They love their prospect lists at ESPN, the home of such scouting gurus as Mel Kiper Jr., Keith Law and ... Seth Markman. Seth Markman? He's the senior coordinating producer who oversees the network's NFL studio coverage, and his list runs 35 deep, a mix of perennial Pro Bowlers (Tony Gonzalez, Ray Lewis, Peyton Manning), reliable veterans (David Diehl, London Fletcher) and coaches not exactly on the hot seat (Jim and John Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin). "I keep a list in my computer titled NFL ANALYSTS ON MY RADAR," says Markman. "I'm always updating it."
Every network with an NFL contract has a similar list of players and coaches who would make good broadcasters. Last week SI interviewed executives at CBS, ESPN, Fox, NBC and The NFL Network to find out who was on their watch lists. Manning and Lewis were, unsurprisingly, high on most charts, but the person that drew the most raves was Tomlin, the Steelers' coach. "My Number 1 guy by a landslide," says NBC Sunday Night Football producer Fred Gaudelli. "He has an ability to phrase things in a way you have never heard before. He's also got a great personality."
"Tomlin would be a terrific game or studio analyst," adds CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus, "but I don't imagine he's anywhere close to hanging it up."
Along with several of the names above, NFL Network executive producer Eric Weinberger cites three defensive backs (Champ Bailey, Ed Reed and Charles Woodson) who have great broadcasting potential. "Charles can dissect any form of the game, and he's unafraid to say anything," Weinberger says of the Packers defensive back, who was part of the NFL Network's coverage of Super Bowl XLVI. "And we think defense is underserved on all shows."
Fox Sports Media group executive producer John Entz is eyeing Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and Jets coach Rex Ryan, among others. "We really like Romo," says Entz. "He's smart, a good interview and lights up the camera."
While coaches and QBs have a built-in advantage with networks, given their name recognition, even sure things on paper can fail when the on air sign comes on. Joe Montana, who bombed as an NBC studio analyst, is the most famous example. "Until someone is in front of a camera for an extended period of time," says McManus, "it's almost impossible for us to figure out who is going to be good."