Earlier this week, Peter Schrager and Esquire put together a fabulous, well-sourced list of the Top 10 current NFL players that you’ll see next on television. Given the sheer amount of NFL coverage and five networks in play (ESPN, NBC, CBS, Fox, NFLN), there will always be jobs available for players that want to make the transition to being in front of the cameras. Esquire talked to agents, TV execs, writers, and nearly everyone in the industry to compile their list. The best part about the list is the honesty of unnamed industry insiders speaking about notable flops. “More often than not, we have been wrong. Tiki Barber was supposed to be the best at this. He sucked. Joe Montana? The same thing.” (I’m guessing ESPN knew Emmitt Smith was going to be terrible from the beginning.)
Below we’ve listed the Esquire Top 10, but why not have even more fun with the list. Since we’ve just endured National Signing Day, we’ll also project where each player will analyze in their post-playing media career. If only Peyton Manning were able to hold a press conference and pick up a CBS hat from a table, that might actually be compelling television.
1) Peyton Manning
Projection: CBS #1 Booth
Analysis: One agent quoted says Manning could have any seat he wants in broadcasting. A media reporter says he’ll be the most sought after ex-player in the history of television. Seeing as how Peyton Manning has never met an interview, commercial, or TV camera he didn’t like so a media career is extremely likely. With his career in doubt, that may happen sooner rather than later. The perfect fit for him is stepping into the #1 CBS booth alongside Jim Nantz. Top game analysts at each network are all about quarterbacks (Simms, Aikman, Jaws) and it’s conceivable for Manning to immediately be among the best of the bunch from Day 1. A megastar like Peyton Manning shouldn’t be crowded out in a studio with loud noises cancelling him out. The booth is where he belongs. With AFC games on CBS and Phil Simms’ analysis seeing a sharp decline in the last few years, it makes too much sense to not make this happen… if CBS has the gumption to make such a high-profile move.
2) Jeff Saturday
Projection: CBS #2-4 Booth
Analysis: Saturday is probably not a household name because of the position he plays (center), but he impressed many with his communication skills during the lockout. The #2 ranking seems a little high to me, but I could see him following Manning to CBS and going straight to the booth. He’ll start lower on the totem pole, but if it does work out… why not fill the shoes of another lineman, Dan Dierdorf, aside Greg Gumbel in the #2 CBS booth? Dierdorf is another analyst in the twilight of his career and Manning and Saturday could then remain as teammates at CBS.
3) Ray Lewis
Projection: NBC Football Night In America
Analysis: Honestly, it’s tough to see Ray Lewis cooped up in a studio or a broadcast booth. His insane energy, intensity, and football acumen has always seemed like a better fit for the sidelines than the tube. However, since Ray Lewis is a huge personality and well-spoken, the networks would be all over him. He’d be a perfect fit on the NFL’s best pregame show – Football Night In America. Like Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis should be a headlining analyst and not just another role player in a crowded studio. There’s enough room on set with Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison for Ray to spread his wings, but also enough serious football talk to let his analysis shine.
4) Donovan McNabb
Projection: ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown
Analysis: McNabb may be the first person on this list to hit the airwaves, possibly next season. Of course, the karma of the universe should dictate going full circle and having McNabb take a seat on the Sunday NFL Countdown set where he was the subject of one of the biggest NFL punditry controversies ever. The ESPN bunch is the best fit for McNabb’s personality. You can already envision him sliding between Keyshawn Johnson and Tom Jackson rather easily. I for one can’t wait for the demonstrations when he shows us how to bounce the throw on an eight yard slant into the virtual turf.
5) Matt Hasselbeck
Projection: ESPN’s new show, Hasselbeck 2 Hasselbeck!
Analysis: This is just too easy. Since Tim Hasselbeck works at ESPN, it only makes sense for Matt to join him to have the brothers work together and debate NFL topics. Given the anonymous glut of NFL analysts at ESPN, at least this gimmick would allow them to separate themselves. Give them a PTI style NFL debate show on ESPN2 during the afternoon following Dan Le Batard’s show and make it all about zany family antics. If that doesn’t work, they should fight crime together.
6) LaDanian Tomlinson
Projection: CBS Pregame
Analysis: LT has done some spot TV duty and doesn’t have too much tread left in the tires in his playing career. Former Jets teammate Kris Jenkins already works for CBS and The NFL Today, so that may be the best spot for him. (Just avoid the Halloween House, LT.) Frankly, the CBS pregame needs somebody that can be measured when he speaks and balance out the endless guffawing on set.
7) Jason Taylor
Projection: NFL Network, briefly
Analysis: Taylor is a poor man’s Tiki Barber. Taylor would only stand out because he looks the part, not because of his analysis. He may latch on somewhere like NFL Network, stick around for a year or two, try out Hollywood, and then end up making spot appearances for a regional channel like Sun Sports.
8) Chad Ochocinco
Projection: First Take
Analysis: Come on, we all envision Chad Ochocinco consigned to debate Skip Bayless in the fiery pit of trolls and gremlins known as the First Take studio for the rest of eternity, right?
9) Hines Ward
Analysis: Ward is a Dancing With The Stars winner and we’ll see what he offers on Super Bowl Sunday working for NBC. However, Hines is not a big enough name to draw a primetime spot to begin with. He may eventually float into the nebulous ether that is ESPN’s fringe NFL analysts. Damien Woody, Kordell Stewart, Jon Ritchie, Lomas Brown, Antonio Pierce, and Eric Mangini come on down! Did you even know Jerry Rice was an ESPN NFL analyst this season? I never saw him! Not once! How is that possible?!?
10) Tony Gonzalez
Projection: Fox #3 Booth
Analysis: Gonzalez still has a few years left and by that time it’s likely Brian Billick will be back on the sideline and out of the Fox booth. Fox is still way behind CBS in terms of actual game analysts and would be desperate to add someone with name recognition and ability to keep from saying dumb and/or obvious things. Evidently, it’s a rare species these days. Gonzalez could be that man to help close the gap to CBS’s superior announcing talent.
Not listed amongst the Top Ten was Ben’s choice for current star QB turned future analyst from last month, Drew Brees. I’m shocked Brees didn’t make the Esquire list, but Drew is involved in so much community work in New Orleans I could seriously envision a political/social career after football instead of working in television. For the players listed though in this Top 10, there are likely twenty players under the radar that may in fact be better suited for an analyst career. Who are the players that aren’t household names at the moment, but could flourish as a member of the media?