With more and more news coming out that discusses the all-too-realistic possibility of a postponement to the 2020 NFL season, you might want to break out your Madden games.
We could be waiting more than expected for the return of football based on recent news and murmurings from league personnel. But in the meantime, video games provide a solid source of entertainment and one of the few connections to the sports world that we can still experience to the fullest capacity.
Whether you’re rocking an older version on a system like the Sega Genesis or playing one of the uber-realistic renditions that just came out in the past few years, the Madden NFL series has developed into the football experience for video game lovers.
If you really want to get the fullest experience, you simply have to use the best players available to understand what it feels like to control the field, to score at will, to be that dominant force on the football field that can single-handedly help to win games.
That’s why we’ve broken down the ultimate team, with the series’ best and most unfair players, so that you can start off your Madden binge with a bang.
‘04 Michael Vick - 95 Overall, 95 Speed, 95 Agility, 94 Acceleration, 97 Throw Power, 84 Throw Accuracy
‘17 Cam Newton - 94 Overall, 86 Speed, 90 Agility, 81 Strength, 89 Acceleration, 89 Juke Move, 88 Throw Accuracy, 97 Throw Power
Good luck containing either of these electric quarterbacks in their respective years of Madden dominance. Though their reigns of dual-threat superiority in Madden extended far past the single year I’ve selected for each of them, these individual choices reflect their peaks.
It makes sense that these years were especially strong for each player, too. Vick had just rushed for 777 yards and eight touchdowns, leading the league with 6.9 yards per carry. Newton had just brought in the 2015 MVP -- remember, Madden ‘17 was released for the 2016 season, meaning it’s based off of 2015 stats -- and showcased the speed of a running back and the power of a tight end in a highly unusual quarterback hybrid.
‘13 Calvin Johnson - 99 Overall, 95 Speed, 94 Acceleration, 97 Catching, 96 Agility, 98 Jumping, 99 Spectacular Catch, 94 Catch in Traffic, 95 Route Running
‘09 Randy Moss - 99 Overall, 98 Speed, 92 Acceleration, 93 Agility, 97 Catching, 100 Jumping, 99 Spectacular Catch, 88 Catch in Traffic, 94 Route Running
‘98 Jerry Rice - 189 Overall
99 overall not good enough for you? We’ve got you covered. In Madden NFL 98, the limit was not at 99, nor was it at 100, because Jerry Rice was legitimately a 189 overall. The highest-rated player in the game, it isn’t too hard to imagine why he’s on this list. Though he wasn’t the cover athlete -- John Madden himself graced the cover in ‘98 -- the Madden Curse may as well have started here, seeing as Rice played in one full game before completely blowing out his knee for the first serious injury of his career.
As the Madden ‘13 cover athlete, though, Calvin Johnson did not suffer the Madden Curse. Instead, he posted a ridiculous 122 catches for 1,964 yards in 2012 and finished his career out with three more dominant years. Moss wasn’t the cover athlete -- which is surprising, considering he hauled in 23 touchdowns in 2007 -- and had a strong showing for the next couple of years as well.
‘08 LaDainian Tomlinson - 99 Overall, 96 Speed, 98 Acceleration, 99 Agility, 100 Elusiveness, 92 Trucking, 99 Vision, 97 Stiff Arm, 95 Spin, 100 Juke
‘11 Chris Johnson - 99 Overall, 99 Speed, 99 Acceleration, 97 Agility, 97 Elusiveness, 77 Trucking, 98 Vision, 74 Stiff Arm, 96 Spin, 97 Juke
LT is the complete package in Madden, as reflected by his 99 rating. He was the complete package in the NFL, too, coming off a record-breaking season in which he posted over 1,800 rushing yards and scored an astonishing 28 rushing touchdowns. By pairing devastating speed with perfect scores in both elusiveness and his juke move, Madden sought to recreate the unstoppable force in the San Diego backfield.
Chris Johnson was an 88 overall in Madden 2010. But that’s what happens after you break the 2,000-yard barrier. CJ2K joined Tomlinson as one of the few 99 overall running backs that the game has ever allowed, and he literally could not be made any faster. Seems like a solid advantage.
‘07 Antonio Gates - 99 Overall, 87 Speed, 91 Acceleration, 90 Catching, 94 Jumping
‘14 (25) Vernon Davis - 94 Overall, 90 Speed, 88 Strength, 87 Agility, 78 Catching, 84 Run Block
If you used the Chargers in Madden ‘07 and you weren’t taking advantage of Gates’ crossing routes, you were doing it wrong. Unless, of course you were plowing through the defense with LaDainian Tomlinson, in which case that’s a perfectly reasonable excuse.
Davis led all tight ends in speed, and with a rating of 90, you could pretty much deploy him as a wide receiver. His catching rating certainly ranked lower than guys like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, but with similar strength and much higher speed and agility, Davis was an underrated weapon to use.
We’re going to exclude offensive linemen from this countdown, seeing as you can’t personally control them.
‘14 (25) J.J. Watt - 99 Overall, 97 Strength, 97 Tackle, 99 Power Move, 98 Block Shedding, 96 Pursuit, 84 Hit Power
‘02 Warren Sapp - 99 Overall, 95 Strength, 98 Awareness, 96 Tackle, 98 Toughness
‘20 Aaron Donald - 99 Overall, 90 Acceleration, 99 Strength, 99 Awareness, 92 Tackling, 97 Block Shedding, 99 Power Moves
‘11 Jared Allen - 99 Overall
If you time your jump with any of these guys, you’re easily going to stop the run and have a realistic chance of getting that all-satisfying hit stick sack on the quarterback. And let’s be honest: you only really control your secondary players if you’re an experienced Madden player. If you’re a beginner or even an intermediate, it may be easier to just choose a D-lineman, time your jump and get after the QB.
In the single-seasons for which these players had their strongest Madden ratings, this foursome totaled 72 sacks (Watt - 20.5; Sapp - 16.5; Donald - 20.5; Allen - 14.5). Can you imagine a defensive line with this foursome wreaking havoc on whatever poor opponent stood in their way?
‘04 Ray Lewis - 99 Overall, 85 Speed, 92 Acceleration, 99 Tackle, 99 Awareness
‘08 Brian Urlacher - 99 Overall, 88 Speed, 93 Acceleration, 94 Awareness, 94 Tackling, 85 Moves, 90 Block Shedding, 98 Pursuit, 96 Play Recognition, 80 Man Coverage, 85 Zone Coverage
‘19 Luke Kuechly - 99 Overall, 99 Awareness, 86 Speed, 89 Acceleration, 90 Jumping, 80 Catching, 91 Impact Blocking, 90 Block Shedding, 98 Tackle, 99 Play Recognition, 97 Pursuit, 93 Hit Power
There were a ton of other linebacker options that may have been stronger in certain aspects of the game, such as DeMarcus Ware who got to the quarterback better than anyone else. But in terms of well-roundedness in the running game, the pass rush and in coverage, this trio could not possibly get any stronger.
‘00 Deion Sanders - 100 Overall
‘15 Richard Sherman - 99 Overall, 91 Speed, 94 Acceleration, 96 Agility, 82 Catching, 98 Jumping, 85 Pursuit, 95 Play Recognition, 98 Man Coverage, 96 Zone Coverage, 97 Press
‘12 Darrelle Revis - 99 Overall, 93 Speed, 96 Acceleration, 96 Agility, 85 Pursuit, 94 Play Recognition, 99 Man Coverage, 96 Zone Coverage, 92 Press
These are the guys that you let do the work while you penetrate the offensive line with your devastating pass rush. If you’re talented enough on the sticks to put up strong man-to-man coverage on the outside without assistance from the game, then be my guest. I probably won’t want to play you in that case, anyway.
But if you’re content with letting your cornerbacks do it on their own, this group will get it done. Deion Sanders was one of two players to be rated a 100 overall, likely due to his equally electrifying skills as a kick returner. Prime Time, Sherman and Revis? Are you kidding? Have fun, opposing quarterbacks.
‘10 Troy Polamalu - 99 Overall, 93 Speed, 95 Acceleration
‘07 Ed Reed - 99 Overall, 93 Speed, 92 Accel, 95 Pursuit, 97 Play Recognition, 90 Man Coverage, 97 Zone Coverage
We might as well give the quarterbacks a little bit more trouble in the passing game, right? Let’s just call upon two of the best safeties the game has ever seen to do the trick for us. Polamalu got cover honors in 2010, splitting the front of the game with Larry Fitzgerald. And Ed Reed finally got the one-up on Ray Lewis, earning a perfect 99 overall while Lewis sat at “just” 98 in 2007.
‘16 Justin Tucker - 95 Overall, 95 Accuracy, 98 Power
‘07 Shane Lechler - 99 Overall, 92 Accuracy, 97 Power
Kick power is the most important stat, considering that most of the accuracy comes from whether or not you can time your kick properly. So, with a 98 and a 97 respectively, Tucker and Lechler posted two of the highest figures the game has ever seen in these departments and certainly deserve to be nominated for this All-Madden team.