A look ahead to who could be on the cover of the most popular video game among NFL fans, Madden 18 with a nominee from all 32 teams
NFL fans love Madden, and there’s never a bad time to start looking ahead to the newest version of the game. With Madden 18 still roughly six months away, there’s a lot of time left to wait. Of course, the excitement about how your favorite team will look doesn’t really ramp up until free agency and the draft are complete, but there’s of course one other thing to get excited about. That would be who is on the cover of the next installment of the game.
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The cover athlete used to be decided via fan vote, but that was scratched before the 2017 game was released. With the game makers deciding the cover athlete again, they went with New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Of course, the pick of Gronk will likely lead to more discussion about the Madden curse. It was long believed that any athlete who graced the cover would eventually land on the injured reserve. Choosing Gronk wasn’t a good way to avoid that since he entered the league as an often injured player and hasn’t dispelled that notion so far in his career.
Still, for those who worry about that curse you may hope your favorite player doesn’t make the cover. For those who realize there is no such thing as a curse, it’s exciting to think about your favorite player being the one to dance around on the loading screen like Gronk this season or the New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. the year before (a non-curse victim by the way).
Whether you’re wanting to see your guy on the cover or not, here is one nominee from each of the 32 NFL teams to grace the cover of Madden 18.
Dec 4, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) runs for a fourth quarter touchdown against the Washington Redskins at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Redskins 31-23. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Arizona Cardinals: David Johnson — RB
Running back David Johnson is an easy choice for the Arizona Cardinals. He is a real-life video game player who tied a record with one of the greatest to ever play the game, Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders, for yards from scrimmage in consecutive games. He also is the face of the franchise’s future after rushing for 1,239 yards and catching another 879 for the Red Birds in 2016.
Johnson rushed for 16 touchdowns and added another four receiving last season. All this came in just his second season in the league and his first as a full-time starter. While the offense of the Cardinals is led by veteran quarterback Carson Palmer and veteran wideout Larry Fitzgerald, Johnson has quickly become their biggest star.
Heading into the 2017 season he will be one of the most popular players among fans. The reason for that is because he is a fantasy football stud. Such a distinction makes him a great option for the Madden 18 cover because of the popularity of fantasy among NFL fans.
Previous players to grace the cover also did so after posting huge fantasy seasons like former Browns running back Peyton Hillis for Madden 12 and Gronkowski and Beckham, Jr. more recently.
Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) warms up before Super Bowl LI against the New England Patriots at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan — QB
Most people are going to remember the Atlanta Falcons 2016 season for the wrong reasons. They had a shot to win Super Bowl 51 after taking a 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots. Then they fell apart and lost by a score of 34-28 in overtime to the now five-time champs.
It was an awful way to end the year, but it takes nothing away from how good they really are. This team can score almost at will and the biggest reason is the man who won the 2016 NFL MVP award, quarterback Matt Ryan.
Ryan was chosen third overall in 2008 as the Falcons tried to distance themselves from former Madden cover athlete (and video game phenom) Mike Vick. He immediately turned the team around as they went 11-5 in his rookie season. By 2011, he was throwing for over 4,000 yards and has had at least that many yards in every season since.
Last year he had his career high in yards with 4,944 through the air, touchdowns with 38, and completion percentage with 69.9. He also had a career low with just seven interceptions on the season. After such a sensational season it would make a ton of sense for “Matty Ice” to be on the cover of Madden 18.
Dec 27, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker (9) signals to wide receiver Kaelin Clay (81) (not pictured) during the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Baltimore Ravens: Justin Tucker — K
I have been told time and time again, ” You have no business writing.” Nothing makes that point more valid than saying something as stupid as putting a kicker on the cover of Madden 18 is a good idea. But come on, Justin Tucker of the Baltimore Ravens is no ordinary kicker. The dude isn’t human; he’s some kind of cyborg kicking machine that makes field goals fun.
Tucker is now the most accurate kicker in NFL history after an amazing season in which he connected on 38-of-39 kicks in 2016. He also was an impressive 10-of-10 on kicks over 50-yards including a long of 57-yards. For his career now he is 168-of-187 kicking which gives him a career percentage of 89.8.
Even more impressive than his accomplishments is the fun he has after drilling one of his mile-long three-pointers.
Now who wouldn’t want to see this dance as the game loads up. Oh, and just for more fun facts; He can also sing in seven languages which are English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Latin and Russian! There has to be some way to incorporate that into the game. Sure, a kicker is not the top choice, but if there ever was one, it would have to Justin Tucker.
Dec 11, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy (25) runs with the ball as Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Artie Burns (25) pursues during the first quarter at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Buffalo Bills: LeSean McCoy — RB
While his insistence that he is the best running back in the NFL is about three years too late, LeSean McCoy is the best weapon the Buffalo Bills have on both sides of the football. After rising to prominence and becoming a league leading rusher with the Philadelphia Eagles, McCoy found himself being shipped away to Buffalo.
While his production wasn’t a problem, his popularity may have been. Former Eagles roster demolition specialist head coach Chip Kelly had a problem with several of the star players on the team. He cut wide receiver DeSean Jackson and traded McCoy to the Bills for any player he could get from his days as the coach at Oregon.
Kelly was eventually fired by Philly. He was also fired by his next team, the San Francisco 49ers. McCoy has not been fired, but instead has recorded 2,162 yards and 16 touchdowns in two seasons for the Bills. He is averaging 4.9 yards per rush and had 13 of his 16 touchdowns this past season alone.
McCoy isn’t the player he once was as injuries and age have limited his ability to stay on the field like he used to. He is still one of the top three-or-four running backs currently in the NFL and is far and away the most deserving Bill to grace the cover of Madden.
Dec 24, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) at the press conference after the game. The Falcons defeated the Panthers 33-16 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton — QB
How is it that one of the most popular players in the league has never graced the cover of Madden? Carolina Panthers quarterback has been a huge star since his days as a National Champion winning quarterback at Auburn.
After joining the NFL his star has only gotten brighter. He won the 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year Award as well as the 2015 NFL MVP. He also got his team to the Super Bowl following his MVP season and a 15-1 record. Unfortunately, he and the Panthers finished as runners-up in the big game, which the quarterback has done with the Madden cover as well.
Newton twice lost the fan vote in the finals. In 20,13 he missed out thanks to fans selecting Detroit Lions wide out Calvin Johnson. Two versions later he lost to another receiver, this time Odeel Beckham, Jr. of the Giants.
It’s a shame for Newton because he is apparently a huge fan of the game, as evidenced by an ESPN post which was written in favor of Newton being the Madden 17 cover athlete from David Newton, saying”
“I’m a Madden connoisseur for all type of years dating back, and it’s great to have my thumbs be so talented.”
Of course, we all know by now that world-famous party boy Rob Gronkowski is the one who was featured, not Newton. That doesn’t mean the hype train should stop. Panthers fans should openly petition for Cam to grace the cover. Then if he is snubbed again, they can start the #NotMyMadden movement.
Dec 24, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Washington Redskins defensive back Greg Toler (20) and Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard (24) during the game at Soldier Field. The Redskins defeat the Bears 41-21. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Chicago Bears: Jordan Howard — RB
Things eventually have to get better for the Chicago Bears. They went all in on quarterback Jay Cutler by not only trading a collection of picks for him, but then by re-signing him to a huge deal when he became a free agent a couple of seasons ago. He was paired with receiver Brandon Marshall, running back Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett. The results were never what the team expected and now only Cutler is left from that bunch.
Maybe he won’t be in 2017 though. Reports suggest that Cutler will let go soon by Chicago as they look to try and rebuild for the future and have realized Cutler is not the franchise guy. That means that they need a face of their franchise until they find their new quarterback.
Enter running back Jordan Howard. The rookie from Indiana started in 13 games, playing in 15, and made the most out of every snap. He wound up second in the NFL in rushing yards behind fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott with 1,313 yards.
Howard bursting onto the scene was the one bright spot in an otherwise dismal season for the Chicago Bears. It’s unlikely they get anyone on the cover of Madden 18, but if they did it would have to be Howard.
Dec 18, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) makes a catch during warmups prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green — WR
It’s tempting to select the red-rifle here. Andy Dalton and his red-mane gracing the cover of Madden 18 would be beautiful. However, after a down season in 2016 it would be kind of hard to justify the quarterback being the choice for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Instead we go with his favorite target, wide receiver A.J. Green. The fourth-overall pick in 2012 out of Georgia, Green has been a blessing for the Bengals ever since first donning his stripped helmet. Up until 2016 he had recorded at least 1,000-yards receiving and the only thing that stopped him from doing so again last season was being injured for six games. He wound up with 964 yards still in just 10 games, which showed he was still explosive when he was on the field.
Another thing about Green that endears him to fans is the rumor that he was upset when the team didn’t let him play in Week 17. Green had reportedly believed he was fully healthy and wanted to play, but with nothing on the line the Bengals decided to let him start preparing for the offseason. While some may think a player is ready to call it quits with a meaningless Week 17 game in a losing season, Green was upset that he couldn’t compete.
He’s currently a free agent, so technically wide receiver Terrelle Pryor may not even be a candidate to be the Cleveland Browns cover athlete. At the moment, he’s the favorite because he was the most popular (even if not most liked) member of the Browns in 2016.
Pryor was ripped a few times during the season. Once by full-time perpetual law-breaker and part-time cornerback Adam Jones of the Bengals, once by the extremely annoying (and thankfully now retired) Colts punter and loud mouth Pat McAfee, and twice by Giants corner Janoris Jenkins. Pryor however took the high road, most notably after talking about how Jenkins did bother him some saying Pryor “sucks.”
“I’ve got a lot of respect,” Pryor said. “I’m not going to go that way. Did it anger me? Yeah, I was mad because, whatever, I’m not going to go there, but I respect every player in the league, because it’s hard to stay in this league and it’s hard to be great in the league. I respect those two players and it is what it is at the end of the day and it is what it is.
Pryor was the first victim of Roger Goodell’s odd “I will suspend anyone” reign. A supplemental pick of the Raiders, Pryor was sat down for six games because of things that happened while he was in college. He had a late start thanks to that and struggled as a quarterback.
Eventually he moved to wide receiver and last season broke out for the Browns with 77 receptions for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns. He could be even better if the team ever got a quarterback.
Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott — QB/RB
This team finally has some players worthy of putting on the cover. After years of being mocked for mediocrity, the Dallas Cowboys posted a 13-3 record thanks in large part to their impressive rookies. Running back Ezekiel Elliott won the NFL rushing title after being selected fourth overall out of Ohio State University. He was joined by quarterback Dak Prescott, a fourth-round pick from Mississippi State.
Prescott took over for an injured Tony Romo, and an injured Kellen Moore. Of course, that was only after the team reportedly tried to acquire a veteran but didn’t like the options available. After “settling” with Dak he threw for 3,667 yards and 23 touchdowns. He had a quarterback rating of 104.9 thanks to his high completion percentage and incredibly low interception total of just four.
The rookie quarterback took the NFL award for being the best offensive rookie of the year, then said he wanted to cut the trophy in half and share it with Zeke, whom he brought on stage with him for the acceptance speech. While the NFL didn’t give them co-Rookie of the Year, Madden can. It would be very fitting that the new faces of America’s Team both appear on the cover of the greatest sports video game in America.
aFeb 9, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller raises the Vince Lombardi Trophy during the Super Bowl 50 championship parade celebration at Civic Center Park. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Denver Broncos: Von Miller — OLB
Here’s another easy one. That’s not to say the Denver Broncos don’t have a ton of talented players on their team, because clearly they do. They’re just one season removed from being crowned Super Bowl Champions, so it’s obvious they have skill all over the field.
With that level of talent there are tons of worthy cover guys like wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Both are big-time playmakers who have enough highlight reel plays to prove their case. Then on defense guys like cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. are complete studs as well.
Despite all of that, this one is easy because their absolute best player is outside linebacker Von Miller. Not only is he a fantastic player, but he is also their most interesting character as well. He shows up to places with hats that look like raccoons, dressed up like a cowboy, and he is a chicken farmer. As if that’s not enough, he is the king of the celebration dances.
Von Miller is just fun to watch. He single-handedly takes over games when he is on fire and has a genuine passion for the game. What more could you want on the cover of the best video game in the world?
January 7, 2017; Seattle, WA, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) throws against the Seattle Seahawks during the first half in the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford — QB
It was a really good year for Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. He needed it too after whispers were swirling in 2015 that the team may be ready to move on from the University of Georgia kid that was selected first overall in the 2009 NFL Draft.
After the Lions went 7-9 the rumors were that the front office was tired of waiting for Stafford to take that next step. From 2009-2015 the team had recorded just two winning seasons and Stafford was 42-51 as a starting quarterback in Detroit. To make matters even worse for him, star wide receiver Calvin Johnson hung up his cleats during the offseason leaving Stafford short handed at the wide out spot.
He responded with one of his most efficient campaigns as an NFL quarterback. He was an early season MVP candidate as he and the Lions became known for comeback wins. They finished with a record of 9-7, and a remarkable eight of those wins were comeback wins. Not just any comeback wins though, all eight were won on game winning drives by Stafford and company.
As the season wore on the team slipped some, and Stafford looked limited thanks to a hand injury. The year ended with a one-and-done playoff appearance, but Stafford did a lot to raise his stock in 2016.
This one is hard because the Green Bay Aaron Rodgers already get a ton of attentions. Oops, the Green Bay Packers, sorry about that. It’s hard to realize that he isn’t out there playing 1-on-11 and just slaughtering those 11 when you listen to the game day announcers.
In all fairness, their A-Rod slobbering is justified. He’s an amazing talent and does throw one of the best deep balls in the NFL. He’s also incredibly recognizable, thanks in large part to his State Farm commercials. The discount double check took off for a while thanks to the commercials he was in even those who aren’t sports fans recognize him.
For that reason, he is the only choice to go on the cover of Madden for Green Bay. He has a Super Bowl ring and the team has twice as many wins (90) as they do losses (45) with him under center. He’s also coming off a season in which he led his team back from a 4-6 start to the NFC Championship game after they knocked off the number one seed on the road in the Divisional Round.
Once the season was done, Rodgers had thrown for 4,428 yards with 40 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.
Oct 24, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Houston Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (90) during the third quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney — DE
No one would have thought anybody besides defensive end J.J. Watt could make this list, but here we are. 2014 first-overall pick Jadeveon Clowney is the choice for the Houston Texans to cover Madden, and it’s well deserved. Of course, one caveat is that this only happened following the 2016 season because Watt was injured and spent most of the year on IR following back surgery.
Clowney stepped up in the absence of Watt and helped the Texans lead the league in fewest yards surrendered. He was day in and day out the toughest guy to block on the Texans roster and the attention he drew really helped free up rushers like outside linebacker John Simon and Whitney Mercilus. Clowney also showed some versatility as the Texans moved him from outside linebacker to end in their 3-4 scheme and he did incredibly well.
While his sack total didn’t show his effort, Clowney deserves a ton of praise for his development. He finished the season by recording a sack in each of the final three games and kept that momentum going after the regular season. In the team’s playoff win against the Oakland Raiders Clowney deflected two passes at the line of scrimmage. The first he nearly picked off and the second one he did.
Should they be able to get Watt healthy and keep Clowney on the field as well in 2017, this defense will only be more dominant.
Sep 18, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) drops back in the third quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck — QB
The Indianapolis Colts had a tough choice to make following the 2011 NFL season. The best quarterback they ever had, Peyton Manning, spent the whole season on IR after several neck surgeries. They were a mess without him as they won just two games that season. The poor record led to them obtaining the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck was the consensus number one pick and considered a once in a decade kind of talent. The Colts faced the problem head on and cut Manning, which had to be a hard decision. They felt confident enough that Luck would be a great player to make that tough choice and so far it has paid off.
Manning went off and won a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos, which made it a good move for him as well. For the Colts though, they have gone 43-27 with Luck starting. The talented young passer has thrown for 19,078 yards with 132 touchdown passes. He’s still going strong a full season after Manning retired and still has several years left to excel in the league.
While the last two seasons haven’t gone the way the team likes, the future is still bright for Luck and he’s the best player on the team by far.
Dec 24, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson (15) makes a one handed catch as Tennessee Titans defensive back Valentino Blake (47) defends during the second half of an NFL football game at EverBank Field.The Jaguars won 38-17. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Jacksonville Jaguars: Allen Robinson — WR
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been picking in the top 10 in the NFL Draft for what feels like an eternity. With all their premium selections they should be a great team by now, but despite being dark horse favorites for several seasons they keep losing game after game. While not every player has lived up to their expectations, one player has gone above his.
That would be Allen Robinson, one of two wide receivers the team selected in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. The Penn State product had a slow rookie season, but showed a lot of promise during the year. The following season Robinson broke out. He had 80 receptions for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns that year while having a knack for making contested catches.
As a whole the Jaguars offense struggled in 2016, and while Robinson didn’t repeat the success he had during the previous campaign he was still an excitable player. He also is arguably the most talented player on their offense. Of course, after winning just three games and losing 13 Jacksonville most likely won’t be getting any calls about being on Madden, but if they did it seems like the best choice would be Robinson.
Jan 15, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry (29) reacts during the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Divisional playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Kansas City Chiefs: Eric Berry — FS
This one was tough. The Kansas City Chiefs have several talented players like quarterback Alex Smith, but he isn’t really held in that high of esteem because he is generally considered a game manager. There there’s wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who is incredibly balanced, although unspectacular.
From there we look at tight end Travis Kelce, who is one of the best at his position and would be incredibly worthy of being the cover guy. So too would nose tackle Dontari Poe, simply because he is a run stuffing beast and is the orchestrator of the “Bloated Tebow” which may be the greatest trick play ever.
Besides these guys listed, the Chiefs have one other player who would be the selection if the only criteria was on-field performance. Rookie receiver/return man Tyreek Hill was the most explosive player on the Chiefs offense and by season’s end he was the main reason they moved the ball on offense. However, his off-field domestic violence against a then-pregnant girlfriend in college makes him untouchable by the good people at EA Sports.
So instead they go with the feel good story of safety Eric Berry. He returned to the game in 2015 after a cancer diagnosis the previous year and by 2016 he was his former dominate self again. He had 77 tackles while also intercepting four passes. Two of those interceptions were returned for touchdowns as Berry showed his explosive speed was back after all his missed time. Hopefully they’re smart enough to keep him moving forward as he enters free agency.
Dec 18, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa (99) looks on during the fourth quarter against the Oakland Raiders at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Los Angeles Chargers: Joey Bosa — DE
The Chargers are heading to Los Angeles and they will be playing in the Stub Hub Center for two seasons. It’s going to be the smallest venue of any NFL team as the stadium holds just 27,000 people. The good news is, the scaled-down center will allow every fan in attendance to get a more up-close view of the team.
Hopefully for the Chargers this will help because they are a year late to Los Angeles since the Rams moved there last season. They also struggled to win over Southern California during the two decades the Rams were gone.
Another thing that may help endear them to fans is the fact that they are finally getting some good young talent. In 2015 they selected running back Melvin Gordon out of Wisconsin and he had a great sophomore campaign after a so-so rookie season. This season they got a guy who made a bigger impact and did so in year one.
Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa went third overall to the Chargers and looked like he could be a long term holdout. After much debate and back-and-forth he signed his deal and missed four games, but was still able to record double-digit sacks with 10.5. His great performance led to him being named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. It would also lead him to being on the cover of Madden if they had to choose one person from the newest L.A. franchise.
Oct 16, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) during the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Lions won 31-28. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Los Angeles Rams: Aaron Donald — DT
Let’s keep getting defensive in Los Angeles. Obviously after one season back in California, the Rams would have preferred to see their first-overall selection Jared Goff here. That’s not going to happen because the quarterback out of Cal who was compared to Aaron Rodgers struggled to even outplay Case Keenum at the position. He started seven games and had more interceptions than touchdowns as the team lost every game he started in.
Maybe Goff will turn it around now that the perpetually losing, but for some reason usually employed head coach Jeff Fisher is gone. Replacing him is the youngest coach in the league Sean McVay. Famous for his work with quarterback Kirk Cousins, McVay may be able help Goff reach his potential. Until that time comes though, the Rams need another nominee and that would be defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
The 25-year-old Donald has been a nightmare for opposing offensive lines since entering the league. As a rookie he started 12-of-16 games played and recorded nine sacks. He was named the 2014 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year but performed even better in year two when he had 11 sacks. In 2016 he recorded eight more and is one of the best interior pass rushers in the NFL.
Nov 13, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi (23) smiles as he walks off the field following the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Miami won 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Miami Dolphins: Jay Ajayi — RB
Head coach Adam Gase nearly ruined the Miami Dolphins season. After they let running back Lamar Miller leave for the Houston Texans via free agency it appeared that second-year player Jay Ajayi would slide into his role. He was a fifth-round pick but had a sensationally productive career at Boise State and fell due to knee injury concerns. It seemed Ajayi would be healthy and ready to explode out of the gates.
That isn’t what happened, though. Instead, the Dolphins went for an older running back with more injury issues in Arian Foster, recently cut by the same Houston team that picked up Miller. Foster was coming off several plagued seasons and averaged just 2.6 yards per game in the four games he did play in during the 2015 year. For Miami the results were almost identical as he again played in just four games and averaged 2.5 yards per rush.
Injuries forced him to retire and again Gase bypassed Ajayi, this time in favor of rookie Kenyan Drake. The Alabama product was never a starter in college and, despite having a good role as a rotational guy, should have always been behind Ajayi.
Finally after awhile Ajayi got his shot. He burst onto the scene rushing for 204 yards against the Steelers for the hapless Dolphins and the team came to life. He had another 200-yard game the following week and one more before the year ended. Despite starting just 12 games Ajayi managed to land fourth in the league in rushing and could have been the champ had he started 16 games. At least he gets the love here and that’s what really matters.
The Minnesota Vikings are a pretty tough team. They win with hard nosed defense. Their head coach, Mike Zimmer, should be credited as he is a defensive guy and he even showed his toughness when returning to coaching promptly after having emergency retina surgery.
Zimmer sets the tone for this team and they have some real studs as well. On the defensive line they have Brian Robison and Everson Griffen as the ends with Danielle Hunter playing the part of the rotational edge rusher. They also have great linebackers like Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks as well as stellar safety Harrison Smith.
Even with all those stars, one guy stood out as the best on their defense, cornerback Xavier Rhodes. He had such a great season that Matt Harmon of NFL.com called him the No. 1 corner in the NFL, saying:
2016 saw the Vikings’ top corner, always a solid player, join the elite group of NFL cornerbacks. Opposing quarterbacks targeted Rhodes 79 times in 14 games. It proved to be a fruitless endeavor, as Rhodes gave up an NFL-low 41.8 percent catch rate. In addition to not allowing plays to the opposition, he made plenty for the Vikings, as well. Rhodes picked off five passes this year, after registering just two in his first three seasons.
Week in and week out, Rhodes rose to the occasion and covered the best receivers in the NFL. He was the heart and soul of their defense and that makes him our nominee.
Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates after a score against the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots: Tom Brady — QB
Is there really any other choice. Obviously the makers of the game will most likely shy away from going with a New England Patriots player for a second season in a row after having Rob Gronkowski on the cover last season. But if they were planning on going with the same team again no one could really complain after what Tom Brady did in 2016.
Once the ridiculousness of Deflategate was finally settled Brady was suspended for four games. He then came back with a vengeance as the Patriots went 11-1 during the regular season with him starting and 14-2 overall. With surgeon like precision Brady threw for 3,554 yards with 28 touchdowns. Remarkably he had just two interceptions all season.
Then they went into the post season and despite their quarterback being 39-years old, the Patriots managed to get to their seventh-Super Bowl in the Brady era on the strength of his passing (unlike with other aged quarterbacks who get there thanks to the people around them doing the heavy lifting). Just to further prove how awesome he is, the Patriots then spotted the Atlanta Falcons a 25-point lead before Brady led the biggest comeback in NFL history and orchestrated the win in the first ever overtime in Super Bowl history.
What’s funny is that the so-called “haters” still want to act like he’s not the best ever. Some people just can’t believe what their own eyes are telling them.
Dec 4, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) during introductions before a game against the Detroit Lions at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees — QB
There are whispers the New Orleans Saints need to find a replacement for quarterback Drew Brees. The 38-year-old has been the guy who represented this team as the face of the franchise for years and in 2016 he proved he still had it. Brees threw for 5,208 yards on the season, which seems like an unreal number until you learn that it’s the fourth-time he crossed the 5,000-yard mark in his career.
Brees also threw 37 touchdowns, which kept him over 30 for the ninth-straight season. Really what all that means is he isn’t slowing down. Coming off such a remarkable season makes it seem even less likely that the Saints try too desperately to find his heir apparent. If a guy falls to them in the right spot great, but wouldn’t it be more tempting to continue to load up on the defense and give him and head coach Sean Payton one last crack at greatness?
A former second-round pick of the San Diego Chargers, Brees headed to New Orleans after losing his job to Philip Rivers. A shoulder injury in his last game as a Charger muddied the waters in his free agency tour and famously led the Miami Dolphins and head coach Nick Saban to pass (albeit against Saban’s wishes reportedly). Since then he has become the guy who led the Saints back to prominence and even won a Super Bowl in the process.
Dec 11, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) fumbles the ball late in the fourth quarter as New York Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins (20) makes the hit at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
New York Giants: Janoris Jenkins — CB
The New York Giants swept the number one seed Dallas Cowboys in 2017. They did so despite some pretty nasty offensive performances. What won them those two high-profile games, as well as most all their 11 wins, was their impressive defense.
During the 2016 NFL free agency period, the Giants made a commitment to the defensive side of the ball. They signed defensive tackle Damon Harrison from the New York Jets, defensive end Olivier Vernon from the Miami Dolphins, and Janoris Jenkins from the Rams. All three were vital to their success this season but none more so than Jenkins.
He was graded as a top-10 cornerback by Pro Football Focus after a season in which he intercepted three passes and knocked down another 18. He was also responsible for the forced fumble that sealed the deal in their second win against Dallas, a game in which he stepped up and made life miserable for wide receiver Dez Bryant.
Of course, some out there may wonder how Jenkins beats out his teammate Odell Beckham, Jr. The wide receiver has put up nothing but monster seasons and is as polarizing a figure as there is. The answer to why he wasn’t selected is because he had his turn on Madden 16 and should share the love with a teammate.
This isn’t just to mock the New York Jets, but they really don’t have that one guy who stands out as a special player anymore. They have some really good defensive players like defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and defensive tackle Leonard Washington. They also have the most overrated player in the history of the NFL, Darrelle Revis, at cornerback.
That’s really about it. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall is coming off a slow season and running back Matt Forte only showed flashes in 2016. Then there’s the quarterback issue which they just can’t figure out to save their lives.
Because of the lack of talented players, the team could allow super fan Fireman Ed to grace the cover as their representative. Ed Anzalone is one of the most recognizable fans in the entire NFL as he is a fixture at Jets games. Well, except a spell from 2012-15 when he finally had to walk away from the madness.
‘I don’t know how I’ll be,’ Anzalone said. ‘It’ll be bittersweet; I didn’t want to leave in the first place. Been doing it for 28 years, met a lot of great people and I’ve been the guardian of it in many ways.
‘I’ll get emotional, no doubt about it. But in a good way. I’m excited about it. I’ll get through it.’
Anyone who has been watching the Jets fumble around the field for that many years deserves something, why not a Madden cover?
Dec 24, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) carries the ball in the third quarter against the Indianapolis Colts during a NFL football game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Oakland Raiders: Derek Carr — QB
What a terrible way to end a season. Third-year pro Derek Carr led the Oakland Raiders to their first winning season since 2002. After so many years of futility, the gun-slinging Carr had the whole world believing the Raiders were ready to be a dominant team again. Then a broken leg in Week 16 suffered by the young quarterback dashed any hopes they had of making a run.
Oakland had to turn to rookie fourth-round pick Connor Cook. With him under center instead of Carr they were unable to effectively move the ball against defensive powerhouse Houston in the Wild Card Round. Their season ended in a one-and-done playoff appearance.
Carr stayed positive about the injury, mostly because he’s just an awesome guy. So awesome that he would be the perfect guy from the Raiders to put on the cover of Madden 18. He was an MVP candidate for most of the season as the offense had to do more than their share thanks to a less than impressive defense. Carr had 3,937 yards passing with 28 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
Had he stayed healthy and played that final week he easily would have hit the 4,000-yard mark for the first time in his young career. The good news for Raider Nation is that Carr will be back in 2017 and he has done nothing but give the fans reasons to be excited about the future.
Dec 26, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox (91) reacts after a sack against the Washington Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field. The Redskins won 38-24. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Philadelphia Eagles: Fletcher Cox — DE
Some more defensive player love. While many would want to go with quarterback Carson Wentz after a decent rookie campaign, he just isn’t “Madden-Ready” yet. He may very well be one day, but after 3,782 yards with 16 touchdowns to 14 picks, Wentz and his 79.3 quarterback rating haven’t crossed the threshold into stardom.
One player who has, but is not as praised as he should be is defensive end Fletcher Cox. Every season the Eagles boast a stout rush defense and the biggest reason for that is Cox. In five seasons the 310-pound space-eater has recorded 255 tackles and has forced six fumbles. While he is the best run defender on the team, he also provides a decent pass rush. Cox has recorded at least three sacks in every season with a career high of 9.5 in 2015. He added another six and a half this past season for the rebuilt organization.
Going forward Wentz will be the face of the franchise, but for now that honor should belong to their best player on the defensive side of the ball. It’s a good thing former head coach Chip Kelly didn’t get his way when he was trying to trade this stud away (plus a ton of picks) for the second overall pick in 2015. It’s much better still having him as well as the quarterback they got with the second pick in 2016 together.
Jan 22, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) runs with the ball as New England Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan (26) chases in the 2017 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers: Antonio Brown — WR
First the Steelers coaches were tired of wide receiver Antonio Brown’s antics, then they wanted to re-sign him to a bigger deal. The coaches were frustrated by his actions as reported by CBS Sport’s Jared Dubin who spoke about the gaffe by Brown when he went on Facebook Live in the Steelers locker room:
Apparently, some people within the Steelers organization are getting a little fed up with Brown doing things like this or dancing after touchdowns and drawing unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
The issue there was that head coach Mike Tomlin was giving a post game speech. Not only was Brown uninterested in his coach’s words, but Tomlin could also be heard berating their upcoming opponent. It was a bad look for the player, but the frustration subsided as Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says an extension for Brown will be a “priority” for the Steelers.
Why go from wearing thin to contract extension in roughly a month? Because Brown is one of the best, if not the best receiver in the game today. He has gone four straight seasons with at least 100-receptions and has had 43-touchdowns during that span. He is as exciting as they come and despite knowing the ball is coming his way often, he just keeps making plays.
December 24, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde (28) runs the ball against the defense of Los Angeles Rams defensive back Blake Countess (24) during the first half at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers: Carlos Hyde — RB
The list of players that could be considered impactful (on the field) for the San Francisco 49ers is pretty small. They were talked about for reasons that had nothing to do with playing football in 2016 thanks to the national anthem protests started by their quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He became arguably the best known player in the league as the venom sent his way reached well beyond NFL borders.
That kind of notoriety isn’t what the makers of Madden want to tap into. So while Kaepernick is their most recognizable player, he won’t be on the cover. He may not even be on the team as he heads into free agency.
One guy who will be on the team, and was impactful on the field is running back Carlos Hyde. The third-year running back missed three games, but had he played them all he would have easily topped the 1,000 yard mark for the struggling franchise. He still wound up with 988 yards rushing, while running a career high 4.6 yards per attempt. Hyde also recorded six touchdowns on the ground and added another three receiving.
Now with a new head coach coming to town Hyde should be able to perform even better moving forward and is the only candidate on this team for our cover.
Dec 15, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) carries the ball in the third quarter against the Los Angeles Rams during a NFL football game at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson — QB
He’s one of the most recognizable faces in the NFL, but that’s what happens when you win a Super Bowl in your second NFL season and then marry a famous music artist. Of course, that man is Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
He was a talented baseball player who once went to spring training with the Colorado Rockies, but football was his true love. After a successful career at North Carolina State, Wilson transferred to Wisconsin for one year. He was a graduate transfer, so he didn’t have to sit out and was able to convince scouts he had what it took to play at the next level with a great season for the Badgers.
Wilson’s height was still an issue as teams were scared of a 5-11 quarterback and he fell to round three. He famously won the starting job as a rookie over free agent pickup Matt Flynn and has since guided the Seahawks to a record of 56-23-1 in the regular season and 8-4 in the playoffs.
2016 was a tough year for Wilson as he battled knee and ankle issues all season. He was able to fight through the pain and, although he was visibly struggling physically, he never complained or made excuses while leading his team to a 10-5-1 record. Statistically he was fine as well, hitting the 4,000-yard mark for the second-straight season. Wilson is a warrior on the field and would be a great candidate for the Madden cover.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a talented team, and they are a vert young team. That youth may very well be the reason they were unable to withstand the final stretch of the regular season as they were aiming for a playoff berth. They have a lot of guys with the arrow pointing up like quarterback Jameis Winston, linebacker Kwon Alexander, defensive end Noah Spence and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. All of them are not just talented, but they are also 23 years of age or under.
There’s one other incredibly talented youngster on the roster who deserves the glory of the Madden cover and that’s wide receiver Mike Evans. The former Texas A&M receiver was selected seventh overall in the 2014 NFL Draft and has risen to stardom incredibly fast.
Evans is 6-5 and 230 pounds, but can run much better than his size would indicate. What makes him even more fun to watch is the way he can win jump balls. Thanks to his incredible height his quarterback, Winston, is able to just launch passes up when things break down and Evans generally makes the play.
In just three NFL seasons Evans has 238 receptions for 3,578 yards and 27 touchdowns. He won’t even turn 24-years old until this August, which means despite his crazy production he still has room to grow.
Dec 24, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Tennessee Titans running back DeMarco Murray (29) runs the ball during the first quarter of an NFL Football game Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Tennessee Titans: DeMarco Murray — RB
It looked for a minute like running back DeMarco Murray had run into a preverbal brick wall. After leading the NFL in rushing in 2014 with 1,845 yards for the Dallas Cowboys, Murray headed to their divisional rival Philadelphia in the offseason. The Eagles paid him more than Dallas would as the Boys felt his 392 carries during his contract year would wear him down.
As he played for the Eagles that looked true. Murray had just 702 yards rushing and a career-low 3.6 yards per attempt. The problem obviously wasn’t him though. After this season it looks like he was just a terrible fit for former Eagles head coach Chip Kelly’s system.
He was shipped to the Tennessee Titans and was third in the NFL with 1,287 yards rushing. He added nine touchdowns and also averaged 4.4 yards per carry. On top of his running, Murray is an excellent receiver out of the backfield. The running back pulled in 53 receptions (the third time in his career with 50-or-more catches) for 377 yards and three more touchdowns.
Maybe the Eagles should have kept him after letting go of Kelly. Instead, they’re now looking for a running back and Murray is looking like one of the best in the game. No offense to Marcus Mariota, but Murray is more deserving of the Madden honor right now.
Jan 1, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws the ball as New York Giants defensive end Owa Odighizuwa (58) chases in the third quarter at FedEx Field. The Giants won 19-10. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Washington Redskins: Kirk Cousins — QB
The Washington Redskins may not be ready to commit long-term to quarterback Kirk Cousins, but they should. Franchise quarterbacks are hard to find and he has done more than enough to show them that he’s capable of being that for them.
In his first season as a full-time starter in 2015, he threw for 4,166 yards with 29 touchdowns and 11 picks. He then played 2016 on the franchise tag after he and Washington couldn’t agree upon a contract and he threw 4,917 yards with 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
After such production the team is still reluctant to ink him to a deal beyond this season and it’s baffling why. Maybe he isn’t Tom Brady, but come on, no one is. What Cousins has been though is the best quarterback in Washington in the past couple of decades. He also was the guy that saved them from years on futility after striking out so badly with their trade for Robert Griffin III, their last “franchise quarterback.”