Dream Job: Trevor Sikkema's long, winding road to the NFL Draft (2024)

When it comes to eating BBQ, Trevor Sikkema has unofficially trademarked the term “three sides minimum.”

And while there’s nothing minimum about Sikkema and his draft prowess as the leading NFL Draft Analyst for Pro Football Focus, his enthusiasm and willingness to be one of the leading voices in the industry in a fun yet knowledgeable manner packs as much punch and flavor as any BBQ sides you’re getting in the Carolinas.

If you want to know about Michael Wilson’s breaks in and out of his routes or need a recommendation on a BBQ place anywhere in the Southeast, Sikkema’s your guy. But he’d also be lying if he said this was the career path he envisioned when he graduated from the University of Florida.

After graduating, Sikkema bounced around a bit.

He did a lot of freelance writing, trying to make a name for himself and build his platform on social media. Right out of college, he had an internship with a local news station to get his foot in the door, but he didn’t enjoy working in that environment. He knew that wasn’t where his passion lies. Eventually, Sikkema landed a full-time job as a production/on-camera person for a local news station that also allowed him to teach broadcasting to kids around 2015-16.

“It was still local news stuff, so I didn’t love what I was doing,” Sikkema tells Awful Announcing. “But it allowed me to keep my resume fresh, if you will, and make it seem like I was actually working in the industry. It also allowed me to teach broadcasting and social media to kids because the company that I worked for was kind of built out of this private school that was trying to do this cutting-edge sort of education in classes and streamline what kids wanted to do in high school before they get to college. And broadcasting was one of them, so I got to have my hand at doing a little bit of teaching in that area.”

Sikkema is authentic. None of him is rehearsed. And what you see is what you get. And what you get is someone filled with enthusiasm who is just biting at the chomp to talk all things NFL Draft.

But where does his love of the NFL Draft stem from?

“I started loving the draft because as a Bucs fan, who really started to get into football beyond just going to games with my dad, actually caring about them myself,” Sikkema explained. “The Bucs weren’t very good. I feel like I started to feel about Bucs’ football in 2006-07 when I was in high school. And, well, from 2006 to basically, they got Tom Brady, and they were not very good. So, the thing that we had to look forward to the most was the NFL Draft.

“I would say, though, the initial love of the seeds of it go a little bit beyond that, because I was a big ‘Madden’ video game growing up. Madden ’04 and Madden ’05 are some of my favorite games of all time. And not only did I love to play the games, but I loved the team-building aspect of it more. I’m one of those dudes who’ll do a Fantasy Draft and draft a team, sim the whole season just to get to the offseason, and go through the draft and the free agency period just to do the team-building part of it.

“Even when playing those early Madden video games, the team-building part of things and the drafting and scouting is honestly what I cared about the most. That was always the most fun for me. So, I would say it’s probably a combination of being a Madden kid growing up and also the Buccaneers not giving us a lot to root for outside of the draft every single year.”

Sikkema, much like his podcast co-host Connor Rogers, was able to hit the ground running when he joined PewterReport.com, a credentialed media site that has covered the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for nearly three decades. It was at PewterReport that Sikkema first experienced someone truly believing in him and giving him the opportunity to prove himself.

“The guy who runs PewterReport.com, Scott Reynolds, he was a fantastic boss for me in a lot of ways,” he says. “He gave me a lot of freedom; he believed in me; he challenged me. But something that I loved about Scott is that Scott also really cared about the NFL Draft. And part of the reason why he was so excited to hire me was I was going to be someone on staff who was just as excited about the draft process, and the Senior Bowl, and the Shrine Bowl, and doing the scouting reports, and watching the tape, as much as he was, just caring as much about that part of the season as the game.

“It was honestly such a perfect spot to start my career. It was such a special thing to be able to cover professionally the team that I grew up watching and the team that I already had a lot of knowledge about. But then, it also gave me that outlet to cover the draft and to care about the draft. PewterReport was the perfect spot for me to start my career because of that reason.”

But Sikkema’s love for the NFL Draft eventually led him to The Draft Network. He had long discussed the idea of a draft-oriented site, and that dream was realized with an all-star cast and a hunger to create draft-focused content, including the Mock Draft Machine concept.

While the site has faced its own issues since Sikkema and many others moved on to other opportunities, it was where he began to build a strong foothold in the NFL Draft community. While he had been co-hosting Locked On NFL Draft with Jon Ledyard, this was his first chance to write about the NFL Draft on a national scale beyond just focusing on the Bucs.

“It truly was a dream for us to be able to start that,” he says. “Me, Joe (Marino), Kyle (Crabbs), Jon and eventually Ben (Solak), Jordan (Reid), Brad (Kelly), as well. And JC (Cornell), as well, who obviously was a big part in us getting that company off the ground. That was really cool. And for us to be able to have that opportunity was, again, it felt kind of like a once in a lifetime thing.

“We were all at, I felt like, the perfect parts of our careers to really be able to take that jump with one another. We all felt like we were pretty good at this thing, but we could all get better together if we worked together at it. I was super proud of the things that we were able to accomplish in those couple of years that we were all together. A lot of those guys have gone to do just unbelievable things since then.

“I think we’ve all become better scouts, better friends because of it. It’s always something that I’ll look back at and when I think about how that started and how we all came together, that was very special. I’m very proud to have that part of my career and my journey there with The Draft Network because, man, those early years were a lot of fun when I was there.”

While Sikkema worked at TDN, he got to know Austin Gayle and George Chahrouri very well. He started at Pro Football Focus in 2021, but PFF originally approached him in 2020 to potentially be the site’s social media manager.

“I’d like to think I’m pretty good at social media, and I like to have some fun on there,” Sikkema says. “They reached out to me, we had a conversation about it, and ultimately, I decided that I didn’t want to go that route because I felt that if I went the social media management route, then I might not be able to really bounce back into the area of journalism, or I should just say the broadcast career that I wanted to.

“I love podcasting. I love doing stuff on video. I love getting to have those fun conversations and put on shows… I love creating content in that way, in front of the camera, and in front of the microphone. I felt as if I took that social media job, I didn’t know if I’d really be able to jump back into that.”

Fast-forward to a year later; in the summer of ’21, PFF was looking to expand their on-camera shows, their on-camera presence, and how often they were doing things from their studio in Cincinnati and all the different podcasts they did. They were essentially looking for a host. They wanted somebody who could host a college football show, an NFL show, and an NFL Draft Show podcast, basically a do-it-all type of post. And so, they reached out to Sikkema again and said they had something more his speed. He interviewed and went back and forth on what the job would be like.

“Just getting the opportunity to move to Cincinnati and move to that studio that they have there is just so state-of-the-art, beautiful, and it can put together so many different types of shows,” he said. “And I think that we’ve shown that over the last couple of years. But that role really spoke to me. And for as much as I loved what I was doing at The Draft Network, the PFF opportunity was a chance to work in a studio full-time and do all sorts of different shows. And honestly, just host more things on a pretty massive platform.

“And so, I said, ‘You know, hey, if this is what I really want to do, this is probably the right avenue to advance that.’ And I’ve been so happy ever since. Honestly, when I took that job my role was as a reporter/host, and I did a lot more hosting than I did reporter work, but we kind of knew that would be the case when I was hired. But this, obviously, sort of evolved to as I’ve been at PFF, I’ve made it clear to them, ‘Hey, I also want to help with articles and writing and draft work and draft prep, and those kinds of things.’

“And getting to work with Mike Renner over the two years that I was there when he was still there was awesome. Mike is one of my favorite draft voices in this industry and remains that to this day. To be able to work alongside him, you’ve seen a lot of the great draft coverage we’ve been able to do over the last couple of years. And when Mike ended up leaving, I kind of approached them and I said, ‘Hey, you got this lead draft analyst role. This is my dream job. Like, this title, what comes with this,’ and I got to watch Mike do this over the past two years. I said to them, ‘This is my dream job. Like no one will work harder at this job if I get this opportunity.'”

That opportunity was granted to Sikkema last summer, and he’s taken that title and run with it ever since.

He got back to his roots.

“It’s been just so much fun,” he said. “Just going back to my true roots and the thing that got me started in loving football was the NFL Draft. Now, I get to sit here and say, ‘Hey, I get to do this year-round and be a lead draft analyst all year-round, it’s pretty special, man; it really is.”

He also got back to his podcast roots, as he and Connor Rogers have taken the NFL Stock Exchange podcast to the moon, being a leading medium among all NFL Draft listeners.

While there’s a certain satisfaction that comes with being right about prospects, Sikkema recognizes the importance of remaining objective and professional in his evaluations.

“We go to a lot of these different events every single year,” Sikkema says. “We go to the Shrine Bowl, the Senior Bowl, and things like that. You watch these players, and you see all these names, and they end up being like these preferred undrafted free agents, guys like that where you automatically see them and go, ‘Oh yeah, I watched this guy at the Shrine Bowl.’ And then you think to yourself, ‘Oh, man, I either pointed him out or wrote those dudes up or whatever it is.’

“It’s so cool to, again, going back to the depth of what we do and how we’re watching 300 of these guys, and I’m trying to get as many as I can for the PFF Draft Guide. No matter what we’re talking about, whether it’s a sixth-rounder or a seventh-rounder — not that we know all of them — there are so many international guys that we didn’t have the ability to scout yet; I just always think back to those events. And it takes me back to the beginning of the draft season when I see these guys go in the seventh round or the undrafted free agent part of it.

“You just think back to, ‘Wow, I saw that guy back in January and I actually thought he wasn’t too bad when he was there.’ And then he ends up getting drafted, or he ends up being a guy that works out or is a Training Camp darling or something like that.”

For Sikkema, fairness is paramount in scouting analysis. He prioritizes highlighting a player’s strengths before weaknesses, all while recognizing that not every prospect will reach the NFL. He emphasizes that fair criticism requires explaining a player’s potential shortcomings, not just offering opinions. This balanced approach has allowed him to have a clear and honest evaluation of all prospects, regardless of their draft position.

“At the end of the day, look, I think that scouts can be a lot harsher when they’re behind the scenes,” he adds. “But we’re creating content out of a lot of this stuff. So, a lot of, honestly, what we want to think about these players is, ‘Show me what they can do.’ That was one of the first scouting lessons that I had; when somebody that had been doing it a long time came up to me and said, ‘Hey, you know what scouting’s all about? The very first thing to identify is to tell me what this guy can do. Tell me where his strengths are; tell me where he can make a difference at the NFL level.

“And then, you can get into some of the deficiencies after that because that’s the appropriate order. Once you have the strengths and the weaknesses there, you go, ‘Okay, look at the strengths. Emphasize the strengths. We’re gonna put the strengths on the board for the very first part of this. And then do the weaknesses. Do the weaknesses outweigh what they can do?’ So, you want to look at, is what they’re successful at — from a strength perspective — is it successful at an NFL level? Or is it successful at the college level?

“You got to determine that first and then you can get into some of the weaknesses… While I don’t think that we kill prospects for negatives, it’s less that we’re trying to protect players, and it’s more so that we’re just trying to be fair. The great thing about what I hope we do, and this is what I always try to do, is even if we don’t like a guy, we’re always trying to be fair. That’s what we’re trying to do. We don’t have this agenda. We don’t have money on the line. Like, yeah, we do this for a living, but it’s not like we’re betting for these guys to fail.

“We’re just looking at things for what we believe it is the lens of fairness with these players. To me, even when we criticize guys, I think that what’s important is not totally brushing over the things that they don’t do well but presenting both their strengths and weaknesses in a fair way.

“Because let’s face it, some guys are gonna be sixth, seventh-round picks, undrafted free agents. Some of these guys were talking about in this class, they’re not gonna make it. They’re not gonna be pros. And if we don’t scout with that reality, then we’re doing people a disservice. We’re not actually scouting them that way which the world really does exist.

“But when we do find those players that maybe we think, ‘Okay, this guy’s probably not gonna make it in the league,’ we have to be able to explain why. And if we can’t, then I don’t think we necessarily have the right to criticize them. We can’t look at a player and go, ‘Yeah, I just don’t think he’s gonna make it in the league.’ And the reason why I think that we have a decent ability to criticize players is because we always try to be fair in our analysis. And we always try to be sure that if we don’t like a guy, we can explain why. And we’re explaining why on a level and fair playing field.

“To me, I feel like I do have a good balance of that… The criticism of players, it’s always gotta be fair, and you always have to be able to explain why you think a guy is going to work or not work. And as long as those two things are present, I think you can talk about any of these games from No. 1 all the way to 350.”

Whether it’s dissecting a potential franchise quarterback or debating the merits of brisket versus pulled pork, Sikkema has the range that very few analysts in the industry have. He has an unlimited range, is informative without talking down, and is constantly engaging. You never know what you’ll get with Sikkema, but it’s guaranteed to leave you engaged — perhaps a little hungry for more.

Dream Job: Trevor Sikkema's long, winding road to the NFL Draft (2024)
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