Rookies are the focal point of any Madden release.
Gameplay improvements, additional game modes and other features are great, but NFL fans have the most interest in one thing and one thing only: the new faces that have just arrived at the pro level—how they impact their new teams, how they handle and, most of all, how they're rated.
It's natural, really. Fans flock to training camps this time of year to see the usual suspects, yes, but mostly to get a glimpse at the potential future faces of the franchise. The same applies to Madden and, in this case, Madden NFL 15, which allows fans to step into the cleats of their new favorite player(s).
Below, let's look at the known rookie ratings so far and break down which ones fans should flock to use right after firing up the game for the first time.
|Jadeveon Clowney||OLB||Houston Texans||83|
|Greg Robinson||OL||St. Louis Rams||83|
|Khalil Mack||OLB||Oakland Raiders||81|
|Jake Matthews||OL||Atlanta Falcons||81|
|Sammy Watkins||WR||Buffalo Bills||80|
|Calvin Pryor||S||New York Jets||79|
|Aaron Donald||DT||St. Louis Rams||79|
|Ha Ha Clinton-Dix||S||Green Bay Packers||79|
|Taylor Lewan||OL||Tennessee Titans||79|
|Blake Bortles||QB||Jacksonville Jaguars||78|
|Darqueze Dennard||CB||Cincinnati Bengals||78|
|Mike Evans||WR||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||78|
|Zack Martin||OL||Dallas Cowboys||78|
Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Look, there is a certain stigma about Jacksonville Jaguars quarterbacks, yes.
But UCF product Blake Bortles comes equipped with a skill set tailor-made for Madden at that position, even if it does sound like the coaching staff will sit him in favor of Chad Henne as a rookie while he corrects minor things, as NFL Network's Albert Breer points out:
... Big thing the Jags want to correct with Bortles -- lower-body mechanics. Been too much an "arm thrower". Redshirt year will help.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) July 24, 2014
Depth charts in the video game realm, though, don't have to follow real life by any means. This is great news for fans, as Bortles' athleticism, as explained by EA Sports' Donny Moore, makes him one heck of a good time on the virtual turf.
"Bortles grades out as our top rookie QB in Madden NFL 15," Moore said. "92 THP and 73 SPD make him a mini-Andrew Luck."
Even better, Bortles is certainly a player to monitor for a ratings boost should he enter the lineup and prove even better than Moore and Co. initially thought. As Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated notes, there are historical implications that may see Bortles shoved to the front of the line:
Bortles may not sit for long though. Head coach Gus Bradley was with the Seahawks in 2012, when rookie quarterback Russell Wilson unexpectedly proved ready for the starting job right away... If that’s the case again this year, the Jags might as well start Bortles. Besides taking gobs of punishing sacks, the reason you let a rookie learn from the sideline is to avoid the exact kinds of mistakes that Henne is already prone to make. The Jags have nothing to lose.
Regardless, Bortles' throw power means players will be able to heave it deep rather consistently, meaning targets such as Cecil Shorts III and rookie Marqise Lee suddenly become very relevant in the video game.
Most of all, Bortles' speed rating means breaking out of the pocket for gains on the ground is very much a possibility, and mobile quarterbacks are by far the most fun to play with.
Rebuilding the hapless Jaguars suddenly doesn't seem like such a drag.
Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Outside of standing at 6'5" and 231 pounds, meaning he can bully virtual defensive backs anywhere on the field with the ball in the air, Mike Evans is a great rookie to utilize early and often because of those around him.
For one, opposing defenses have to worry about Doug Martin out of the backfield. Two years removed from rushing for 1,454 yards and 11 scores, he's finally healthy and sure to be a beast in the video game. Plus, he's flanked by young talent such as Charles Sims, Mike James and Bobby Rainey.
Further freeing up Evans to wreak havoc is elite wideout Vincent Jackson, someone who will mentor the Texas A&M product in real life. With defenses throwing attention his way, Evans will see plenty of single coverage.
"Just throw the ball up to Big Mike Evans and he will go get it. 93 JMP and 89 Catch (ranked #1 rookie) make him a real problem for defenses."
Moore's description should catch the eye of fans. The ratings mean Evans is a serious threat in the red zone as he climbs the ladder with the ball in the air. We've known for quite some time he catches just about anything thrown his way:
While the quarterback situation is certainly an issue, it's one players will be able to overcome. Evans, even as a rookie, is the type of wideout who can overcome such issues thanks to his alarming physical traits.
Aaron Donald, DT, St. Louis Rams
If Evans is fun to use partially because of the pieces around him, then multiply that factor by two for Aaron Donald.
On his own, Donald is an absolute freak who can best be compared to the Cincinnati Bengals' Geno Atkins. He lines up on the inside of a 4-3 alignment and uses a wicked-fast first step to bulldoze his way into the backfield, a unique pressure that flushes signal-callers into the hands of ends rushing up the field.
Thanks to his elite play at Pittsburgh, Moore and those in charge have bestowed Donald with a special honor: "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)."
That's a scary proposition on its own, and all those around Donald, including offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, stand by the belief that he is destined for big things right away, as captured by journalist Tony Softli:
Rams Brian Schottenheimer when asked about the Rams defense "They create a lot of problems, Aaron Donald has my vote for Rookie of the Year"— Tony Softli (@SoftliSTL) June 17, 2014
But now think about what is around Donald. Next to him is effective plug Michael Brockers. Behind him is elite linebacker James Laurinaitis. Flanking him are two pass-rushing monstrosities in Chris Long and Robert Quinn.
Not only is Donald a must-use player on the virtual field because of his rare traits, but his addition makes the Rams one of the best overall defenses on and off the virtual field.
The winner of the Outland, Nagurski, Bednarik and Rotary Lombardi awards and ACC Defensive Player of the Year is set to take the NFL by storm, and fans can experience it first in this year's iteration of Madden.