You hear them every week. They are the few, the proud, the analysts who break down everything on NFL telecasts.
All of them have played or coached professional football at one point. So, you know they should know what they’re talking about.
Some, however, like the man pictured to the left, do it better than others.
That’s what this list is for—to recognize the best of the best, those who truly add to the game instead of just watching it.
To be considered for the Top 10, an analyst had to meet one criterion—they had to be fully active color commentators on one of the four major carriers during the 2009 season.
That means you won’t find Joe Gibbs or Mike Golic (or even NFL Network’s Matt Millen) on here, nor are you likely to find part-time eighth-string guys like SI’s Ross Tucker (who did a handful of games for FOX last season) or ESPN Deportes’ Raul Allegre (who is actually decent from what I can understand).
It also means you won’t find Steve Young, Bill Cowher, Terry Bradshaw, or Tony Dungy, nor will you see a TIki Barber or Michele Tafoya.
As important as they are to the game, they either exist in snippets or have to battle for time on a pre-game show, which makes it unfair to rank them (especially since they’re all pretty good, Bradshaw’s penchant for rambling notwithstanding).
That left roughly 20 analysts vying for 10 spots (plus an honorable mention)…so where did they fall?
Steve Tasker just missed the list, but that sadly has more to do with the fact that CBS hasn’t really given him a chance to reach his full potential; he was put mostly on Bills games early in his career, and then paired with the inimitable Gus Johnson for the last few years.
But he’s a great announcer when he gets the chance to show it.
Tasker is the epitome of the saying that average players make the best coaches/analysts; he was mostly a special teams ace during his 12-year career, but hit far harder than a man of 5’9”, 185 pounds should.
He was a seven-time Pro Bowler (and 1993 Pro Bowl MVP) and was the Special Teamer on the Bills’ 50th Anniversary Team, proving everyone has their niche.
In the booth, Tasker provides analysis from the perspective of someone who has been there, but never forgot the struggle it took.
When bad plays happen, he breaks down the flaws, and when good plays happen he critiques both the positive and the negative.
Many also don’t know that during the preseason, Tasker works Buffalo Bills games, having done play-by-play for several years before sliding into the analyst seat in 2007.
With Dick Enberg leaving CBS Sports to join the San Diego Padres, Johnson will likely move up the depth chart and leave Tasker with a new partner.
Here’s to hoping it’s one who’ll let Tasker shine, even if he doesn’t have “getting away from the cops speed.”
Yeah, Getty Images doesn't like a lot of these guys, so take note that Cross is the big fella on the left of the photo.
A six-time Pro Bowl lineman, Cross has been in the TV booth, radio booth, and studio throughout his broadcasting career.
Cross’ style is a little brash to some, but then again, when you’re one of the best linemen in recent league history, you can easily come off as arrogant.
What Cross does do well, however, is play to his specialty. Whether it be a great run, pass, or a stellar defensive play near the line of scrimmage, Randy is quick to point out how the blocking schemes affected the play and praise/critique those involved.
He dropped down CBS’ depth chart a bit in 2009 (working with Don Criqui after a few years as Dick Enberg’s sidekick), but he still maintains the quality even though he often covers “lesser” games.
Gannon was another victim of CBS’ 2009 switch up, working with stalwart Ian Eagle after three seasons beside Kevin Harlan.
It didn’t affect the former NFL MVP however, as Eagle and Harlan have very similar play-by-play style, and Gannon complemented both of them well.
As a former quarterback, Gannon knows the intricacies of every play in the book, as well as how they can be stopped. That insight allows him to break down excellence or deficiencies all throughout a play and give his telestrator a workout.
There are four former QBs on this list, and while Gannon might be the “worst” of them so to speak, he’s certainly one of the rising stars.
“Chucky” certainly knows his stuff; any Super Bowl winning coach has to. But the best element he brings to the table is fun.
ESPN’s three-man Monday Night Football booth has usually run the format of a play-by-play man, a “straight” analyst, and an “entertaining” analyst (some, in the case of Dennis Miller, less entertaining than others).
But in just his first season behind the mic, Gruden proved that he can adequately fill both of the latter two roles. His depthless knowledge of just about every scheme and player in the league is uncanny, but he’s never afraid to poke fun at himself, the players, coaches, and even Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski.
Strangely, because he’s so inexperienced, you know that Gruden can only get better, and hopefully keep the world from having to listen to Ron Jaworski’s “analysis” any longer than necessary.
If it wasn’t for the fact that he may still be a one-year wonder, “Chucky” would be much higher up on this list.
The fourth CBS analyst on this list, Fouts is also a former quarterback who has been in the booth for more than 20 years.
He’s been with CBS twice, was once the third man in the booth on Monday Night Football, and was ABC/ESPN’s lead collegiate analyst for most of the last decade.
Between that and his playing career, Fouts has seen it all, and his strength in the booth is that he isn’t afraid to use those experiences to relay a point.
Sure, younger or less astute viewers may not always get the reference, but know that it is founded in a deep understanding of history.
Plus, he also brings a bit more of the “fun” factor, as Fouts often played off of the surreptitious snark of Dick Enberg (and did it well) last season.
With Enberg gone, one can only hope that it's Gus Johnson permanently paired alongside No. 14 next fall.
While he’s not as “fun” as Jon Gruden, Brian Billick brings the same insight and coaching knowledge to the booth.
He has been paired with one of the smoother “straight men” in the league, Thom Brennaman, for the last two seasons, and will often fall back on his coaching experience to question or praise good, gutsy, or otherwise notable play selections.
While Billick has only been with FOX for two seasons now, he is quickly moving up the ladder and is now considered their No. 3 analyst.
Some may see him as a little dry, but there’s no doubt that Collinsworth is one of the most knowledgeable NFL commentators of the bunch.
He’s worked for FOX, NBC, and the NFL Network, at one point being the lead commentator for all three networks. He’s also co-hosted Inside the NFL and been a part of NBC and FOX’s studio shows.
Quite a resume, and that’s not including five Emmy Awards for his studio work. But as I noted, on game telecasts, he can be a little dry. His sardonic and sometimes monotone nature never seems to waver, whether he’s calling a routine play or a 100 yard interception return.
In essence, he knows what he’s talking about, but is the anti-Gus Johnson in the personality department.
Often “overlooked” as part of the old Monday Night Football booth with Al Michaels and Frank Gifford, Dierdorf was always the “technical” analyst of the bunch (even George Carlin noted him in a routine in the mid-1990s).
That rep came with good reason: Dierdorf was one of the most technically sound and dominating offensive linemen in NFL history, and is enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a result.
Dierdorf retired in 1983 and immediately moved to the booth, where he’s stayed since. He’s been CBS’ No. 2 analyst (working with Dick Enberg, Verne Lundquist, and now Greg Gumbel) for over a decade, and still displays the same technically sound and easily excitable personality that has made him a fan favorite throughout his career.
Simms is the No. 1 analyst on CBS, and missed nary a beat after Greg Gumbel was replaced by Jim Nantz.
Need I say more?
I suppose I should. I’ll say that Phil (again, a former QB) sees the field in a way few other analysts do, and while he’ll make a mistake from time to time, he isn’t shy about overtaking Nantz or expostulating on a point to make Nantz look better.
Plus, he makes “in-game” adjustments along with the teams and will often see tweaks or opportunities well before those coaches will.
In short, he’s one of the best in the game.
I include “Moose and Goose” together because as good as Johnston is on his own, having Siragusa to play off of at times makes him that much better.
Johnston was a hard-nosed fullback as a player, and he’s become a knowledgeable, no-nonsense color analyst.
Much like Dierdorf or Cross, he will often credit great blocking (and criticize bad blocks) as the key to a play, but can express both the offensive and defensive schemes of the same play with an aplomb that very few have.
Add in Siragusa, who is more booth extension than sideline reporter, as the jolly big man who will often retort Johnston’s offensive perspectives with a defensive counter, and you’ve got a tandem that makes Kenny, Moose, and Goose more of Fox’s “1A” broadcast team than a true No. 2.
As much as it pains me to say it as an Eagles fan, Aikman is arguably the best color commentator in the game.
He shares all of the same ex-quarterback intangibles as Fouts, Gannon, and Simms, but he manages to work in his knowledge almost at the expense of the often biased, condescending monotony of Joe Buck, considered by many to be the worst announcer in all of sports.
Sitting next to a veritable black hole of charisma, Aikman gets his points across and manages to be entertaining while giving viewers great insight into the game.
All this from a guy who was hit in the head so much that he retired due to concussions.
But he was the No. 1 overall draft pick and a winner (and Hall of Famer) on the field, so it’s only natural that he has evolved into the best color man in the game.