Connor Rogers (R) and Trevor Sikkema (L) of PFF's "NFL Stock Exchange" podcast. Screengrab: PFF’s ‘NFL Stock Exchange’ on YouTube, edit by Liam McGuire, Comeback Media

It’s 2 a.m. and PFF’s NFL Stock Exchange podcast is full steam ahead.

Connor Rogers and Trevor Sikkema have already wrapped up their analysis of the first round of the NFL Draft. Rogers is now returning home from NBC studios in Stamford, Connecticut. But no matter what time he arrives, these dedicated draft enthusiasts are committed to discussing the 2024 NFL Draft with a live audience– their podcast won’t be stopped.

And neither will the inside jokes about Audric Estime and The Wolf of Wall Street.

“I’ve known Connor for a long time,” Sikkema told Awful Announcing. “I think there’s a lot of people in this space that used to be called #NFLDraftTwitter. We haven’t heard that term in a while, but you say that to anybody who recognizes it, and they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. I’ve known Connor for years just through that. He was always a voice in the NFL Draft from the Bleacher Report angle, and I loved to read his work and take in all the content he was doing because I thought he was a great scouting mind.”

Sikkema has a long history of successful podcasts, from the Pewter Report to Locked On NFL Draft. So, when Pro Football Focus decided to launch a new podcast, Sikkema was a natural choice to host. Thankfully, Austin Gayle, now The Ringer’s director of audience engagement, empowered Sikkema with the freedom to choose his topic and even a co-host. This was especially valuable because Sikkema had a close friend and colleague in mind— Rogers.

Recognizing Sikkema’s passion for the NFL Draft, Gayle greenlit the idea despite another draft-focused podcast already existing at PFF. Sikkema, however, had always valued Rogers’ insights and respected his work. He saw Rogers as the perfect complement to his own approach.

“And Connor was one of the first names that I thought of,” Sikkema tells Awful Announcing. “Because Connor, at the time, he had been doing Stick to Football for Bleacher Report for many, many years. But when Matt Miller left Bleacher Report, that podcast stopped.

“And I remember talking to Connor about it, and he was frustrated that it just stopped, and understandably so. He had done a major part in building that audience and now they weren’t allowing him to continue that podcast. So, I knew he was itching to get back into the podcast game, but Connor is a really smart dude and he knew that the right opportunities’ gotta come up.

“He was one of the first people I thought of. He was one of the first interviews we did. And I remember one of our producers at the time, Stone Roshell, who now works at Yahoo Sports as a producer there, he absolutely loved Connor. He loved the chemistry we had during the interview. And the more we sat there and thought about it, and the more we got management involved, the more everything just pointed to Connor being the guy.”

Sikkema couldn’t have asked for a better co-host than Rogers. Their friendship provided a natural rapport, while Rogers’ expertise, background, and professionalism complemented him perfectly. In Sikkema’s eyes, Rogers was the ideal choice on every level.

“Me and Trevor have been friends for a long time in this industry, and at the time, (Bleacher Report’s) Stick to Football was done, and Trevor started at PFF,” Rogers told AA. “And when Trevor got to PFF, it always made sense for him to have a podcast because he’s so good on air, and it’s just the perfect platform for him. And he was going through the process of looking for a co-host. I met with him and the producers, we had some long conversations, and I had some ideas. Because I had been doing this for years and now, I was a podcast free agent in the draft space…

“For me, I pitched everything to (PFF), and fortunately, they bought in. Trevor bought in. We knew we had the chemistry — and being on-air, chemistry’s still a gamble, you never know — but we thought we saw eye to eye on enough things. We have the same sense of humor in a different way, but we had all the right ideas. I think the most important thing he and I had eye to eye was consistency. Every single week when we sit down in that chair, turn the mic on and that camera on, you know that the person across from you did their homework where it’s going to push you to also do your homework.”

And thus, NFLSE was born.

Sikkema and Rogers brainstormed a bunch of ideas. They landed on the NFL Stock Exchange because the show’s content heavily revolves around the ever-changing landscape of NFL prospects, rookies, and league dynamics. Rogers admits they initially planned a broader NFL focus, but the draft content took center stage. Naturally, the show evolved into a roughly 80/20 split between draft and NFL discussions. “Stock Exchange” also plays on the concept of “stock watch,” a common practice in draft coverage.

Coming up with a catchy and unique name in the podcast space that wasn’t already taken in 2022 proved challenging. It took them time to find something that resonated with listeners and struck the perfect balance between college football and the NFL.

“It’s still crazy to me that the timing worked out because of how talented and good he is,” Sikkema says of Rogers. “Every step of the way, it just felt like we were in sync with what we wanted the podcast to do, what we wanted it to become, and how we’ve grown to this point.”

Their commitment to excellence extends beyond the aptly named show. What truly stands out about Rogers and Sikkema is their competitive spirit. They constantly push each other to be the first with the most insightful analysis.

But it’s not all seriousness.

They clearly have a lot of fun with the process. Their banter and laughter are infectious, which creates a strong and engaged audience who appreciate their lighthearted approach while still valuing their expertise.

“It’s not just about who has the biggest following, and it’s not about who’s gonna get the biggest eyeballs. The thing that creates the best show is always the chemistry that co-hosts have,” Sikkema says. “I listen to all sorts of podcasts and sometimes there are podcast episodes about nothing. There are podcast episodes where I don’t even care about the topic that they’re talking about, but the people, the friends – if you will — that are putting on the podcast, that are having the conversation, that is so much fun. You feel like you’re in the room with them. You feel like you’re hanging out with them.

“The more that I thought about it, it’s like, ‘Yeah, of course.’ I think that Connor and I see a lot of things eye-to-eye. And I think that we have a good friendship where this can yield a really cool environment where people who listen to our show, they’re not just listening, they’re hanging out with us. We’re all in a living room together with the TV on and SportsCenter‘s on, and we’re just talking about football, and we just happen to be talking about the draft altogether. And that’s how we’ve wanted to build this thing.”

“I think that’s why the podcast, in my opinion, has worked so well, so quickly,” said Rogers. “Because we’re still a new show. I mean, we’ve only done three drafts, but it’s taken on a life of its own.”

And that life of its own shines through in the fact that in the early hours of the morning, Rogers and Sikkema can’t wait to talk to one another about the 32 picks that transpired just hours prior. Someone in the comment section of their YouTube channel jokes that it’s like Rogers had three Red Bulls and six Tylenol.

“It was just so funny to me,” says Rogers. “It felt like it was four o’clock in the afternoon and not two o’clock in the morning. It’s the adrenaline we get from the audience, and we had over 2,000 people concurrently viewing it, which is just hilarious to think about at 2:30 in the morning. We’re so excited because we’ve been building up to this for 10 months. It’s like you’re a kid waking up on Christmas morning; you’re not going back to bed… That’s the beauty of it.”

“Oh, man, it’s so cool; it’s so fun. We were doing the PFF NFL Draft Show on Day 2,” adds Sikkema. “And on Day 2, the chat for PFF’s main live draft show is just people flooding it with Audric Estime takes. It was hilarious. And again, I hope the inside jokes are always just a reflection of how much we genuinely enjoy what we do…

“Because the Audric Estime going No. 3 overall, it’s stupid; it’s silly; it’s dumb. But I think that people love it, and I hope that people love it because it connects with how much we genuinely enjoy doing that show, and the enjoyment we get from it and the silliness of it. That’s the part that I think people connect with. It’s a show where, yeah, we’ll talk seriously, and we’ll talk draft prospects. We’ll hopefully teach you guys a couple of things… but also the fact that we genuinely enjoy turning on the microphone and turning on the camera.

“And I think that has been the really cool part of how people have gravitated towards that. There’s so much football content out there. There’s just so much. Even just NFL Draft content. There’s so much out there that people could choose to listen to what they want.

“And I have to believe that the reason why Stock Exchange is able to grow the way it has isn’t because we’re reinventing the wheel with some profound approach to scouting… I hope that we teach people some things every now and then, but I have to believe the reason people have chosen to gravitate toward our content is because it’s genuine. It’s the two of us being friends, talking football.”

Sikkema says that he and Rogers encourage their audience to become part of a community. They want their viewers and listeners on YouTube to feel like friends who can discuss football together. The comment section is a key place for this kind of interaction, and it’s how they’ve built such a loyal fanbase, like the “die-hard addicts” of the podcast. Sikkema believes the key to this connection is their authenticity, their knowledge of football, and, most importantly, the enjoyment they get from creating the content.

“Those inside jokes, whether it’s the Wolf of Wall Street references, the WWE references, the Audric Estime jokes, or whatever it is, man, it’s just been a lot of fun every single time,” he says. “We have something little that pops up every time and turns into a big inside joke because the people take it to that level— I love it.”

And this group of people — which is barely scratching the surface of the NFLSE community — isn’t your typical following. They call themselves “sex addicts,” a hilarious twist on the SE part of the NFLSE that the show’s co-hosts, Rogers and Sikkema, clearly lean into. They’ve built an incredibly loyal fanbase, something Rogers describes as unlike anything he’s encountered. Their listeners are deeply invested and feel like they’re part of the whole process.

That whole process has to start somewhere, right? Rogers observes a gap between the national media’s focus on mock drafts and top prospects in March and April and the NFLSE’s audience, who are already hungry for deeper analysis on players like No. 189.

At the same time, Rogers downplays the idea that their numerous mock drafts are a boast. His goal, along with Sikkema’s, is to build a community for die-hard draft enthusiasts. By March or April, the NFLSE boasts over a dozen mock drafts under their belt, which, Rodgers admits with a laugh, helps keep the lights on.

These mocks not only attract new listeners, but also satisfy their existing fanbase. There’s a clear reason why mock drafts are everywhere– because draft fanatics can’t get enough of them. And cater to this craving, Rogers and Sikkema have introduced a guest mock draft series, bringing fresh voices to their platform and offering a change of pace from Rogers and Sikkema’s usual takes.

But Rogers believes there’s a crucial element often forgotten in the draft season’s intensity— fun.

“Well, I think the most important thing is — and so many people forget nowadays — that sports are supposed to be fun,” Rogers said. “We gravitate towards sports because it’s entertainment. And the draft is, in my opinion, something where that gets glossed over way too often.

“People become so enamored with rights and wrongs that their team is doing right and the disaster going on with their team that throughout this process, while you can have serious takes and opinions and scouting reports, you’re invested in it because it’s also fun whether it’s a distraction. Whether it’s a hobby. Whether it’s informational.

“And I think for Trevor and I, what’s so amazing about the community is that they want to have just as much fun as we have as we’re recording it as they’re listening to it. And that’s important to me. The community, for me and Trevor is the most important thing. It’s always been that everybody is speaking with us. Get in the comments. Give us your takes. What do you hate about our rankings? What do you love about our rankings? What would you do differently? What do you want the next show to be?

“We’ll literally be like, ‘Do you want us to fix the Falcons? Do you want us to fix the Raiders? Would you rather hear us talk about the top-20 wide receiver or Day 3 gems?’ And I think that’s really helped us. It’s such a unique community. It always blows my mind.

“I think a lot of people look at YouTube with the connotation that it’s just like the troll-filled comment section. And I get it; it can be in a lot of different places. And we’ve kind of found a way to overcome that where I think if a lot of people enter that, there’s 10 more sex addicts there ready to pummel down because they’re just there for fun and to really enjoy it and be a part of it, rather than just be underneath it.”

Sikkema and Rogers stand out in their draft coverage because they actively champion the success of the players they analyze. Unlike some analysts who seem invested in the accuracy of their evaluations, even if it means hoping a player fails, Sikkema and Rogers genuinely root for their chosen prospects to thrive.

They become advocates for the players they cover, promoting their potential and truly hoping they work out.

“It is really cool,” says Sikkema. “And, obviously, it’s a two-part thing. Like professionally, you want to be right. For as much as we know that we’re not gonna be right about every prospect, in order to kind of know what you’re talking about, you’re hopefully right on some of them, right?

“So, anytime that a guy that me and Connor are all able to cape for, anytime that players break out, I think it’s a really cool moment because you can say, ‘Hey, I kind of stood on the table for this player, and I saw him as big time-value when others didn’t.’ And it’s sort of reasoning to say, ‘Yeah, I’m actually not too bad at this. Like I’m pretty good at identifying talent, things like that.’

“I think there’s a personal side to it as well. You watch a lot of interviews of this guy. You stand next to their podiums at the combine. You get to learn more about them as the draft process goes on. Shoot, I wasn’t as high on Michael Penix Jr. as Connor was, but him being a top-10 overall pick, that’s awesome. That stuff’s awesome to see because you hear so many good things about Michael Penix and the dude that he is getting rewarded with being a top-10 overall pick; I mean, that’s crazy. That’s just really cool to see. So you’re always rooting for the best in players.

“And I hope that people that listen to our show understand that part about what we do. Yeah, sure, we’re ranking these guys, but at the same time, we’re identifying all the strengths because we want all of these players to work out one way or another. I think it’s always fun when they get put in good situations where you see a lot of those strengths shine… It’s little examples like (Deonte Banks, Michael Wilson and Anton Harrison) that honestly get you fired up. They make you want to understand more about what works at certain positions or what works in certain schemes.”

“It just makes you want to find more of those guys,” he adds. “That’s the ultimate goal is finding these players and being able to rank them appropriately versus where they ended up being in their NFL careers. Of course, there are a lot of things that go into it, but there’s no doubt about it. When you find some of those certain players that really work out that you were maybe higher on than somebody else, it’s very motivating to continue to get better at what you do to find more of those guys.”

It’s fair to say that Rogers and Sikkema did a good enough job scouting one another; you’d be hard-pressed to find a better podcasting duo right now.

“We’re so in sync, but at the same time, because of the nature of what we cover, we don’t get to be ourselves on the show— standalone views,” says Rogers. “It’s organized chaos in a way. And it really ends up working for us with our processes.”

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.