NFL on TV: Who are the next players in the booth? Play-by-play voices and writers have their suggestions

Panelists share popular names like Manning, Rivers and Rodgers and those not well known like Josh McCown and Antoine Bethea

For an NFL telecast to be entertaining, three elements are required: talented players and a competitive game, a quality production and insightful analysis in the broadcast booth. The intersection of these three components produce gripping television.

In the booth where commentators preside over the telecast, the analyst takes the critical role. The good ones break down the intricacies of a complex football game into simple terms. They keep their phrasing basic and don’t go over the heads of pedestrian fans. The exceptional ones help fans who have a passing interest in the game gain a deeper appreciation for football greatness.

The star of CBS’ Tony Romo keeps rising. Fox’ Troy Aikman made his mark through pithy analysis and NBC’s Cris Collinsworth shows his enthusiastic wears each Sunday night. Former coach John Madden brought an unmatched flair, charisma and instructional know-how.

But scouting future broadcasters from the crop of older players near retirement is a matter of good instincts and conjecture. CBS made a large bet on Romo and won big. It was a risky step. The network moved Phil Simms from the game to the studio and gave its number one analyst gig to Romo, who had virtually no experience. It paid big dividends in the minds of the viewing public.

So who’s next? Carolina Panthers’ Greg Olsen served as an analyst a couple times during bye weeks and the reviews of his work were close to raving.

Steve Serby of the New York Post who’s interviewed popular broadcasters through the years and has covered the NFL overall for parts of five decades was asked for some future names.

When a list of quarterbacks and other popular names were presented to the him, he said, “Quarterbacks are all offensive savants, but I think all would be reluctant to criticize players and coaches, especially Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Larry Fitzgerald has had a 16-year Hall of Fame career and speaks very well. I could see Von Miller not being reluctant or afraid to tell it like it is.”

Serby suggested a handful of guys who are hardly household names. “Players who would be perfect as analysts include, Josh McCown (backup QB), Russell Shepard (Giants wide receiver), Marshal Yanda (Ravens guard), Lorenzo Alexander (Bills linebacker) and Antoine Bethea (Giants safety),” he said.

We checked in with local NFL team broadcasters, including one who himself played in the league six years. Former Seahawks wide receiver Steve Raible evolved impressively from the field to television and radio. In 1982, his first year out of the NFL, he became the team’s analyst on radio and remained there for 22 years before moving over to the play-by-play chair in 2004. He just completed his 16th season in that role. Raible has also been a sports television anchor in Seattle for decades.

Other broadcasters who contributed their thoughts are team radio voices, Wayne Larrivee of the Packers and the Big Ten Network, Wes Durham of the Falcons and ESPN, Dave Pasch of the Cardinals and ESPN, Mike Keith of the Tennessee Titans, Mitch Holthus of the Kansas City Chiefs and ESPN and Jeff Joniak of the Chicago Bears. In addition to these NFL voices, veteran Houston sports media critic, David Barron of the Chronicle expressed his opinions on potential talent in the booth.

These are their answers to the questions posed:

Out of current players, who are next to join a broadcasting booth?

David Barron, Houston Chronicle

“Aaron Rodgers strikes me as intriguing because he seems to be something of an unknown in terms of the personality traits he would exhibit and the style he would employ. I’m guessing he would have more of a dry wit as opposed to the exuberance that Tony Romo, as an example, employs. He might be the Merlin Olsen type, to dredge up a name from the past.”

Wayne Larivee, Packers Radio Network

“Aaron Rodgers would be great in terms of picking apart and explaining the game, along the lines of Tony Romo with a little less ‘over the top enthusiasm.'”

Wes Durham, Atlanta Falcons and ESPN

“From being around him since his first days as a pro, I think Matt Ryan would be very good if he chose to pursue this. He did a Sunday of NFL Countdown one week a few years ago for ESPN and he was very good. Luke Kuechly (former Carolina linebacker) is another guy who I think would be very good if he chooses to get involved in it.”

David Pasch,  Arizona Cardinals and ESPN

“I think Drew Brees would be excellent. Smart, good personality, big name. I think Phillip Rivers and Tom Brady would be terrific in the booth if they decided to go into broadcasting.”

Mike Keith, Tennessee Titans

“If Philip Rivers wants to get into broadcasting, he could be a great one. He is intelligent and well-spoken. He has the NFL knowledge-base. He has a distinctive voice, which always makes someone interesting. Most importantly, Rivers is a ‘truth-teller.’ If he is willing to be as blunt on the air as he is on the field, Philip Rivers could be a great broadcaster, one of the best.”

Jeff Joniak, Chicago Bears

“Seattle’s Russell Wilson has the personality, style, and insight that could make him an enormously successful NFL broadcaster.”

David Barron, Houston Chronicle

“With quarterbacks in such favor, I’d love to see Von Miller (Denver linebacker) get a shot. I think we could learn something from him. Same with Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona wide receiver). I enjoyed hearing him do radio chats. He would provide insight form an underexposed perspective.”

Steve Raible, Seattle Seahawks

“Larry Fitzgerald, Russell Wilson, Luke Kuechly, Cameron Jordan, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan. They are all well spoken, have had successful careers and a great deal of experience.  All are team leaders.”

Mitch Holthus, Kansas City Chiefs

“Not a current player, but Kevin Lockett (ex receiver) is a star in the making after son Tyler (cureent WR) is done with the Seahawks. Tyler for that matter will be excellent. Jacksonville wide receiver Chris Conley is excellent. Larry Fitzgerald is a natural.”

What is required to excel as an analyst?

Mitch Holthus, Kansas City Chiefs and ESPN

“Learn what really matters in successful football: The real reasons teams win and lose; reality football training and analysis, not metrics that cater to fantasy football or betting. You need to understand the dynamics of competition and how to handle the psychology of the game with players and coaches.”

Jeff Joniak, Chicago Bears

“What makes a good announcer or analyst in the NFL, or any sport, is to be yourself. The moment you try to be anyone other than who you are, you lose your greatest strength. Everyone is unique and therefore holding tightly to your own style, beliefs, and personality will distinguish you.”

Mike Keith, Tennessee Titans

“To me, the key quality is a true ‘feel’ for the NFL game. The rosters are much shorter than college. The season is much longer and it takes many more twists and turns. More adjustments are made not only during the season, but also during games. Teams are secretive so you have to rely on your own knowledge to determine what certain things truly mean like contract or injuries. You don’t just have to know and understand the craft of broadcasting, you have to have a working knowledge of all things NFL.”

David Pasch, Arizona Cardinals and ESPN

“Documentation of the game is always most important, regardless of the sport. Cover the situation/context of the moment, handle the rules, set up and play off your analyst. In the NFL, it helps to have a feel for the history of the players, team and league. I also think the energy level of the play-by-play announcer has to match the moment, and time and score often dictate that.”

Wes Durham,  Atlanta Falcons and ESPN

“I think the first quality someone has to have is the ‘want to.’ They want to do it, they want to get better and they want to invest some time in the off-season working on it as well.”

Steve Raible, Seattle Seahawks

“I’ve always believed being a good writer is important for a broadcaster.  It makes you think and speak in complete thoughts. It teaches you where to ‘put the period,’ when to stop talking and how to complete your thoughts. To be a good writer you have to study it, read it, and practice it.”

Peyton Manning is a popular name in this conversation, how do you feel about him joining a broadcasting booth?

David Barron, Houston Chronicle

“I think Manning is so exposed now. It would be tough for him to dial it back to fit in the confines of that role. Could you listen to Tom Brady talk without thinking “That’s Tom Brady talking?” Would he be bigger than the game he’s covering?” 

Wayne Larivee, Green bay Packers

“Peyton Manning could be outstanding because he is an actor who can play a role which in the final analysis is what broadcast is all about.  Still it would be interesting to see how his dry humor would work during a game especially when he is not on camera. Also, with Peyton, could he dumb down his knowledge of the game to explain it to us?”

Wes Durham, Atlanta Falcons and Big Ten Network

“His work on the ESPN+ streaming special, Peyton’s Places has been incredibly good. He’s got all the personality, questions, analysis, interest and experience one could want in a game analyst.”

David Pasch, Arizona Cardinals and ESPN

“I think Peyton would be outstanding because of how he sees the game, and also because he has a great sense of humor. His understanding and appreciation for the history of the game would also be a great asset. I think he would be a no brainer in the booth and would make the transition smoothly.”

Mike Keith, Tennessee Titans

“I would give anything for Manning to get into broadcasting. He is the most natural, potential broadcaster that I have ever been around. Manning could do games, studio, talk shows, you name it. He might be a better broadcaster than he was a quarterback. I am 100% serious in saying that.”

Steve Raible, Seattle Seahawks

“I think he’d be good in the booth or in a studio show setting.”

Mitch Holthus, Kansas City Chiefs

“Peyton would be incredible in the broadcast booth. His understanding of the depth of the game on both sides of the ball AND his ability to communicate in an entertaining fashion is waiting to be done.”

What are tips you would give up-and-coming broadcasters or new analysts?

Wes Durham, Atlanta Falcons and ESPN

“Each team in the NFL has an established video/audio element to their team website. If a player thinks he’s interested in broadcasting, get a taste in the off-season by doing a video diary, podcast or regular/weekly sit-down with the website to see if it’s something you’d be interested in down the road.”

David Pasch, Arizona Cardinals and ESPN

“Learning the rules and being able to document the game always come first. You also have to be a good listener, and understand when to set up your analyst, or when to play off him or her so that person stands out and excels.”

Mike Keith, Tennessee Titans

“Work hard on basics. Learn the players’ names and numbers. Learn pronunciation of their names. Know the coaches and other team facts. Nothing ‘sells out’ a broadcaster like saying someone’s name incorrectly or stating something that is untrue. The more you practice, the better you get.”

Steve Raible, Seattle Seahawks

“Prepare, Practice, Listen to the good ones, accept coaching, write!”

Mitch Holthus, Kansas City Chiefs

“The ability to PROPERLY prepare, that is go ‘beyond the obvious.’For example, I have heard/seen many national pundits talk about Kansas City’s defensive woes, e.g. ‘bad against the run,’ when actually the past six weeks of the season, the Chiefs had the number one defense in the NFL in the categories of scoring defense, red zone and red zone takeaways, 3rd down defense.

“Secondly, the ability to truly listen is a lost attribute. To cover the NFL properly, one must ask questions based on research and LISTEN to the answers from players, coaches, etc. Far too often, people who cover the league fall into the lazy trap of ‘cliff notes’ research or some popular narrative.  Also, one cannot be afraid to refute a wrong thesis from a producer type who predetermines what the game will be like, or what the story will be. A person who really ‘digs’ into research and listens to others will have to confidence to tell the accurate story or react when reality changes the narrative or ‘pre-determined’ story.”












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