Sports

The best players for the 2021 season, 99 club


Training camps begin for all 32 NFL teams this week, which means Madden NFL 22 season is almost upon us. This year’s version of the video game will be released worldwide on Aug. 20.

Five players have perfect 99 ratings this year, led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who shares the cover of Madden NFL 22 with Tom Brady. The other four members of the 99 Club: defensive tackle Aaron Donald, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, wide receiver Davante Adams and tight end Travis Kelce.

Below are the top-rated receivers, running backs, quarterbacks, defensive linemen and defensive backs in the game.

Quarterbacks

As always, there will be debate. Quarterbacks are the cover boys — Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady — and the skill sets of certain players are always going to raise some eyebrows.

Should Brady, coming off a Super Bowl win, still be a 97 overall ahead of Aaron Rodgers? Is Josh Allen ranked high enough? And how does the game continue to handle the electric Lamar Jackson, with whom it has to be careful to make sure his abilities don’t pull a Michael Vick and break the gameplay realism of Madden.

It’s among the toughest builds every year for the ratings crew, especially with rookies. But even veterans, as they switch teams, garner attention because more than any other position, what the quarterback is rated will often matter the most as they are the faces of the league.

1. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs (99 overall): This is a no-brainer. He’s the highest-rated quarterback for the third straight year and a 99 for the second consecutive season. He also has been the cover athlete two of three years, a rarity. Mahomes is in the top three in every major statistical rating: 97 in throw power (second), 97 in short accuracy (second), 93 in mid accuracy (third), 94 in deep accuracy (second) and 96 in throwing under pressure (first). He also has decent speed (81) and is the best in the game at throwing on the run (98).

2. Tom Brady, Buccaneers (97 overall): Platforms change. Consoles change. Top receivers change. One thing remains: Tom Brady as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL and in Madden. Brady jumps from fourth to second and from a 90 to a 97 after leading Tampa Bay to the Super Bowl. His speed still stinks (59) but in terms of making throws he’s one of the best, tops in short accuracy (99) and mid accuracy (97) while being third in deep accuracy (93). On the cover for the second time, don’t be surprised if he once again ends up as a 99 at some point this year.

3. Aaron Rodgers, Packers (96 overall): The NFL MVP could have a case for being a 99 or being ahead of Brady on this list, but Rodgers returns to a massively high rating after starting last year sixth and an 89 overall — the first time in over 10 years he had been below a 90. Not an issue this time as he has continued to cement himself as one of the best in real life and Madden. He’s the best deep passer in the game (95) and has top-five throw power (94).

4. Russell Wilson, Seahawks (94 overall): Wilson took a dip this year in both ranking and rating, going from second and 97 overall to fourth and 94. That has little to do with him, though, and perhaps more to do with Brady and Rodgers. Wilson played as he always does in 2020, completing a career-high 68.8% of his passes for 4,212 yards and a career-best 40 touchdowns. He did throw a career-worst 13 interceptions. Based off who is ahead of him, at some point he’s likely to end up as the No. 2 quarterback in Madden again.

5. Lamar Jackson, Ravens (94 overall): Last season’s cover athlete, Jackson is always a tricky build. He drops from third in the rankings and a 94 rating to fifth and 91 this season. Jackson is the player more than any other in the game who can make it breakable — a la Michael Vick in the early 2000s — so there has to be some balance even with a 92 throw power and 91 throw under pressure. His 96 speed would place him second among running backs and tied for seventh among receivers. The 96 acceleration makes him devastating to face. He’s also perhaps the most fun player to use in the game because of his combination of throwing and running.

6. Deshaun Watson, Texans (90 overall): Watson moved up from eighth last season and an 86 rating after a season where he threw for an NFL-best 4,823 yards along with 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions. With good throwing power, 85 speed and top-10 medium and deep accuracy, he’s a quarterback you want to build around in franchise. Of course, whether he plays in real life this season is the bigger question, but virtual Watson will be available for you to use.

7. Josh Allen, Bills (88 overall): Since he came into the league, Allen’s arm strength has always been at or near the top. This year is no different as Allen has a 99 throw power. His 87 deep accuracy (ninth) is good enough to make him a good build candidate in franchise when you add in his 86 speed and 88 acceleration. This comes after a career-best year completing 69.2% of his passes for 4,544 yards, 37 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Want a sleeper to become a future top-three Madden quarterback? This is your guy.

T-8. Dak Prescott, Cowboys (87 overall): Despite an injury-shortened season, Prescott moves up one spot into a tie for eighth and up three ratings points to an 87. Before his injury, he was on pace to have a career year with 68% completions, 1,856 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions in five games.

T-8. Ryan Tannehill, Titans (87 overall): Tannehill is coming off a consistent year where he completed 65.5% of his passes for a career-best 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions. This feels like the right spot for Tannehill, who had a career rejuvenation under now-Falcons head coach Arthur Smith. Throwing under pressure (90) and short accuracy (95) are his strengths, as is his play-action (92).

10. Matt Ryan, Falcons (85 overall): Ryan dips from an 87 to an 85 and from seventh to 10th — the third straight year he has dropped in the ratings. But he largely has been consistent in his yardage totals (4,581 last year), touchdowns (26) and interceptions (11).

Dropped out of the top 10 from launch last year: 4. Drew Brees (retired) and T-9. Carson Wentz


Safeties

Safeties have one of the most important jobs in football as the last line of defense between an incompletion and a game-breaking play. In Madden, they are relied on to make sure big-time receivers don’t go deep and, if used correctly, can be dominant blitzers.

And in Madden, the number of impact safeties continues to grow each year — in part because of their importance to the game in real life, like cornerbacks.

And it has come at a time where there’s a large number of younger safeties making an impact, evidenced by the top of this year’s Madden ratings.

1. Tyrann Mathieu, Chiefs (95 overall): Mathieu takes over the top overall safety spot from veteran Harrison Smith after an All-Pro season in which he intercepted a career-high six passes. His 81 catch rating is third among safeties, and he has corner-level coverage ratings in man (90) and zone (92). He’s the best man-cover safety by five points and is third in zone coverage.

2. Budda Baker, Cardinals (93 overall): Baker’s play recognition (97) and strength (72) show his skill sets. He made his third Pro Bowl last year and second All-Pro team after he intercepted the first two passes of his career. His 92 agility and 95 awareness are critical.

3. Devin McCourty, Patriots (92 overall): McCourty — the bastion of consistency — kept his same rating and same spot among safeties. The reliable one had two interceptions and six passes defended last season. With McCourty, the Patriots — and Madden players — know what they are getting. He’s one of the best zone safeties (92) in the game.

T-4. Justin Simmons, Broncos (91 overall): Simmons has a slightly slower speed than the other top safeties (88) but impeccable agility (96) that allows him to adjust for thrown passes and broken-out running backs easier in-game. That’s what helps make him elite: the athleticism shown in his change-of-direction (90) and jumping (96).

T-4. Jessie Bates III, Bengals (91 overall): Bates is the best zone safety in the game (93) along with Eddie Jackson (more on him in a bit), which helps boost his overall rating. He has good agility (89), which helps him adjust to receivers and rushers in the third level. Bates has also been consistent — three interceptions every year he has been in the league — but he had a career-best 15 passes defended last season.

T-6. Jamal Adams, Seahawks (90 overall): In his first year in Seattle, Adams continued his high-level play, although he had a career-low three passes defended. He made his third straight Pro Bowl. He drops from a 92 to a 90, though, in this year’s game even though he was used a little differently in Seattle with a career-high 9.5 sacks. That’s evidenced by his 75 impact block rating and 71 power moves rating. His zone coverage (90) is still high, too. His 95 hit power is the best among safeties.

T-6. Harrison Smith, Vikings (90 overall): Smith was last year’s highest-rated safety and has long been a key piece to Minnesota’s defense. He dropped five ratings points from last season — the first time he didn’t make the Pro Bowl since 2014. Smith did have five interceptions and 10 passes defended, though, so he’s still playing at a high level.

T-8. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Steelers (89 overall): Fitzpatrick’s first full season in Pittsburgh saw him post a career-high 11 passes defended along with four interceptions. He was named an All-Pro for the second time in his career and could end up as the No. 1 or No. 2 safety in Madden by 2023. His 90 zone coverage is good and his 93 acceleration is tied for third among safeties.

T-8. Eddie Jackson, Bears (89 overall): Jackson didn’t have his best season in 2020 — no interceptions for the first time in his career and only five passes defended. He did have three forced fumbles, a career high. He’s here because he’s still one of the best free safeties in the game, tied with Bates III for the best zone rating (93) in Madden.

T-8. Adrian Amos, Packers (89 overall): In his second year in Green Bay, Amos had two interceptions for the third straight season and nine passes defended. He’s a good safety without any eye-popping ratings.

Dropped out of the top 10 from launch last year: Kevin Byard, Titans (No. 8)


Cornerbacks

It has become one of the more hotly contested positions in the game the past few years — and with the proliferation of high-caliber wide receivers, one of the more critical ones. Last year, we looked at the secondary as a whole. This year, we’re dividing it up into corners and safeties because the defensive backs have become that much more important in the game — both in real life and in Madden.

It’s why Jalen Ramsey and Stephon Gilmore are that valuable. They can take even a top receiver and somewhat neutralize him, altering a game plan. Those types of corners have always been important. Now, though, they’re critical to any success you might have, with a pretty clear delineation order at the top.

1. Jalen Ramsey, Rams (99 overall): Ramsey was third in the secondary rankings last year and a 94 overall. Now? He’s part of the 99 club and is almost a super 99 because both his man and zone coverage ratings are 99s. His 99 awareness fits and his 92 speed and 94 acceleration mean he’ll keep up with the quickest downfield receivers. He’s a 99 press rating, too. Match up against him? Good luck. He’s a nightmare to face.

2. Stephon Gilmore, Patriots (97 overall): Last year’s top defensive back in rating and ranking (No. 1, 99 overall), Gilmore could get to a 99 again. His numbers dipped from his career year in 2019 (one interception, three passes defended in 2020), but teams also threw away from him more. Gilmore is second in the game in man coverage (98) and second in zone (96).

3. Jaire Alexander, Packers (95 overall): Alexander jumped up five ratings points and 12 overall from the launch of Madden ’20 coming off a decent rookie season. He had only one interception last season but broke up 13 passes as the shutdown corner in Green Bay’s defense. He’s third in man coverage (97) and zone (95).

4. Tre’Davious White, Bills (93 overall): White made people notice him after a 2019 season where he had an NFL-best six interceptions. He followed it up with a three-pick, 11-pass-defensed season where he had 57 tackles. He’s an aggressive corner who at age 26 is only getting better. He’s fourth in man coverage (95) and zone (93).

5. Marlon Humphrey, Ravens (92 overall): This is where it starts to cloud up and is subject to debate. Humphrey is a high-level man corner who is aggressive, forcing an NFL-best eight fumbles last year. He had 11 passes defended and only one interception, but if you play zone in Madden you might want to consider looking elsewhere. He’s rated fifth in man (93) but only 10th in zone (89).

6. Xavien Howard, Dolphins (91 overall): The veteran picks up a strong rating after an NFL-best 10 interceptions and 20 passes defended last season. He’d been building on this since 2018, when he had seven picks, but 2019 was an injury-shortened season. Howard’s awareness (97) is elite and his catching (85) and catch-in-traffic (77) are best among corners. It explains his rating despite being 10th in man (88) and ninth in zone (90).

7. James Bradberry, Giants (90 overall): Bradberry had a career-best 18 passes defended in his first season in New York and matched a career high with three interceptions. A little better at man (92) than zone (90), he might be the most balanced of the second-tier corners in the game

T-8. Denzel Ward, Browns (89 overall): Ward is more of a man corner (89) than zone (87) after a season where he had a career-best 18 pass breakups. He hasn’t had many interceptions in his career — seven over three seasons — but at age 24 there’s still a ton of room for him to grow. Don’t be surprised if he ends up a top-three corner in Madden at some point during his career.

T-8. Kendall Fuller, Washington (89 overall): Fuller had four interceptions and 11 passes defended last season — his first back in Washington. It was a good move back to the District for him, which led him to a strong Madden rating, particularly in man (91). His zone coverage is not quite as good (88).

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Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey shares his excitement after joining teammate Aaron Donald with a 99 rating in Madden NFL 22.

T-10. Darius Slay, Eagles (88 overall): Slay’s first season in Philadelphia showed a different side of what he can do. Long considered one of the better man corners in the game, Slay had only one interception and six passes defended last season. His zone coverage (91) is higher than his man coverage (87) despite his history as a man corner. This is one of the more confusing ratings. His speed (93) and acceleration (92) help him here.

T-10. Marcus Peters, Ravens (88 overall): Peters usually has a knack for the end zone — last season was the first since 2017 he didn’t score on an interception. His four picks were consistent with his usual output, as were his nine passes defended. In Madden, Peters is considered a much better man corner (90) than zone (85).

T-10. Byron Jones, Dolphins (88 overall): Jones is given a lot of credit in the game for being an impact zone corner (91) with a lower man rating (88). He intercepted two passes — a career best — while notching a career-worst four passes defended last season.

Dropped out of the top 10 from launch last year: T-5. Richard Sherman


Running backs

This is a position characterized by volatility in the NFL and in Madden. Actually, there might be more consistency in backs in the video game than in the real NFL, where drop-offs can happen quickly.

The top backs in the league remain a little bit more constant, especially when they are dual-threat backs like Christian McCaffrey, the game’s top-rated back at launch this year.

A year after a massive changing of the top-10 guard from 2019 to 2020 — when five backs dropped out — this year had more consistency as there were no new backs in the top 10, just in a different order.

1. Christian McCaffrey, Panthers (97 overall): McCaffrey was part of the 99 Club at launch last season … and promptly appeared in only three games due to injury. McCaffrey averaged only 3.8 yards per carry but was on pace for a monster year (five rushing touchdowns in three games). McCaffrey is the best catching back in the game (81 overall) and his combination of change-of-direction (94 overall) and ball-carrier vision (94 overall) is what makes him so tough in the game.

T-2. Derrick Henry, Titans (96 overall): Henry was one of the league’s best players last season and should have been a 99 overall candidate. He remained second overall for the second straight year after busting on the scene in now-Falcons coach Arthur Smith’s offense and jumped up another three points from a 93 to a 96. Henry is coming off a 2,027-yard season where he led the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns. It’s the second straight year he led the league in rushing and rushing touchdowns. His lack of dual-threat status is the only conceivable reason he’s not the top-rated back, but he could get there really quick. Henry’s famed stiff-arm is a 99.

T-2. Nick Chubb, Browns (96 overall): Chubb, who was T-3 last year, jumped up one spot but was bumped up four ratings points after a year in which he averaged 5.6 yards per carry (1,067 yards) and rushed for 12 touchdowns. Chubb — not Henry — is the top-rated tackle-breaker at a 98 rating, and his 97 carry rating ranks behind just Phillip Lindsay. Chubb is also tops in ball-carrier vision at 96.

4. Dalvin Cook, Vikings (95 overall): Cook jumps four ratings points and from a tie for fifth to fourth by himself. He established himself with his second straight Pro Bowl appearance after career highs with 312 carries, 1,557 yards and 16 touchdowns. His 44 catches for 361 yards and a touchdown give him a small receiving bonus, too. Cook is the game’s best change-of-direction back (95 rating) and second best at ball-carrier vision (95) and breaking tackles (96).

5. Alvin Kamara, Saints (94 overall): Kamara is the most balanced back in the game. In real life, he had career highs in carries (187), rushing yards (932), rushing touchdowns (16), targets (107), receptions (83) and receiving yards (756). He tied his rookie-year production with five receiving touchdowns. This moved Kamara up from a tie for ninth last year and 88 overall to his current spot. He’s not No. 1 in any major running back category but is top-five in stiff-arm, vision, catching and breaking tackles, showing his versatility.

6. Aaron Jones, Packers (91 overall): Jones essentially remained the same — making a slight bump up in his spot (seventh to sixth) and rating(from 90 to 91). This makes sense considering Jones had a slightly better season, going from 1,084 to 1,104 yards on fewer carries, but also had far fewer touchdowns (nine last season, 16 in 2019) and about the same receiving numbers with 47 catches for 355 yards and two touchdowns. He did this in two fewer games last year.

7. Saquon Barkley, Giants (90 overall): Barkley was injured much of last season, but Madden didn’t downgrade him too badly for that, dropping him from fifth to seventh and from 91 to 90. He wasn’t running well before his season ended, so this rating — like some others we’ve mentioned — is working with the premise that he’ll return to his form as a 1,000-yard back with pass-catching ability.

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Marshawn Lynch joins First Take to discuss which running backs in the league run the ball like he did.

8. Josh Jacobs, Raiders (89 overall): Jacobs continued his consistency with his second consecutive 1,000-yard season (1,065 yards) and a career-best 12 touchdowns. He made his big jump from 2019 to 2020. From 2020 to 2021, he moved up one spot from ninth to eighth and one point from 88 to 89.

T-9. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys (88 overall): Elliott was under 1,000 yards for the first time since 2017 — but did so in 15 games, so the added game might have given him 1,000 yards for the third straight year. His touchdowns dropped from 12 to six and his yards per attempt was a career low at 4.0. It would explain why he dipped from a tie for third last year to a tie for ninth and a 92 to an 88. He’s a candidate for a big jump as long as Dak Prescott’s return gives Dallas’ offense more balance.

T-9. Joe Mixon, Bengals (88 overall): Mixon’s skill set is highlighted by his stiff-arm (tied for seventh with Ezekiel Elliott at 88) and his carrying (tied with McCaffrey at 96). Mixon essentially stayed the same, dropping from eighth to a tie for ninth and from an 89 to an 88. He was last an 88 in Madden ’20, so he has demonstrated consistency throughout.

Dropped out of the top 10 from launch last year: None


Interior defensive line

Interior defensive linemen don’t often get attention. Unless they are premier pass-rushers, like 99 Club member Aaron Donald, they usually toil in anonymity like their offensive line counterparts. But when it comes to an actual defense, they are massive, both in size and importance.

Having a good run-stuffer can change a game. Having someone on the interior who can pressure the passer makes edge rushers and linebackers look good. It’s critical — and if used correctly, massively valuable in Madden. So if you play a defense where the interior is important, these are the players to have.

1. Aaron Donald, Rams (99 overall): If you thought there’d be anyone else in this spot you haven’t watched football the past half-decade. Donald is one of the most dominant interior linemen in NFL history. He’s a 99 for the fifth consecutive year, and even though he’s more of an interior lineman, he was rated No. 1 among pass-rushers a year ago. Now he’s No. 1 in this group. Donald is a 99 in strength, a 99 in power moves and a 97 in block shedding — best in all categories among interior linemen, the only one in the top five in all three categories.

2. Fletcher Cox, Eagles (94 overall): Cox dropped two ratings points from launch last year but moved up from tied for fifth among pass-rushers to second among interior linemen. He is one of the league’s best space-eaters and is an important part of Philadelphia’s defense. Cox played to his career averages last season with 6.5 sacks and 41 tackles.

T-3. Chris Jones, Chiefs (92 overall): Jones moved up from tied for ninth among pass-rushers to third among interior defensive linemen, but his 92 rating didn’t change. Jones, whose 97 power rating is notable, continued being a disruptor with 36 tackles, 28 quarterback hits, 7.5 sacks and four passes defended.

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Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald reacts after learning he’s received a 99 rating in Madden NFL 22.

T-3. DeForest Buckner, Colts (92 overall): Buckner was in a new place last year — he was traded from the 49ers to the Colts last March — and had the same type of production, notching 9.5 sacks and 58 tackles with 10 tackles for loss. His 85 acceleration rating is key to what makes him a difference-maker in Madden.

T-3. Cameron Heyward, Steelers (92 overall): He had a down year statistically — his four sacks were his fewest since 2016, as were his seven tackles for loss. But even then, Heyward still made his fourth straight Pro Bowl and continued being one of the tougher guys to block in the NFL. Hayward’s block-shedding rating (94) is elite.

6. Michael Pierce, Vikings (91 overall): Pierce, who opted out of the 2020 season, is one of the best run-stoppers and nose tackles in the league. He doesn’t give much out of pass rush, but his 96 strength rating and 93 block-shedding rating make him a pain for opposing running backs.

7. Calais Campbell, Ravens (90 overall): After three years in Jacksonville, Campbell landed in Baltimore in 2020 and his four sacks were his fewest since his rookie year in 2008, when he didn’t have a sack. His 28 total tackles were also the fewest of his career. Like many other longtime stalwarts, this rating is as much about him having a potential bounce-back year and his career achievement. The game recognized his slowdown, dropping him from a 95 to a 90. Last year he was tied for seventh among pass-rushers. This year, he’s seventh among interior linemen.

T-8. Kenny Clark, Packers (89 overall): Clark didn’t have his best season in 2020 — two sacks and 42 tackles (in 13 games) were his lowest totals since his rookie year — but he has become a consistent presence in the middle of the Green Bay front who allows the Smiths — Preston and Za’Darius — to be dominant around him. Clark’s strength rating (96) is elite.

T-8. Stephon Tuitt, Steelers (89 overall): Unlike a lot of the players ahead of him, Tuitt is coming off a massive season as a pass-rusher, posting a career-high 11 sacks. The 11 sacks almost matched the total from his past three seasons combined (11.5 sacks). He had a career-high 10 tackles for loss and uses a combination of his power (90 rating) and block-shedding (91) to be successful.

T-10. Vita Vea, Buccaneers (88 overall): There’s no question about Vea’s strength — he’s fourth at 97 overall behind Donald, Matt Ioannidis (98 overall) and Linval Joseph (98 overall) — and is a massive space-eater in the middle of the Tampa defense. He won’t give you much as a pass-rusher but showed progress in the area after playing only five games in 2020.

T-10. Akiem Hicks, Bears (88 overall): Hicks’ strength is one of his most valuable assets, as are his awareness (96 overall) and his impact blocking (94 overall). Like Vea, he’s going to give you more against the run, but Hicks has balance — he’s not that far removed from a 7.5-sack season in 2018, when he made his only Pro Bowl.

T-10. Jonathan Allen, Washington (88 overall): Allen didn’t have the biggest season in 2020 — his sack numbers dropped from six to two although his total tackles stayed consistent (68 in 2019, 63 in 2020). His acceleration of 83 is good for an interior defensive lineman, which should make him good to play next to. Allen is also fresh off a big contract extension with Washington, which includes a $30 million signing bonus.

Dropped out of the top 10 from launch last year: None.


Edge rushers

Unlike last year, when we combined defensive linemen, we’ve organized things differently and given edge rushers their own category this year. While pass rush can come from anywhere, defenders coming off the edge as ends or outside linebackers possess similar skill sets, which means we can group together players in 4-3 and 3-4 defenses.

An oddity of this combined, stacked group is that not one but two sets of brothers dominate the top 10. Which, considering the talent level of the Watt and Bosa brothers, shouldn’t be surprising.

None of those players are ranked No. 1, though. That’s saved for one of the most disruptive players in the game.

1. Myles Garrett, Browns (98 overall): Garrett made a big jump from our combined defensive line ratings last year, when he was tied for ninth with Kansas City’s Chris Jones (more on him later). Garrett went from a 93 overall to a 98 after a 12-sack season, his third straight with double-digit sacks. He had a career-high 48 tackles along with 10 tackles for loss. He’s also the clear best power-move edge rusher in the game, with a 98 rating there.

2. Khalil Mack, Bears (96 overall): Mack might not have had as dominant a season as he had during his first year in Chicago in 2018, but he still had 50 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and nine sacks. He also moved up from tied for third among defensive linemen to second among edge rushers — but his rating dropped for the third straight year (he was a 99 in Madden 20 and a 97 a year ago).

T-3. T.J. Watt, Steelers (94 overall): The younger Watt brother continued his ascent in the real NFL last season, with his second straight All-Pro nod, third straight Pro Bowl and third season with double-digit sacks, leading the NFL with 15. His 23 tackles for loss were also a career-high. Watt jumped eight points from his launch rating last year (86), but was a big mover in-season, finishing the year as a 93.

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Dan Orlovsky explains why he’d make some changes to the top-10 pass-rushers list for Madden 22.

T-3. Chandler Jones, Cardinals (94 overall): Jones moved up in the ratings (from tied for seventh to tied for third) but down in overall rating from a 95 at launch last year. That has to do with the change in how we’re looking at the ratings. Jones, of course, missed most of last season with a right biceps injury so this is likely a legacy rating with the expectation he’ll continue his dominance; before last year he had five straight double-digit sack seasons. Jones’ power rush is close to unparalleled. He’s second among edge rushers in the rating at a 95.

T-3. J.J. Watt, Cardinals (94 overall): It’s a new team for Watt for the first time in his career, but he’s still getting respect as one of the best edge rushers in the game (if not in his own family). Watt, for his strong rating, still took a drop. He was a 98 at launch last year and had been part of the 99 Club from Madden 25 in 2014 until Madden 17. After five sacks last season, his second straight under double digits, his rating is taking a hit but he still has enough respect to be one of the game’s best. And he and Jones form one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league.

T-6. Cameron Jordan, Saints (93 overall): Jordan saw a dip in his numbers last season — from 15.5 sacks to 7.5 sacks — and Madden accounted for that, dropping him from a 96 overall to a 93. He is splitting the difference from his prior ratings because he was a 91 overall at launch for Madden 20. He’s still one of the league’s most feared pass-rushers.

T-6. Von Miller, Broncos (93 overall): Like some of the other guys above him (J.J. Watt, Jordan), having Miller this high is a nod to what he has done in the past as much as what he might do going forward. That’s because Miller missed the entire 2020 season with a knee injury he suffered in September. In 2019, Miller had his first full season without double-digit sacks (eight in 15 games). He could still be a problem for offensive linemen when he’s fully healthy, but Madden is accounting for the decline of a former 99 Club member (Madden 17-19), dropping him a little bit this year.

8. Joey Bosa, Chargers (92 overall): Now we’re entering “emerging” territory. Bosa is one of the top edge rushers in the game and is still getting better. While he didn’t have quite the season he did in 2019 — when he had 11.5 sacks — his 7.5 sacks in 12 games (10 starts) with 15 tackles for loss was enough for him to jump into the top 10. Bosa is also the best in the game at finesse moves, with a 96 rating and bragging rights in the Bosa household.

9. Nick Bosa, 49ers (90 overall): That Nick Bosa is on here at all is a testament to what many believe his skills are going to be. He played in only two games last season and recorded no sacks. His rookie year? Nine sacks, 16 tackles for loss and a Pro Bowl berth. Figure the Brothers Bosa are going to keep moving up this list in future years and during in-season updates. Don’t be surprised if they are both top-five by midseason.

T-10. Za’Darius Smith, Packers (89 overall): Smith gets credit for emerging as a force after leaving Baltimore for Green Bay before the 2019 season. He had double-digit sacks the last two seasons with the Packers — 13.5 in 2019 and 12.5 in 2020. Smith is more of a power rusher in this game, as his power rush move of 90 ranks seventh overall.

T-10. Danielle Hunter, Vikings (89 overall): Hunter didn’t play last season, but recorded back-to-back 14.5-sack seasons in 2018 and 2019, making the Pro Bowl both years. The 26-year-old is an ascending edge rusher, with the thought being that he’ll continue his play even after missing 2020.

Edge rushers who dropped out from last year’s launch: None


Wide receivers

This position continues to be one of the most competitive in the NFL — and one of the tightest races based on the Madden ratings. An argument can be made for any of the top six receivers to be ranked No. 1 overall in this year’s game.

And really, when it comes to game play, it’s more about preference. If you like speed, Tyreek Hill is your No. 1 (99 speed). If you prefer big-bodied receivers, Michael Thomas might be your man. Need guys to make the impossible possible? Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins are eye-popping options.

Want a superb route-runner? Davante Adams and Stefon Diggs are unmatched, particularly on medium routes. Much like in the real league, whatever your preference, there’s a guy for it.

And for the third straight year, there’s a new player at the top of the Madden receiver chart.

1. Davante Adams, Packers (99 overall): After a season in which he put up a career-best 115 catches and a league-best 18 touchdowns and 98.1 yards per game, Adams jumps five points from last season’s launch rating and takes over the top spot. He was No. 5 last year and tied for ninth the year before, so his ascent continues along as he ranks as the game’s top receiver in catching (99), short route running (99) and medium route running (98).

T-2. DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals (98 overall): Hopkins remains the game’s No. 2 wideout and a 98 overall — the same rating he had to start last year. Will he become a 99 again, which he most recently had at launch in Madden 20? It’s certainly possible after a 115-catch, 1,407-yard season in a Kliff Kingsbury offense that can showcase him. He, along with Odell Beckham Jr., are the game’s top spectacular catchers (99).

T-2. Tyreek Hill, Chiefs (98 overall): Want speed? Hill has it as the only 99 among receivers. He moves up two ratings points and two spots from fourth to tied for second from his 96 at launch last year and continues to be part of one of the toughest tandems (alongside quarterback Patrick Mahomes) to defend in the NFL. Hill posted a career-best 15 touchdowns last year on 87 catches for 1,276 yards.

4. Stefon Diggs, Bills (97 overall): Diggs shined in his first year in Buffalo, creating a dynamic connection with quarterback Josh Allen and leading the league in receptions (127) and yards (1,535). It was enough to move him up five points from last year, and from tied for seventh to fourth. He’s particularly adept at route running, ranking in the top three in short (96), medium (97) and deep (94) route running this year.

5. Julio Jones, Titans (95 overall): Jones switched teams this offseason after being traded from Atlanta to Tennessee, and he continued to drop in Madden (he had a 97 rating that ranked third last year). Long a top-two receiver in Madden, he never has been a 99 at launch, and at age 32, he might never become one. But Julio Jones, even at 80% of his peak, is still one of the game’s top receivers, as evidenced here, and after an injury-riddled 2020, he can quickly move up again if he plays well in his new home in 2021.

6. Michael Thomas, Saints (94 overall): After ranking No. 1 in 2019 with a 99, Thomas spent a lot of 2020 sidelined — going without a receiving touchdown and averaging a career-worst 11.0 yards per catch. So his slide was expected. But last year was likely an aberration for Thomas, who had four 1,000-yard seasons and three 100-catch seasons in his first four years in the league. Thomas could miss the start of the season after having offseason ankle surgery.

7. Keenan Allen, Chargers (93 overall): Allen moved up two points and two spots from last season after his first year with Justin Herbert as his quarterback. This feels right for a guy who has been consistent the past four seasons (in 14 games last season, he had 100 catches for 992 yards and eight touchdowns, putting him on pace for the same type of numbers he had the three years prior). Allen has been in four straight Pro Bowls and is consistently one of the best in the league.

8. Amari Cooper, Cowboys (92 overall): Cooper dropped one ratings point and two spots in the rankings — potentially more a function of what guys ahead of him did. Cooper put up strong numbers, including a career-best 92 catches, playing without quarterback Dak Prescott for most of last season. He still had 1,114 yards and five touchdowns. If Prescott is healthy this season, Cooper could be a big mover.

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Booger McFarland weighs in on Madden 22’s list of top 10 wide receivers and shares what his own top five would be.

9. Mike Evans, Buccaneers (91 overall): Evans dropped one spot and one ratings point this year, perhaps a function of what looks to be a small ratings spread for Madden 22 among receivers. Evans did in 2020 what he usually does, posting 70 catches, 1,006 yards and a career-best 13 touchdowns. He has been incredibly consistent throughout his career, even with different quarterbacks, helping Tom Brady win a Super Bowl in his first year with the Bucs.

10. Allen Robinson II, Bears (90 overall): Robinson had a massive 2020 despite playing in Chicago’s mess of a quarterback situation, posting 102 catches for 1,250 yards and six touchdowns. This year has the potential to be better for Robinson with either Andy Dalton or Justin Fields at quarterback. The fact that he was able to put up those numbers — and receive such respect from the Madden raters — considering the quarterback situation in Chicago last year tells you how good he really is.

Dropped out of the top 10 from launch last year: T-9. Odell Beckham Jr., Browns



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