing in sports medicine, but more than that, she has a great ability to translate often-complex medical information into digestible bits that fans can understand.
Also, the decision by ESPN Producers to hire her as a fantasy analyst was pure genius. That gives ESPN an advantage over its competitors, particularly on Sunday morning when you’re making last minute tinkers to your line-up. Here’s hoping ESPN and sends Stephania to her next logical place–on the sidelines for Monday Night Football.
52. Adam Schefter (Reporter, ESPN)
51. Chris Mortensen (Reporter, ESPN)
There was some initial tension when ESPN brought Schefter in to be co-news breaker with Mortensen, but these guys actually make a great team (unlike McShay and Kiper). There’s plenty of NFL news to go around, and these two are always on top of it–though they probably add up to one Jay Glazer.
50. Trey Wingo (Host, ESPN)
49. Suzy Kolber (Host, ESPN)
48. Melissa Stark (Host, NFLN)
47. Bill Polian (Analyst, ESPN)
46. Tom Waddle (Analyst, NFLN)
45. Todd McShay (Draft Analyst, ESPN)
44. Lavar Arrington (Analyst, NFLN)
43. Scott Pioli (Analyst, NBC)
42. Amy Trask (Analyst, CBS)
With 362 some-odd NFL studio shows broadcast on a daily basis, these are the few broadcasters that stand out to me. (Again, the ones who don’t can be found at the bottom of this list). Trey Wingo, Suzy Kolber, and Melissa Stark are my favorite hosts–they keep things moving and are very knowledgeable.
As for analysts, they come in all shapes in sizes but all bring something unique. Bill Polian obviously has the career cred (longtime GM of the Colts), and I love that he’ll admit to not knowing something when he actually doesn’t (who does that nowadays?). Tom Waddle slowly rose from local Bears analyst to the national level by just being good. Todd McShay, as I mentioned yesterday, has completely taken over the ESPN draft analyst mantle from Mel Kiper. Lavar Arrington is provocative in a good way, and he also makes great commercials. Finally, Amy Trask has just started as an analyst for CBS’ new second-tier Sunday show (That Other Pregame Show), but she presumptively makes the list for being the first female NFL analyst ever hired by a national network.
41. Ronde Barber (Analyst, FOX)
The anti-Tiki. Understated demeanor, provides meaningful commentary, and, as far as I know, didn’t have an affair with an NBC intern while his wife was eight-months pregnant.
40. John Clayton (Reporter, ESPN)
Clayton has been with ESPN since its inception and has managed to stay relevant through all these years while somehow avoiding the gravitational pull to Bristol (apparently it’s in his contract). The guy gets to report from his house; how awesome is that? Actually, we all now know how awesome that is.
39. Matthew Berry (Fantasy Analyst, ESPN)
Berry certainly had and unorthodox path to media stardom–he was a struggling comedy writer in Hollywood before making the leap to ESPN. Nowadays, Berry is by far the most well known fantasy analyst in the business, having just released a book, “Fantasy Life,” that has been on the New York Times Bestseller list for six weeks. I actually don’t think he’s that good of fantasy analyst (every time I follow his advice, it hasn’t worked), but he makes for great TV. And that’s the most important thing.
38. Peter King (Reporter, NBC)
As I chronicled a couple years back, it’s easy to get petered out on Peter King. His #humblebrags on Twitter are the stuff of legend, and for some reason is seen as an “analyst” (for example, how his Super Bowl picks somehow become news) rather than a reporter. But King is a really good reporter, and is uniquely able to draw out legitimate player and coaching reaction (not just press conference gloss) from the days’ biggest games. That information provides an added bonus to NBC’s already stellar Sunday pregame show.
37. Greg Gumbel (Play-by-Play, CBS)
36. Dan Dierdorf (Color Commentator, CBS)
I don’t think anyone would argue that Greg Gumbel is a sold play-by-play guy, but I’m sure many would take issue with Dierdorf’s inclusion on this list. It’s understandable. Dierdorf has been around forever and has some idiosyncrasies (e.g., a slight lisp and overly bombastic reaction at times) that make him an easy target. But he also really knows football, and that comes across every week if you focus on the content of his analysis and not on how he’s saying it.
35. Rich Eisen (Host, NFLN)
The most obvious upside to Eisen is he must be the fastest NFL studio host over 40 years old, slightly balding, in a suit, on cable. But beyond that, Eisen is the pillar of professionalism in the otherwise clown show that is the NFL Network’s pre- and post-game shows. It is only Eisen that makes the show watchable.
34. Cris Carter (Studio Analyst, ESPN)
33. Keyshawn Johnson (Studio Analyst, ESPN)
32. Tom Jackson (Studio Analyst, ESPN)
31. Chris Berman (Studio Analyst, ESPN)
It is very easy to criticize each of these broadcasters individual (except maybe Tom Jackson), but when you’re joining together to form Sunday’s best pregame show you have to be doing something right. Let’s start with Berman: baseball, golf, NFL play-by-play, he’s terrible. But, sitting in that host chair for NFL Countdown (and, sniff sniff, the departed NFL Primetime), Berman is a maestro. He’s quick-witted, funny, insightful, and plays beautiful off his other analysts. Tom Jackson provides professional and credibility; Keyshawn is provocative and created my favorite pregame segment (C’mon Man), and Cris Carter……well, I could do without Cris Carter. But I’m going to be nice and include him in my list.
30. Michael Strahan (Studio Analyst, FOX)
29. Jay Glazer (Studio Analyst, FOX)
28. Curt Menefee (Host, FOX)
These guys are the better half of FOX’s pregame show, and they get special points for having to put up with Jimmy, Terry, and Howie. Jay Glazer should really be in a category unto himself because he’s the clear leader in the “breaking news” reporting game. At least that’s what sources tell me.
27. Brian Billick (Color Commentator, FOX)
Billick is another oft-maligned color guy and certainly pulled a huge stinker at the end of the Seahawks-Falcons in last years playoffs–by infamously declaring the Seahawks the victor and the “team to beat”. But Billick should also get big points for degree of difficulty as a color analyst–except for one other person (discussed below), Billick is the best at breaking down the passing game and quarterback play. This is a unique skill because it is easy to see when a QB physically makes a throw–it is less easy to point out where (and when) the QB should have thrown the ball. Anyone can tell you why Tim Tebow is bad, but it is harder for someone to explain why Sam Bradford is bad.
26. Chris Myers (Play-by-Play, FOX)
25. Kevin Harlan (Play-by-Play, FOX)
24. Marv Albert (Play-by-Play, FOX)
My three favorite play-by-play voices. They’re all proficient in multiple sports, have silky deep tones, and, most importantly, know how and when to modulate to capture the moment. Just once, I would like to open my mouth and have Kevin Harlan’s voice come out instead of this nasally mumble with a tone of condescension that I have (that’s why I’m a writer).
23. Stuart Scott (Host, ESPN)
22. Trent Dilfer (Analyst, ESPN)
21. Steve Young (Analyst, ESPN)
In contrast to the NFL Network crew (which I described yesterday), this is a three-man crew whom you are legitimately looking forward to hearing from once the game is over. Young and Dilfer are insightful and have great chemistry, and I’ve always appreciated Stuart Scott as a highlight man (and he’s way better in the NFL than the NBA, where he can get out of control).
Compared with another duo I’ll discuss below, the success of this crew proves the best in-game studio show should have a host and two good analysts. After that, too many cooks. Of course, ESPN, in pure ESPN fashion, can’t but help ruin things by bringing in Ray Lewis.
20. Kenny Albert (Play-by-Play, FOX)
19. Daryl Johnston (Color Commentator, FOX)
Just a solid duo, and they get huge bonus points for dealing with Goose on the sidelines for over a decade.
18. Mike Tirico (Play-by-Play, ESPN)
I placed Tirico above Myers, Harlan, and Albert as my top solo play-by-play guy because he is (a) by far the most keyed in to rules and clock management strategy; and (b) he deals with Jon Gruden. The first point is huge: how many times at the end of the game have you screamed at the TV that a two-minute drill was going too slow, a coach should have used a time-out at a certain point, or a team facing a good offense scored too quickly? For me, over a thousand. Well, Tirico, more times than not, is right there with you on clock management issues at the game’s most critical moments.
The second point is more substantial. Jon Gruden is a rare bird, and I’m guessing can be a bit overwhelming to partner with over a 17-week timespan (he overwhelms me for three hours, and I’m just watching TV). The fact that they seem to be friends and have a legitimate banter on-air has to be a credit to Tirico.
17. Randy Moss (Studio Analyst, FOX)
Well, can’t say I didn’t predict this. The reviews for Randy Moss on Fox Football Daily are in, and they are stellar to say the least. Even though Randy Moss claims to be “not part of the media,” he is here to stay as long as he wants. The NFL has so many cheerleaders masquerading as analysts that it desperately needs people who can give a sharp critique. Former players, unlike former coaches or GMs, have the potential to cut through all that coach speak and tell you what is really going on in a game. But most peddle in tiresome clichés that say absolutely nothing. Moss, however, can speak his mind and do it well.
Here’s a little taste of what I’m talking about, in which Moss discusses RGIII’s rehab and gives a little “real talk” on the business of the NFL.
16. Bill Cowher (Analyst, CBS)
15. Shannon Sharpe (Analyst, CBS)
14. James Brown (Analyst, CBS)
These are my favorite three guys on the NFL Sunday pregame shows. James Brown is a legend, and I love him on Inside the NFL. (Man, if only they could chuck Dan Marino.) Bill Cowher is coming into his own as an analyst, and Sterling Sharpe is a good counterexample of the Irvin/Sanders problem on NFL Network. Since there’s only one of him, his outlandish statements feel like a condiment and not the main entrée. And sometimes, like when Bill Belichick declined another interview after last season’s AFC Championship loss, he makes really good points.
13. Rob Riggle (Comedy, FOX)
When Fox announced Frank Caliendo would be ending his decade-long run as FOX’s comedy guy, I was like, “woohoo!”? But when Riggle was announced as his replacement, I was like, “huh?” But then I saw Riggle blowout the ESPYs, and I was like “hmmm…..” Finally, I saw Riggle on FOX, and I was like “he’s awesome. I knew it.”
Riggle came to FOX from The Daily Show where he was, more often than not, unfunny. But in hindsight, his boisterous jocularity was just not a good fit for the high-minded snark of Jon Stewart’s. Riggle is not a clown, though, because his bits are well written, creative and, just plain funny. In contrast to Frank Caliendo’s tired shtick, Riggle’s rowdy bits are the perfect transition into game time.
Here’s his bit from last year on the replacement refs.
12. Ian Eagle (Play-by-Play, CBS)
11. Dan Fouts (Play-by-Play, CBS)
By far the most underrated play-by-play announcing duo in the NFL. First off, Ian Eagle is hilarious, if you’ve ever heard him do New Jersey (sorry, Brooklyn) Nets broadcast you know his quick wit. The two have been working together forever and have great chemistry. And Fouts isn’t flashy, but he is always on top of the action and, not surprisingly, is great breaking down the passing game.
10. Rodney Harrison (Analyst, NBC)
9. Tony Dungy (Analyst, NBC)
8. Dan Patrick (Host, NBC)
After middling around with the likes of Jerome Bettis, Tiki Barber, Keith Olbermann, and a cast thousands in their Football Night in America pregame, NBC finally figured it out in 2011 when they simplified their primary format to a crew of Dungy, Patrick, and newly joined Rodney Harrison. It’s so refreshing after a day of football mania—flipping from game to game at breakneck pace (not to mention if you’re watching the Red Zone channel)—to just sit back and listen to there three guys have a conversation about the day’s events.
And the stripped down format works perfectly because Dungy and Harrison usually have a lot to say. I particularly enjoy their use of the telestrator to diagram and breakdown the day’s most crucial plays. And Patrick is there in his usual role of keeping things light and moving.
7. Joe Buck (Play-by-Play, FOX)
6. Troy Aikman (Play-by-Play, FOX)
5. Pam Oliver (Play-by-Play, FOX)
4. Mike Pereira (Rules Analyst, FOX)
While there are broadcasters I enjoy as individuals, this is my favorite NFL broadcasting “team.” (I should also add in the producers, to be fair, since this is a group designation). The whole operation just fits together so seamlessly and has just the right amount of gloss to give the no. 1game of the day its proper aura (the music helps too).
Pam Oliver is a veteran who does interviews because the coaches and players respect her (and I hope she recovers after her scary concussion). I could take or leave Troy Aikman; there are better color commentators out there, but he doesn’t take away anything or make any bold proclamations (that are obviously wrong. (A la Phil Simms)
Joe Buck is someone for whom I just don’t get the barrage of criticism. Particularly the point about him been unexcitable in big moments: I think Joe Buck has one of the most classic announcer voices that is plenty raised for the big play. He’s not Gus Johnson, but is that really who you want announcing the Super Bowl? (Actually, let me think about that). I think Buck is an easy target because of his father and because he comes across as kind of a snarky jackass outside the booth, but that don’t mean he’s a bad announcer.
But the real force that makes this group standout above the rest is Pereira. The Gerry Austin experiment notwithstanding, Pereira is one-of-a-kind, and is singlehandedly responsible for bringing the black box of the referee’s rationale into the public domain. The NFL rules are so technical, ambiguous, and ever-changing that it is impossible for fans (and announcers) to keep up with. That Pereira can join a broadcast on a moment’s notice, explain the rules issue in plain language, and usually (I’ll say 85% of the time) be right is hugely valuable because, more often than not, there is a rules decision and/or instant replay that will decide the course of the game. Because the other networks do not have a Pereira (and Gerry Austin is not Mike Pereira), they feel palpably deficient.
3. Cris Collinsworth (Color Commentator, NBC)
Cris Collinsworth is literally dripping with smugness, and that’s why many people don’t care for him. I understand it, I’m a lawyer. But that snugness is also well deserved because Collinsworth is the quickest and most critically thinking analyst in the game. His bread and butter is the passing game—where, as a former receiver, Collinsworth is lightning quick to point out route schemes and where the QB missed the open man. He even does it before the replay is shown, which is absolutely incredible. I could listen to Collinsworth talk about football all day.
2. Mike Mayock (Color Commentator, NFLN)
While Collinsworth is better than Mayock in terms of pure analysis, Mayock gets the nod over Collinsworth overall because: (a) he is more likeable; (b) his work in draft analysis. Mayock is the most well rounded football analyst in America because he knows both the college and pro game inside and out (query whether the man has a life outside football).
Because of his foundation as a draft analyst, Mayock often focuses on the performance of individual players (more so than Collinsworth who focuses on schemes). There’s nothing wrong with this, so long as you don’t fall into Hawk Harrelson -like traps where the entire game turns into a mythical, intangible battle over “the will to win.” By and large, Mayock avoids those traps, and gives a genuinely well-rounded analysis of both players and schemes.
Mayock has also been compared to Jon Gruden for the times he heaps lofty praise on certain players. I consider this a compliment, but . . .
1. Jon Gruden (Color Commentator, ESPN)
There is only one Jon Gruden. C’mon, who did you think I was going to pick? For the past three years, I have spent my Monday Nights furiously scribbling down every over-the-top Grudenism during the broadcast. Some may think I’m making fun, but it’s a labor of love. Because what I want more than anything during a broadcast is to be entertained. And Gruden is the #1 entertainer in the NFL broadcasting business. He’s quick witted, has a great sense of humor, and comes up with some of the most random, hilarious lines that the world has ever known. (For a taste, read my 20 Best Grudenisms composed for the beginning of last season.)
Once Jaws was pushed aside, Gruden gave up a some of that shtick and added more hard analysis into his broadcast. It was clear Gruden always had that in him (he was a “boy genius” coach at one point, after all). But just needed a little space to breathe. Now the Tirico-Gruden broadcast is seamless, and Gruden can be just as critical of a player or coaching decision as Cris Collinsworth if the situation warrants it. But what makes Gruden—both in the criticism and praise—is that Gruden cares so much. I don’t think his positivity is an act, it’s a reflection of someone who has lived and breathed football and sincerely emphasizes with what everyone is going through on that field. And once you accept Gruden’s delivery as sincere, it’s impossible not to consider him the NFL’s #1 broadcaster.
NBC: Erik Kuselias (Host), Ross Tucker (Studio Analyst), Shaun King (Studio Analyst)
CBS: Adam Schein (Host), Allie LaForce (Reporter), Bart Scott (Studio Analyst); Bill Macatee (Play-by-Play), Brandon Tierney (Studio Analyst), Rich Gannon (Color Commentator) Solomon Wilcots (Color Commentator), Spero Dedes (Play-by-Play), Steve Beuerlein (Color Commentator) Steve Tasker (Color Commentator),
FOX: Jaime Maggio (Sideline Reporter), Jennifer Hale (Sideline Reporter), Joel Klatt (Host), John Lynch (Color Commentator), Kevin Burkhardt (Play-by-Play), Kris Budden (Sideline Reporter), Laura Omkin (Sideline Reporter), Molly McGrath (Sideline Reporter), Scott Fujita (Studio Analyst), Tim Ryan (Color Commentator), Heath Evans (Color Commentator).
ESPN: Bob Holtzman (Reporter), Brian Dawkins ( Studio Analyst), Damien Woody (Studio Analyst), Darren Woodson Studio Analyst), Ed Werder (Reporter) Eric Allen (Studio Analyst), Jason Taylor (Studio Analyst), Jeff Saturday (Studio Analyst), Josina Anderson (Reporter), Lisa Salters (Sideline Reporter), Marcellus Wiley (Studio Analyst), Mark Schlereth (Studio Analyst), Robert Flores (Host), Sara Walsh (Reporter), Tedy Bruschi (Studio Analyst)
NFLN: Aditi Kinkhabwala (Reporter), Alex Flanagan (Sideline Reporter), Amber Theoharis (Host), Andrew Sicilliano (Host), Ari Wolfe (Host), Bob Papa (Host), Brian Baldinger (Studio Analyst), Bucky Brooks (Studio Analyst), Charles Davis (Studio Analyst), Chris Rose (Host), Dan Hellie (Host), Darren Sharper (Studio Analyst), Eric Davis (Studio Analyst), Ian Rapoport (Reporter), Jamie Dukes (Studio Analyst),
Jeff Darlington (Reporter), Judy Battista (Reporter), Kimberly Jones (Reporter), Kurt Warner (Studio Analyst), Lindsay Rhodes (Host), Mark Kriegel (Studio Analyst), Michael Silver (Studio Analyst), Michelle Beisner (Reporter), Molly Qerim (Host), Nicole Zalournis (Host), Paul Burmeister (Host), Shaun O’Hara (Studio Analyst), Stacey Dales (Reporter), Steve Cyphers (Reporter), Steve Wyche (Studio Analyst), Terrell Davis (Studio Analyst), Willie McGinest (Studio Analyst)