It’s been 18 months since we updated our list of the best NFL analysts, journalists and commentators. Here’s what it looks like before Tom Brady arrives in 2035.
1) Bomani Jones (ESPN/HBO)
In a field filled with groupthink, Jones stands out as a unique voice. He is known for his commentary on the intersection of sports, culture and race. When you comment in that sphere, Jones is unparalleled.
But putting him in that box alone would be a disservice to his talent, which is so well showcased on his excellent podcast. Few note the less important but equally delightful intersection of silliness and hilarity that helped propel the NFL from a multibillion-dollar sports enterprise to something that eclipses performance art.
Jones transitions from sleaze commentary to schemes as easily as he delights in pointing out deficiencies at quarterback when dismantling the draft system.
With his ESPN contract expiring, Jones will become the most coveted free agent in sports media.
2) Mina Kimes (ESPN)
NFL Live is the most informative, entertaining football tool on the web right now. Kimes along with Dan Orlowski, Marcus Spears and Laura Rutledge break down the game from all angles: X’s and O’s, analytics, roster construction, locker room dynamics and everything. NFL Live offers the usual bombast and hot air that dominates the sports media landscape, but leaves room for subtlety and nuance. At the root of the show is the desire to explain the “why” to the audience. Kimes’ mastery of analytics, combined with his fandom, makes him the ideal person to explain why – why X team does Y and why should Y upset/upset/might create a fan base.
ESPN’s coverage of all sports is now a result of the network’s Stephen A Smithization (which isn’t always a bad thing!). Kimes is one of those rare analysts who insists on reasoned, thoughtful analysis.
3) Jenny Vrentas (New York Times)
During the ‘Mr Editor’ era, Vrentas’ reporting was very important. For those who follow this sort of thing, you’ll note the paucity of reports from the league’s rights owners about the charges against Deshaun Watson and the walk-off controversy involving Daniel Snyder and the Washington Chiefs.
Vrentas was there when the Watson allegations first came to light. And he later wrote a series of follow-up pieces independently corroborating a non-prosecution accuser’s claim against Watson, disclosing the extent of Watson’s allegations and describing the Houston Texans’ role in securing the non-disclosure agreements. for their former defender.
4) Domonique Foxworth (ESPN)
Foxworth differs from pundits who refuse to admit the NFL’s flaws. He is a former player, Harvard Business School graduate, NFLPA executive director, TV analyst. His resume on and off the field makes his case different. He doesn’t need ESPN, nor TV payday. This allows him to blaspheme the church from within – so to speak demonstrates the futility of the art form. Given his background, Foxworth is happy to deflect coverage from issues surrounding collective bargaining and challenge one of the league’s biggest stars for their dishonesty. There is no one else who can step into all three roles of a world leader.
5) Billy Gil (Meadowlark Media)
He headlined for Billy ‘Guillermo’ Gil on the Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz for 18 months. The NFL owns Sundays, but Gil owns postgame Mondays. His weekly Useless Audio Montage, a roundup of the best coach-isms and robot-player clichés, remains brilliant.
Away from the orbit of the league’s partner, the Walt Disney Company, Gil is free to come up with new angles on the league. He was the defining voice of the first NFL musical, The Big Game. A musical about head trauma, Brandon Staley and RedZone’s Witching Hour shouldn’t work, but it certainly does.
Gil is also the host of the relentless STUpodity podcast, where he covers the league through conversations with the great and the good, including Coba Chamberlain, Greg Cote and Kenny G. As always with Clay, feed him the ingredients you want and watch him cook.
6) Diante Lee (Athletic)
Football is a complex game, but the best X’s and O’s analysts find ways to make things look simple and lead viewers through the maze. No one does it better than Lee.
Lee is still the coach, and his analysis of the game is meant to teach more than show his credentials. Now a mainstay of the Athletic Football Show, Lee puts as many footballers on the sidelines as possible, while providing insights that hit every football cow’s erogenous zones.
7) Gregg Rosenthal, Dan Hanzus, Marc Sessler (Around the NFL)
You can’t tell the three main hosts of the Around the NFL podcast and TV car apart. Combining humor, analysis and brutal honesty, the trio have built a true window into their fans. The show is the UK’s number 1 NFL podcast, bringing fans inside the circus tent, providing insightful observations and updates on the league as a whole. It’s no exaggeration to say that Shaw has done more to grow the game internationally than the league sending a good Jaguars team to London every fall.
8) Pat McAfee (The Pat McAfee Show)
McAfee has become the go-to place for fans and journalists alike to hear what star players are doing indeed think NFL GM Aaron Rodgers has a weekly residency/therapy session with McAfee throughout the season.
McAfee’s role is different from everyone else on this list. Part stand-up comic, part heel, part ex-player, part talk show host, McAfee’s Everyman persona gets those around him to open up in ways we don’t usually hear — even when he doesn’t feel obligated to push guests back. Is it journalism? No. Trying to be? Of course not. But by allowing players to speak freely, it helped lower the barrier between the stars who populate the league and those who follow them.
9) David Samson (Nothing personal)
Samson is the former president of the MLB’s Miami Marlins, now taking no for granted. on CBS. Samson is a controversial figure in Florida: he was one of the pioneers of taxpayer money financing for the Marlins stadium, which used the public purse to fund the toys of its billionaire owners. And it is still used as a sounding board by property groups looking to extract as much money from the taxpayer as possible.
Since leaving the Marlins, Samson has established a streak as the primary voice covering the business of sports and the internal operations of franchises in the United States and beyond.
Former leaders operate under a code of omerta. They don’t want to divulge trade secrets or criticize former colleagues and competitors if they invite them back into the inner sanctum. Samson is different. He enjoys exposing the underbelly of the great sport. Whether it’s internal NFL politics, stadium financing, or the dynamics of locker room management, Samson provides information often hidden from the public eye.
10) Aqib Talib (Fox/Amazon)
As salaries ballooned for the second man in the booth, their output dropped. Tony Romo spends the bulk of the regular season dialing it in, only to bring his A-game for the playoffs. Troy Aikman is solid but awesome. Ditto for Cris Collinsworth. Greg Olsen is a rising star at Fox, but will be sidelined when Tom Brady joins the network.
Talib is the strongest departure from the status quo. His polished style may not appeal to everyone, but he offers a different perspective than traditional game-day sounds. Amazon’s acquisition of Talib for national distribution was a smart move. He’s already eclipsed Romo’s playmaking crown and is more than a match for the former quarterback’s infectious enthusiasm.