The 2021 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo team roping at the $13.3-million Finals promises roper-friendly steers, with a mixed field of veterans and young guns aiming for the gold buckle. After the Nov. 30 steer break in, we tapped BFI Champion Header Chris Francis for his analysis on each team's chances in the Thomas & Mack.
1. Dustin Egusquiza ($147,515.78) and 2. Travis Graves ($126,869.12)
Francis's take: I thought Dustin looked the sharpest of all the headers and obviously that place is to his advantage. If he can reach them from the box, he’s the best at it. I think Travis Graves better be riding a race horse to beat Dustin’s rope, but as long as he can get down the arena far enough they’ll be hard to beat. TG has been behind Dustin long enough that he's got that figured out.
2. Erich Rogers ($122,017.13) and 3. Paden Bray ($116,936.91)
Francis's take: That team could be the average champions again. Rogers hits the barrier and ropes them so tight every time. I thought Rogers had them on a short rope every run. That mare he rides looked free and cool. A lot of people don’t give Rogers enough credit. That guy is the best in a lot of situations.
3. Kaleb Driggers ($119,330.40) and 1. Junior Nogueira ($133,715.50)
Francis's take: They both looked sharp. If Driggers starts out the week going at them, they’ll be hard to beat. Junior, as long as they’re between the fences, he can heel them. If Driggers starts off aggressive, they’ve got their work cut out for them. That new horse of Driggers', that he calls Cuervo, will be great there. He’s got such a feel for a horse, so he won’t be on the wrong one.
4. Clay Smith ($110,570.20) and 4. Jade Corkill ($110,570.20)
Francis's take: Clay Smith rode Boogie that came from Jake Cooper and Trevor Brazile to break in steers. That horse is wicked. They could very easily be the high-money team of the week and they’re so effective. I think they are like Driggers—if they get on a roll, they’ll be hard to stop.
5. Clay Tryan ($94,250.33) and 6. Jake Long ($95,225.85)
Francis's take: Clay will probably be on Johnson, his good sorrel. Clay Tryan: you can never, ever count him out. He’s the most intense guy there and he will figure out how to win there. It wouldn’t surprise me if he wins the first round. If he rides the sorrel, he’ll be a force. And Jake will throw fast—that's just a given.
6. Tyler Wade ($89,037.53) and 7. Trey Yates ($84,181.86)
Francis's take: The last time here, T-Wade’s heading was the best I’ve ever seen at an NFR, and I mean I’ve watched every NFR tape there is. Trey will heel all of them. T-Wade says he’s got it figured out how to help his heeler more, and they’ll be really, really tough. They could be your average champions—and that’s not something we used to say about T-Wade. He’s got the bay and Buckskin YY, and Trey will be on the best heel horses going.
7. Cody Snow ($79,676.58) and 5. Wesley Thorp ($102,036.91)
Francis's take: They could battle it out for the World Title. They’re definitely in the mix. Snow is on the Horse of the Year. He can reach if he needs to, and he can run close, too. Thorp will stop them fast, and they’ll be deadly.
8. Clint Summers ($74,482.63) and 9. Ross Ashford ($71,822.41)
Francis's take: Clint was really leaving sharp on the dun horse, Transmission. He’s really snappy with his rope and, as long as he keeps his horse pushed up all week, he’ll be really, really good. He rides so well, he could be the one nobody is paying attention to and could come from behind and sneak up on them. He’ll get them on the shortest rope and they could be the team nobody is looking for. Ross is aggressive, and they’ll do well.
9. Brenten Hall ($73,505.74) and 8. Chase Tryan ($74,775.92)
Francis's take: Both times Brenten's made it, he’s been amazing. Him and Coy Rahlmann are in the same category to me—they’ll be the Jake Barnes of their time. He’s so young and made it so many times already. Chase has been in the hunt for a gold buckle a couple times now, and he's done so well in that building. They could stumble along the way but win a lot of money in the go-rounds. They’re a fast team. They out-practice almost everybody, and they’re a good team like Andrew and Buddy. They play to each other’s strengths.
10. Rhen Richard ($71,544.76) and 10. Jeremy Buhler ($70,511.68)
Francis's take: Jeremy Buhler knows how to win in this building, and he can come out of nowhere. This is his third time, and he’s got the experience. Rhen is a winner. And this year he can just focus on his heading, and he’s got steers here to practice on if he needs it. He’s a horseman, too, so he will find a way to make any adjustments in his riding that he needs to.
11. Derrick Begay ($70,893.20) and 14. Brady Minor ($61,878.45)
Francis's take: It’s a toss up, depending on what Derrick Begay rides. His sorrel got hurt breaking steers in. I think Derrick is gamey enough and he’s ridden enough stuff his whole life that he’ll figure out a way. Whatever he rides, he’s won on worse. His partner is one of the best. Derrick gets it on the horns and it will be good.
12. Andrew Ward ($68,841.69) and 12. Buddy Hawkins ($68,841.69)
Francis's take: That horse was so awesome at Dallas, and that horse and Andrew are a match made in heaven. I don’t know how he’ll do when he gets into the wall, but that horse is good and Andrew rides them all year, so he knows him. I think they’re probably one of the best teams. They’re a very good team in and out of the arena, and they can work together to figure out a way to do good throughout the week, and they’ll win plenty.
13. Coy Rahlmann ($63,925.97) and 13. Douglas Rich ($63,849.20)
Francis's take: I think they’ll do really good. They showed at the end of the season how tough and gritty they are. This being the first of many, many appearances for them, they’ll be here forever. Those guys are well spoken, good kids, and they’ve got a huge future. They’ll do really good this week. Coy might be the best young header going and Doug is dang good in his own right.
14. Coleman Proctor ($62,755.13) and 11. Logan Medlin ($69,335.01)
Francis's take: They could be deadly in the go-rounds. Coleman is liable to be 3 quite a few times throughout the week. And breaking in the steers, Logan maybe looked as sharp as anybody there. That was the heel shot that everybody hollered on. He’s going to be tough to beat on that horse.
15. Quinn Kesler ($62,403.22) and 15. Joseph Harrison ($61,688.45)
Francis's take: Quinn didn’t miss one at the steer break in no matter what he was riding. He proved to everybody in team roping how much of a winner he was this year. I think that you don’t count him out on anything that has to do with a rope. He’s going to be awesome in there. He’ll give Joseph 8/10 chances for go-round money and Joseph will heel them. I don’t know if you can call them a dark-horse team, but they can upset the apple cart. Joseph won’t look at anything very long. TRJ