Each year there are a variety of sports media talents that break out and elevate their stature. This past year it was highlighted by Laura Rutledge, Maria Taylor, and Liam McHugh. This list projects 19 talents in sports media, in no particular order, that are set up for that type of year in 2019 regardless of their age, time in the industry, or how well-known they currently are. Factors include the expectation of how much their respective company will push them, and evaluations of how trends are looking over the past few months.
Chiney Ogwumike – ESPN
Chiney Ogwumike is a WNBA All-Star and simultaneously one of ESPN’s fastest rising NBA analysts. She has made an impact on her time so far on Get Up which is becoming a device to elevate many of the network’s young talents. Ogwumike will be adding Hoop Streams to her resume this season: The upcoming Twitter-based NBA pre-game will offer fans an innovative viewing experience with Ogwumike, Cassidy Hubbarth, and Treavor Scales leading into ESPN’s biggest NBA games.
Dwyane Wade – Presumptive media free agent
The legendary career of Dwyane Wade is coming to an end on the basketball court in 2019. So, what is next? It widely presumed in media circles that the future Hall of Famer will be highly sought-after for some type of analyst role. Wade spent time during the 2015 NBA Finals as a guest analyst on ESPN’s NBA Countdown. Given the show has been a constant revolving door in terms of its on-air talents, it makes sense on several levels that ESPN could be in his future. TNT’s coverage has had much less flux, but if Wade is interested in color commentary perhaps they could see him as the basketball version of Tony Romo? In addition, NBATV has proven to be a fit for an abundance of former NBA players.
Tom Haberstroh – NBC Sports
The former ESPN and Bleacher Report writer and podcaster is now in his first basketball season as the NBC regional NBA insider. Haberstroh is a versatile multi-media talent whose savvy insight finds angles and talking points not found anywhere else. He is one of the few writers today who can create must-read long-form NBA pieces that do not include juicy player-movement nuggets. The same can be said about his presence on Twitter with his short “Big Number” clips.
Rachel Bonnetta – FS1
Making a name for yourself as the host of a sports show with more than one strongly opinionated pundit has long been a challenge. Rachel Bonnetta has been able to do that early on with FS1’s Lock It In next to Clay Travis, Cousin Sal, and Todd Fuhrman. (The Big Lead’s editor-in-chief Jason McIntyre is an on-air personality on the show as well.) It has been a fast rise for the energetic, witty personality who was hosting digital World Cup videos a summer ago. Bonnetta has a chance this year to really help grow gambling content and show it can translate to fun discussion on television.
Ryan Ruocco – YES Network, ESPN, and DAZN
It won’t be long until Ryan Ruocco is a household name en route to becoming one of the preeminent all-around play-by-players. While his future could include being the heir to Mike Breen and the voice of the Yankees, he is set up for a career-advancing 2019. Ruocco has added boxing to his to-do list at DAZN where there is hope he can become one of the top-notch fight callers. No sport is more reliant on the voice calling it than boxing is and it projects to elevate Ruocco at great lengths.
Dan Orlovsky, Domonique Foxworth and Field Yates – ESPN
These three very well could be the future of ESPN’s NFL coverage. Dan Orlovsky has impressed in every role he has appeared on. Orlovsky’s style and breakdowns are comparable to that of Kirk Herbstreit’s. Field Yates has become the best part of NFL Live‘s rotating cast as well as a big part of the successful Fantasy Focus podcast. If Yates can add more appearances on ESPN’s general shows – perhaps on Get Up – this year, he will be as good of a bet as any anyone to be the breakout star of the year. Domonique Foxworth is becoming one of ESPN’s top proverbial sixth-men with this work on Get Up, the Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz, OTL, Highly Questionable, and even segments on First Take. Foxworth is about to make a major leap on the list of people who should be next up for their own show.
Marcus Thompson II – The Athletic
Marcus Thompson is a veteran journalist but 2019 will be a big year for him. With widespread intrigue about the Warriors and what Kevin Durant will do, Thompson’s coverage of the matter transcends The Athletic’s paywall. He has been an authority on the Warriors since their hot streak began. Momentum continued percolating at the end of 2018 with his coverage of the Durant vs. Draymond Green beef and should move up several notches as the hourglass of Durant’s current contract runs out. Between now and the moment Durant makes his decision, basketball fans are going to have to keep tabs on the words written by Thompson and his radio appearances. Thompson’s sure to be discussed biography of Durant, KD: Kevin Durant’s Relentless Pursuit to Be the Greatest, will be released this May.
Taylor Rooks – Bleacher Report
A former host and sideline reporter at Big Ten Network and SNY, Taylor Rooks is the Bleacher Report name to keep an eye on this year. Along with TBL alum Rob Perez, she is going to be a focal point of an agreement between Turner Sports, the NBA and Twitter to air the second half of select NBA games on Twitter. She has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to document moments at the intersection of sports and culture on social media, which was on display during Super Bowl week when she captured Robert Kraft and Cardi B dancing onstage.
Jeff Passan – ESPN
In terms of his role at ESPN, Jeff Passan will be doing for baseball what Schefter and Woj do for the NFL and NBA respectively. Passan will be used all around their platforms including an increased role on SportsCenter. The newest ESPN insider is already reporting transactional baseball news at a high volume. Passan’s push may just be beginning in 2019, however. ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro is a known baseball fan and there is expectation ESPN will bid to get more MLB games on the network when the current rights deal is up. The bigger baseball becomes at the company, the more Passan will be needed and used.
Benjamin Watson and Greg Olsen – Media Free Agents
The next wave of football players turned analysts is going to be led by Benjamin Watson and Greg Olsen (when he retires). Both are fits and possible candidates for ESPN, CBS, Fox, NBC, and the NFL Network. Olsen was impressive in previous work with Fox in the booth and on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown. When he chooses, Olsen cannot be ruled out for any opening pertaining to football coverage. The same is happening now with Watson (according to Michael McCarthy of Sporting News, ESPN is currently expressing interest). Watson has the personality to also thrive on the more opinionated sports studio shows in addition to talking the game’s Xs-and-Os.
Kayce Smith and Kate Mannion – Barstool Sports
Barstool is filled with talents who are poised for leaps. Two of those rising stars are Kayce Smith and Kate Mannion. Kayce has been known for a while, but new roles have her in-line for a major breakout year. Clancy & Carrabis with Kayce Smith is just a few months in and is a highlight of SiriusXM’s sports talk options. The recently launched weekly digital show, The Group Chat, along with the hosts Alexandra Cooper and Sofia Franklyn from the popular Call Her Daddy podcast has the potential to be a major success. Kayce is a focal point of Barstool’s college football coverage and should break through with several fan bases with another impactful year on the Barstool College Football Show. Kate is gaining notoriety for her amusing Twitter timeline. She blogs on a variety of subjects, but her byline produces some of the funniest sports posts on the internet. She is also thriving in audio on both the Hi Haters radio show and the Zero Blog Thirty podcast. It is hard to not see her becoming a much more recognizable and popular personality at Barstool in the next 10 months.
Brian Anderson – Turner Sports
Brian Anderson taking a major leap in the pantheon of play-by-play is inevitable this year along with a major boost in Q-Rating. Anderson is the front-runner to take over for Marv Albert as the lead voice on NBA on TNT next season, according to Andrew Marchand of the NY Post. He also does MLB playoffs for Turner Sports and NCAA Tournament games for Turner/CBS, in addition to being the Brewers’ regular play-by-play man on FOX Sports Wisconsin telecasts.
Ashley Brewer – ABC Los Angeles
Co-hosting Tiger Woods’ Celebrity Cup is already checked off on Ashley Brewer’s 2019 campaign. Brewer’s fast-track to stardom will manifest itself over the next 12 months. Brewer previously had a standout performance on ABC’s The Bachelor Winter Games. Factoring in her critically acclaimed work on ABC Los Angeles, Brewer is going to be a name to keep an eye on for several sportscasting jobs on the national level with her contract expiring in a year.
Chris Haynes – Yahoo Sports
Chris Haynes is one of the most prominent NBA insiders. Haynes will be well on his way to being the face of Yahoo’s sports division by year’s end. He is gaining fame on FS1’s studio shows, as well. It was there he kickstarted the non-stop Kevin Durant-Knicks rumors by declaring there was a “very good shot” it happens this summer. If there are odds on who breaks the Durant news, it would be foolish for anyone but Haynes to be the favorite. Also, watch out for NBA players opening up and creating newsworthy talking points on his new podcast.
Pat McAfee – WWE, Media free agent
Just what exactly Pat McAfee will be doing in 2019 is a mystery, but he is arguably the hottest free agent on the media market. He is going to have options. He finished this past football season with a color commentating role on a Packers-Lions game on Fox. ESPN, Fox, and the NFL Network would all benefit from using him on their studio shows. Fox, in particular, stands out. McAfee just recently signed a multi-year deal with the WWE, a brand that will begin its relationship with Fox later in the year. At his time with Barstool, McAfee also showed he can lead a widely entertaining radio show.