If you are a fan of the NFL, the chances are that you play Madden. For the remote few of you who may not be familiar with the game, Madden is the popular video game series that carries the namesake of former NFL Head Coach and Announcer, John Madden. While the matter is certainly up for debate, most sports fans would likely consider Madden 2009 to be the greatest sports video game ever made.
While many Madden players prefer to experience the game primarily through playing other friends and competitors with accurate NFL rosters, I, and others, often take a great deal of joy in the game’s Franchise Mode, which allows the user to literally draft a team through a pool that includes all current NFL players and free agents. From there on the player leads that team over a 30-year period. In the process, the user is responsible for financial affairs, personnel issues, and even staff management and advertising.
While I am certain that being an actual General Manager or owner of an NFL franchise requires more than is needed to excel in Madden, the drafting philosophies needed to build a successful Madden franchise do appear to translate well to real life. Therefore, I would now like to present my top 10 tips for drafting the perfect Madden NFL franchise:
1. Draft players with low overall ratings who have the tools to progress significantly, and sign them to seven year contracts at their current market value.
Arguably, the most difficult aspect of being a General Manager in football is dealing with the salary cap. Anyone can take all of the best-rated players in the draft, but chances are you won’t be able to sign any of them when their contracts expire. Instead, draft players with raw attributes, such as speed, strength, and breaking tackles, and sign them to full-length contracts. Once their overall ratings jump up into the 90s, you’ll already have them signed for life at a discount price.
2. Draft your franchise quarterback in the final rounds of the draft, if at all.
Drafting a star quarterback is the biggest mistake someone can make in Madden. Not only do they command way too much money, but also the lowest-rated quarterbacks can excel with the pieces around them, if the chemistry is right. Hey, just look at Matt Cassel last year. In my Madden franchise, I drafted Kevin O’Conell as my quarterback in the final round of the draft, and he has since bloomed into the league MVP. Plus, he is signed for the next seven years at only about $3 million a season.
3. Don’t try to make every aspect of your offense perfect. Rather, pick a specific aspect of it and build your offense around it.
With the salary cap around, it is frivolous and wasteful to try to create a perfect offense. Rather, concentrate on your strength and stick to it. If you are into running the ball, draft a great run-blocking line and three solid running backs to match. Then, grab some run-blocking wide receivers like Hines Ward later in the draft. If you are into passing the ball, grab a receiving running back like Kevin Faulk late in the draft and load up on some big-time receiving talent. Either way, you’ll be able to move the chains without busting your wallet.
4. Add as much defensive depth to your team as possible; the other team can’t beat you if they can’t score.
Simply stated, you can’t lose the game if your opponent doesn’t score a point. In my Madden franchise, I went all-out on drafting the perfect defense; and since then I have shut my opponent out in all but two games, and I have yet to lose at all. Even if you have no offense, a great defense will usually win the game for you.
5. Draft speedy outside linebackers and defensive backs later in the draft, regardless of any of their other stats.
Speed can always translate into sacks if you know how to use it right. Draft a corner back late in the draft with a 97 or higher speed rating and use the dime formation in passing situations. Blitz the quarterback with the speedster on the inside. My corner back, who was drafted with about a 67 overall rating, accumulated approximately 40 sacks in a single season; and I would expect similar results from any Madden or real NFL team that attempts a similar strategy.
6. Draft players who can excel in roles not normally conducive to their actual position.
That’s right, look for the oddball in the draft and take advantage of their skills. Michael Robinson, for example, is a running back who can throw better than some of the game’s better quarterbacks. Vernon Davis is a tight end who runs like a wide receiver. Hines Ward is a wide receiver who blocks like a tight end, and so forth. These are players who, if utilized for their specific unusual talents, can help determine the success of your football team.
7. Don’t over draft on kickers and punters. If the rest of the tips given here are followed, you may very well never need them.
I’ll admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for kickers and punters. As a Giants fan, I have incredible respect for Jeff Feagles, and I am a decent fan of the likes of Mason Crosby and Matt Stover as well. However, if the rest of my tips are utilized as planned, you may never have to punt the ball; and the only time the kicker will be used will be on extra points. Therefore, draft a youngster with some upside and let him develop over time, rather than wasting your draft pick on someone who may never be used for anything even remotely important.
8. Draft young. Your goal is to create a dynasty, not to win one championship and then fade into the oblivion.
Never, ever, draft a player about the age of 28. Even then, players over the age of 25 should only be drafted sparingly. If a player is any older, it means one of two things: Either he is already really good, and will demand a salary representative of that, or that player simply isn’t very good and won’t have the time in his career to develop. Either way, such players won’t do much in helping your team win championships a couple of years following the draft.
9. Keep at least one speedy quarterback on your roster. When everything else breaks down, you can always run the other team into the ground.
Scrambling quarterbacks may not build championship teams, but they sure as hell make for a great Plan B. When your offense is just having one of those days, bring in a speedster at the quarterback position and see if he can’t make some magic happen.
10. Build a powerful offensive line that can lead your team, but never overpay for any single member of the unit.
Throughout NFL history, no team has ever succeeded with a poor offensive line. However, at the same time, star offensive linemen demand more money than any other position; and a team can easily be financially crippled by throwing the bank at a single member of an offensive line. Therefore, avoid top tier linemen such as Joe Thomas, and instead look for a lower rated tackle with a high upside such as Joe Staley. After all, success on the offensive line is about the unit, not the individual.
Bonus Tip: Never, ever, draft a player in the top half of the first round. In fact, it is probably best to trade away all of your first round picks altogether, and instead cash in with multiple second, third, and fourth round picks.
In the NFL today, first-round picks are simply paid way too much. In fact, they are often provided with record breaking contracts prior to ever stepping foot on the football field. Instead, draft the core of your team in the second round, where the talent is almost just as good but the price tag is incredibly less than that of their previously mentioned contemporaries. This technique will allow you to build up your depth, create a solid youthful foundation for your team, and maintain financial stability throughout your tenure as a Madden general manager.
Note: Real life NFL General Managers should take special note to this tip, as the financial basis for this tip projects seamlessly to the business aspect of operating a professional football franchise.