You know that it's getting close to NFL season when more information for the next game in the Madden series starts trickling out. Sure, we can talk about training camps and position battles, but all that really matters to fans is what they can glean about their favorite sports video game.
With Madden NFL 15 due to hit stores on August 26, controversy has already arisen because EA Sports had the nerve to give Russell Wilson and Tom Brady the same overall rating of 93 while putting the Seattle Seahawks leader slightly ahead of the New England Patriots signal-caller on the quarterback list.
While the anger and venom being spewed is nice for some people, here we want to accentuate the positive and give kudos to the best surprises from the early rankings that have been revealed.
After all, even though football is serious business, we are talking about a video game. It's meant to be fun.
Running Back: Matt Forte at No. 4
Fantasy football players know how great it is to have Matt Forte on the roster, but it seems like his greatness slips by everyone else.
Chicago's workhorse doesn't put up gaudy rushing numbers like Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy or Jamaal Charles, but there's no one with a better all-around game than Forte.
His do-it-all approach is what led Madden ratings guru Donny Moore to put him among the elite crop of running backs: "Forte is not the fastest or the most powerful back in the game, but there's nothing he can’t do. His 91 SPD/92 AGI/94 ACC give him nice physical measureables, and his 96 Carry (ranked second) and 84 Catch (third) make him an every-down back in Madden and in the real world."
Former NFL running back Terrell Davis said on an episode of NFL Network's NFL AM, via Larry Meyer of Bears.com, that Forte is the most underrated running back in football: "[Forte] can catch the ball extremely well, runs the ball well, can block; he can do it all. But for some reason he just doesn’t get the recognition like these other backs. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t do a whole lot of promoting. He’s very quiet."
The problem is Forte has never led the NFL in rushing, only breaking the 1,200-yard barrier twice, and doesn't score touchdowns at the same rate the other players mentioned do, so his game falls under the radar. When you add in the fact he's caught at least 44 passes with 340 receiving yards in each of his six NFL seasons, you can see why the 28-year-old is in the elite class.
Quarterback: Russell Wilson at No. 4
We are going to feed into the beast with this one. There were people who lost their minds on social media when Wilson's ranking was announced. Even the NFL's Twitter feed got in on the action:
In the history of football, when we look back at things 20 years from now, is Wilson going to be better than Tom Brady? Probably not.
New England's quarterback is a living legend with three Super Bowl titles, played in two other Super Bowls and made the postseason 11 times since 2001. He's won an MVP award, previously held the NFL record for most touchdown passes in a season (50) and has thrown for over 4,000 yards six times.
Here's the thing: All those numbers we are talking about have no bearing on 2014. Brady is still great, no one denies that, but everyone mentioned last year as his most impressive achievement because Bill Belichick let all of his weapons go and the team still made it to the AFC Championship Game.
However, as Cian Fahey of FootballOutsiders.com wrote in December 2013, praise for Brady's season stemmed largely from New England's record instead of his actual performance.
He still has excellent mechanics and the ability to throw with outstanding velocity. It's his inconsistency throwing the ball and his inconsistency managing the pocket that has hurt him. He's still one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL at manipulating the pocket, but he appears to be less willing to take hits and less aware of the field around him.
Moving on to Wilson, who has some pocket issues of his own by holding onto the ball for long stretches of time, is it really so egregious to put him above Brady?
For all the talk of whom Brady was throwing to last season, name the great receivers Wilson was throwing to. Golden Tate is a nice slot player, but Seattle didn't feel compelled to keep him.
Wilson had a higher completion percentage than Brady (63.1 to 60.5), more touchdown passes (26 to 25) and fewer interceptions (11 to nine). He did have some issues throwing the ball down the stretch and early in the postseason that should be mentioned.
Arizona, St. Louis and New Orleans held Wilson to under 200 yards passing, with the Cardinals and Saints holding him to completion percentages of 44 and 50.
When you bring the total package of Wilson's game into the equation, which includes elusiveness, scrambling and speed, you can't definitively say that Brady belongs above him anymore.
It's 2014, not 2007. Brady is getting older, and his skills are declining. It happens to everyone. Peyton Manning isn't the same quarterback now that he was at his peak, despite what the raw numbers look like.
Rookies: St. Louis Rams DT Aaron Donald (79 overall)
Given that we have already talked about established superstars, it might seem peculiar to get excited about a rookie defensive tackle with a rating of 79. However, don't dismiss what this rating means for Aaron Donald and how much of a bargain the Rams got with the 13th pick.
Usually, first-round rookies in Madden games will only get pumped up if they are taken in the top 10 picks. EA Sports released the top 10 rookies for Madden NFL 15, and Calvin Pryor is the only player ahead of Donald who was taken outside the first 10 picks, though the two have the same 79 rating.
Going back to Moore's rating rationale, he makes no secret about why EA went all out to pump up Donald: "Might be the most physically impressive DL prospect since Jadeveon Clowney, a few paragraphs above. 81 SPD for DT is almost unfair (fastest in all of Madden NFL 15)."
Being a defensive tackle with that kind of speed is ridiculous, and it makes Donald perfect for this era of football, which is built around being able to speed-rush the passer. He's got top-level strength, as he proved at the scouting combine with 35 reps on the bench press, second-most of any 2014 draftee.
The stigma with Donald is about his size at 6'0" and 284 pounds for a defensive tackle, but at some point you just have to look at what a player can do on the football field. St. Louis did that by making him a high first-round pick, and EA did that by making him one of the highest-rated rookies in Madden NFL 15.
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