The NFL preseason is almost here, which means it’s Madden season. The annual release of the league’s omnipresent video game consort is a welcome respite for gridiron fanatics sick of parsing through training camp reports.
The game is more than just an exercise in theoretical football, however. It’s also a treatise on which athletes belong in the league’s elite.
Electronic Arts released its annual player ratings in advance of Madden NFL 20’s release, creating a tidal wave of free publicity as fans and pundits alike debated their rubric. Four stars — Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, Bobby Wagner, and DeAndre Hopkins — earned coveted 99 overall ratings that maxed out their impact on the field. Others slipped and climbed through the ranks like a poorly staged game of Snakes and Ladders.
Reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes saw his rating rise to a 97, but that still left him struggling to crack EA’s top 10. Richard Sherman is 31 and is coming off his first season without an interception after a good, not great, year in San Francisco. Despite that, his Madden number increased from 90 to 93. Aaron Rodgers suffered through a similarly low-key season on a non-playoff team but slipped from a 99 rating a year ago to a 90, making him the game’s seventh-best quarterback.
But the players who got the worst of it were those who have only been in the NFL for, at most, a few seasons. Ahead of Madden 20’s Aug. 2 release, we picked five young players who deserve more credit — and a higher rating — this year.
Mitchell Trubisky probably deserves more respect
There are plenty of questionable ratings among EA’s cadre of quarterbacks this summer. Mahomes had one of the greatest seasons the league’s ever seen, yet didn’t get included among the league’s tippy-top tier. Jared Goff played at an MVP level through much of the 2018 season and is entering just his fourth season in the league, but his player rating stood pat at an 83.
But somewhere in the midst of all this confusion was Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The second overall pick of the 2017 draft made major strides last season, posting gains in nearly every statistical category and emerging as a valuable dual-threat presence. More importantly, he led Chicago to an NFC North title and an 11-3 record in the games he started.
Despite all this, he’s only rated a 75 — one point higher than his 2018 standard and tied for 26th among quarterbacks. For comparison’s sake, let’s take a look to how he stacks up against 79-rated Marcus Mariota, excluding the growing pains of each’s rookie season:
Madden is telling us it has no faith in Trubisky’s 2018 leap. That could hold up — but he certainly didn’t look like a bottom-tier starting quarterback when he helped lead the Bears to the top of their division. — Christian D’Andrea
It’s time to give Kevin Byard his due
The Tennessee Titans are an easy team to forget about, and that’s meant anonymity for players on their roster. The best example is 2016 third-round pick Kevin Byard, one of the best safeties in the NFL.
Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders didn’t even know who Byard was last year, calling him “a fan” on Twitter.
You're looking at who writers tell u who's the best I know who players and former players feel is the best. I rest my case. You continue to be a fan and i will continue being the man. #Truth https://t.co/gnpwJHjxEK— Deion Sanders (@DeionSanders) March 20, 2018
If Byard’s not the best safety in the league, he’s certainly close. He had the fourth-highest grade on Pro Football Focus among starters at the position in 2018, and he’s the NFL leader in interceptions over the past two seasons.
But he couldn’t even get a rating in the 90s on Madden 20.
Earl Thomas (95), Harrison Smith (94), Malcolm Jenkins (92), Eddie Jackson (91), and Jamal Adams (90) are all ahead of Byard, who came in at 89. He had the same 89 rating in Madden 19, immediately after his All-Pro season.
Byard is a top-five safety even if his Madden grade doesn’t reflect that. — Adam Stites
A healthy Kwon Alexander should lead to a nice bump
Kwon Alexander is a dominant linebacker. The problem is that he has a bit of an injury history and only played in six games last season. It’s easy to see why he’d be rated low in Madden as a result, but I feel like his rating is too low.
Alexander is one of the most athletic linebackers in the game, and when healthy, he’s all over the field making big tackles. Tackling machines are the guys who often get overlooked because they’re not putting up “sexy” stats like touchdowns, sacks, or interceptions.
Despite his injuries, Alexander has still produced. In 46 career games, the 24-year-old has 380 tackles, seven sacks, six forced fumbles, six interceptions and a touchdown, in addition to 22 passes defensed.
In this year’s Madden, he’s rated a 78, which isn’t terrible, but he has the stats to back up a higher rating. He should be up into the 80s for sure. I’d like to see him get a boost to speed, awareness, and his pursuit traits. — James Brady
Honestly, just make Derwin James 99 at this point
Derwin James is already a superstar. He’s already a top safety in the NFL. It’s honestly stupid how good he is, and every team that didn’t draft him has to be furious. There are almost no flaws in his game. He’s all over the field.
After one season in the league, he entered the NFL Top 100 at No. 31, a huge honor.
James finished his rookie season with 105 tackles, 3.5 sacks, three interceptions, 13 passes defensed, and the respect of everybody he came into contact with. He’s worth every bit of the 17th overall pick the Chargers spent on him, and EA should stop with this “86 overall” nonsense. Make him 90 at least, or just skip the preamble and bump him all the way to 99, OK? — James Brady
James Conner isn’t as average as Madden says he is
The Steelers were supposed to be screwed when Le’Veon Bell held out for the entire 2018 season. Instead, the offense didn’t miss a beat.
In Conner’s first full season as Pittsburgh’s starting running back, he had 13 total touchdowns, 973 rushing yards, and 497 receiving yards. His 4.5 yards per carry topped the 4.0 yards Bell averaged during his All-Pro 2017 season.
So the argument could be made that Conner deserves a higher rating than Bell. He didn’t even come close, though.
Bell, who sat out 2018, is at 92 overall, behind only Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott. Buried under 21 running backs is Conner at 83 overall.
There was a reason Conner was the starting running back for the AFC in the Pro Bowl. Why does Madden seem to think he’s not even top 20 at his position? — Adam Stites