The Around The NFL podcast has almost become a national treasure. It’s something that all NFL lovers anticipate and value, especially when it’s almost game time! We were lucky enough to sit down with Gregg Rosenthal, Chris Wesseling, Marc Sessler and Dan Hanzus, who are some of the leagues most important voices, to discuss all things NFL, making it in the sports industry and possible favourites for this year’s Super Bowl!
How did you get started?
Gregg Rosenthal: I started in Fantasy Football. I was writing and kind of fell into a Fantasy Football job which was 16 years ago now, and once I had a full time job in football I wanted to make sure I never let that go, and I took it as far as possible. We had a bigger company, NBC, buy our company and I’ve worked at a couple big news companies before doing pro-football talk before coming to The NFL and we started a blog and podcast.
Chris Wesseling: Gregg hired me for Rotoworld Fantasy Football about 11 years ago. I was in my 30s and journeyed around for a while, then when Gregg hired me he said the goal is to just make sure that once you’re in the door for writing about football, it’s sort of the play pen of jobs, you get to hang out and talk about football so make sure you don’t mess it up!
Marc Sessler: My story is close to Wesse’s (Chris Wesseling). In high school I did a lot of sports writing. We had a TV station at our high school and I got all in to it and thought that I wanted to do that. I got to college and decided that I wanted to do more screen writing stuff and kind of drifted away from sports writing all together. I worked at a flashlight factory for a while, I had a job inserting metal strips into library books – I got very far away from sports in general but always loved football. But in my 30s, I really decided that I wanted to make a real career switch and started my own football blog with my friends, which a lot of people do now as it’s a great way to learn how to write. Then, because I lived in LA, I got a three day a week job as an editor of The NFL. Dan started soon after the lockout happened and we both thought we were going to get fired, but we stuck around! They were starting this blog called Around The NFL, it was called Around The League back then, and we were both hired as it’s primary writers. Gregg showed up soon after, and as the years went on Dan and I started a tiny podcast that morphed into, when Gregg and Wesse showed up, the podcast we have now! It was a very strange journey and I probably wouldn’t follow my path if I was a college student necessarily, but we all took different paths to get here.
Dan Hanzus: In highschool I wrote for the school newspaper and I then went to college and majored in journalism. I got a job at a fairly big daily news paper in New York where I grew up. I hated covering high school sports, I didn’t like the hours and thought it wasn’t for me. So, I drifted to public relations for a little while. I then very quickly realised that it wasn’t the fit. I started to drift back to sports and work for Major League Baseball for a bit, then left Major League Baseball and started working with a comedy production group in Hollywood. But for me, I always kept getting called back to sports, it always felt like thats where I should be. Like Marc, even though it wasn’t a full-time job and it was on the other side of the country, it was an opportunity to join The NFL in a part time role, which I did. To The NFL’s credit, opportunities kept finding us, so we were going to work our way up and we eventually started making appearances on The Dave Dameshek Football Program, which is one of the podcasts on NFL Media. Dave, who was always a supporter of Marc and I, said would you guys like to do ten minutes at the end of my show and it be just you guys – we jumped at the opportunity and we called it The ATL Debate Club and we did that for about a year or so. Then Gregg came on, and shortly there after Wesse, and the idea was to take the ATL Debate Club and morph it into the Around The League podcast, which became Around The NFL. We’ve been doing it since July 2013 and we’re maybe close to 800 episodes by now and it’s just been an amazing journey!
A lot of people now are starting up their own blogs and YouTube channels, what would be your tips for them?
Marc Sessler: When I came back into journalism and covering and breaking news when I started at The NFL, I was 36 and I was terrified because I had completely forgot how to structure a news story. If you’re going to do straight news or blogging, get in the habit of doing it on your own at home. Like if a news story was breaking I’d make my own quick version of it to see how bad I was or how to get better. With blogs, write what interests you and get your voice into it and that will resinate. Don’t get stuck writing stuff that you have no passion for because that will resinate also.
Chris Wesseling: You (Marc) mentioned the word terrified and I think a lot of people just starting out have a fear that ‘I might not be good enough’ or ‘who wants to read my stuff’, but you have to do it everyday, every single day. Like Marc said, even if it’s just for yourself, start a blog, if you see a trade or transaction write your viewpoint on it. Keep practising! It’s 2018, you have so many platforms, even if you don’t get paid there’s twitter and instagram that gets your message out there.
Marc Sessler: Don’t just write either, I would be doing YouTube videos and other multimedia’s.
Gregg Rosenthal: It’s changed so much since we came up that we’re almost past the period of knowing what it’s like to be coming up in this industry, because it’s totally different. But I think things like what Marc and Chris said are still valid and mostly it’s about writing every day, read a lot- that’s how you learn how to write and that’s how you learn information.
Marc Sessler: Don’t just read sports!
Chris Wesseling: That’s how you find your voice!
Gregg Rosenthal: When I would get people that had a chance to get a job, because I was able to hire people at Rotoworld, so many people are focused on marketing themselves and getting that foot in the door to getting an interview when they don’t have the chops yet and they’re too early. You better be good by the time you get that interview or where you get to the point where you even get a chance. Get good at it before, know your craft and start at a lower level before you start going for those higher jobs.
Dan Hanzus: When I was in-between jobs and before I got the NFL job I didn’t have anything to do. I’m a Yankees fan so I started a Yankees blog and wrote twice a day everyday. Not only did it give me something to do, but it made me feel like I was putting my writing to use and getting practise. So just reps and consistency!
Marc Sessler: But he’s not giving himself enough credit because when I started reading that (Dan’s blog) when I first met Dan, and I don’t even like baseball, but humour! When we started our blog at The NFL, I would read some of his stuff and he had a humorous streak to him. I remember going out to beers with him and I didn’t even know how to start writing that way too. You want to learn from the people around you. When I started I was so petrified about how to even get a voice as a writer, but it just takes time.
Gregg Rosenthal: Literally all four of us wrote for years on our own blogs. I had a baseball blog for two years before I started Rotoworld basically just as practise as I was more into baseball then. I hired Wesse after his blog period, I never met him and didn’t need to really talk to him, I could just tell how good of a writer he was and what he knew. Put content out there and that’s your recipe.
We’re going to get into the important stuff now! What are your tips on the fantasy football draft if you were to do it now?
Chris Wesseling: We talked about this on our Fantasy Extravaganza, but this year particularly to me seems like running backs are back. It used to be 10 to 15 years ago you’d draft a running back in the first round, you’d draft one in the second round and then you’d worry about all the other positions and I think we’re back there. You’ve got to get your first round starting running back, and this year I’d get someone like Joe Mixon, who looks like a three-down back, good work load, a little under value so get him in the second round. Then get your receivers on the third, fourth or maybe fifth and wait for quarterback a little later. Really get those running backs early I would say.
Gregg Rosenthal: It sounds stupid but I think it’s better to know all the news of the league than it is to pay attention to anyones rankings. You’re almost better off not paying attention to all the fantasy rankings- if you actually just have your own concept of what’s happening. It almost helps to stay away from all those rankings because then you’ll think differently and value can be gained because you won’t just be following what everyone else does.
Marc Sessler: I don’t play a lot of fantasy but what got me away from it once was that I’m a huge (Cleveland) Browns fan and drafted Hines Ward for my team. It was this push and pull of trying to route for Hines Ward to kill the Browns in the 4th quarter because I needed half a point to beat this guy across the street. I’d say if you’re going to be in this thing it should be fun, so pick players that you could enjoy routing for and don’t get into internal conflicts where your football season is all pulled in 18 directions.
Dan Hanzus: I would say to try to resist the temptations to draft all players from your favourite team- you’re just pushing too many chips into the centre table. If you find yourself going after your same team over and over again it might really end up ruining your football season- if you’re real team slips away, your fantasy team will probably slip away too, so don’t do that.
What are your surprise packages and players you’re looking out for this season?
Marc Sessler: For me, this is such a new season because of the rookie quarterbacks. It starts with Sam Darnold in New York, I think we’re going to see Baker Mayfield, who knows that could happen at any moment and I’m so impressed with him in the preseason, both of those guys. We get a little bit of Lamar Jackson in Baltimore, Josh Allen’s a bit of a wild card, not a playoff wild card, and Josh Rosen as well! We had a bunch of old quarterbacks that are a couple years away from melting off the scene, this is the new regime and I personally needed that in this NFL!
Dan Hanzus: Two players on the Broncos: Courtland Sutton is a guy that’s getting a lot of buzz, I think he got named the starter and he’s a guy to keep an eye out for. Then the running back Royce Freeman, everyone seems to think that he’s the type of guy that really needs a big draft to really solidify his reputation at the very least. He’s the guy that people think is going to make an instant impact and I still think that in most leagues you can have both of those guys deep and they end up sleepers.
Chris Wesseling: I would say the superstars are coming back from injury, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, J. J. Watt, Odell Beckham Jr, there’s so many! Last year wasn’t as much fun because they were injured. It’s like in the NBA if LeBron, Durant and all those guys were out for a while it’s not that fun of a league.
Gregg Rosenthal: I am always overly optimistic about the Chargers but watching both sides of the ball, but especially the Offense, it’s the best group Philip Rivers has had around him maybe since 2007 when they were a pretty dominant offense. Just how many different flavours of receivers he has between Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams and now Antonio Gates is back there too! Melvin Gordon is great in the passing game, I just think they’re going to be a really fun team to watch. On defence Melvin Ingrim III and Joey Bosa are about as fun a duo rushing the pass there is in the league. They’re an under the radar team, even in our own town in Los Angeles no one pays attention to them. I know they’re overdue but it really does seem like one of these years with all this talent that its going to be pretty fun to watch every week.
Who are your Super Bowl finalists?
Gregg Rosenthal: I’m going to go back with the Chargers loosing in The Super Bowl, another heartbreak for the few Chargers fans that are left, to The Packers- with Mike Pettine definitely making a huge impact to their defence.
Chris Wesseling: I had The Packers there too. I thought they were on their way last year before Aaron Rodgers got injured and with the addition of Pettine, like Gregg said, I really think that was an underrated hire. He’s been a good defensive coach. Then The Patriots because they win every year.
Marc Sessler: I have The Steelers winning the AFC at long last, after failing to get past New England. But for me, the team that is going to win the Super Bowl is The Atlanta Falcons. It’s a crazy conference, there’s like 4, 5, 6 teams that could, but Atlanta to me feels like that Broncos team that got back two years later and won The Super Bowl and people didn’t see that coming. I love the coach, I love the way they draft and develop players. There’s a lot going on both sides of the ball, so Atlanta over Pittsburgh.
Dan Hanzus: I have the Falcons over The Steelers!
Watch a preview of all of Sunday’s opening weekend fixtures on The NFL Show at 11:00pm on 8th September on BBC1 plus catch San Francisco 49ers @ Minnesota Vikings on Sky Sports at 5:00pm on 9th September. You can listen to the Around the NFL podcast three times a week and follow the guys on NFL.com