Being a fan of football video games in 2014, well, it actually kind of stinks. This year marked the first time in two decades that EA Sports did not release a college football game, having put its NCAA Football series on a possibly permanent hiatus amid likeness-related lawsuits.
There is also no NFL Blitz, NFL Street nor is there the dearly departed NFL 2K franchise. Hell, there isn't even a new backyard football game. All that remains of the marketplace is a barren wasteland, one in which the children of the next generation may never know the thrills of bilking their parents of $400 worth of football-related video games every year.
Oh, and Madden.
The remaining monolith of the football video game market, EA Sports' Madden 15 will release Aug. 26 in North America. This is the fourth straight iteration being released on the new schedule, which calls for a release on the last Tuesday in August instead of the first. While this ultimately helps create a better product and build hype closer to the football season, the extra two weeks are all the more excruciating without NCAA Football around to tide folks over.
Hence we get everyone going gaga over a slow roll out of the individual player rating releases. EA Sports has spent the last week or so going position by position—or, in cases like rookies, groups—and unveiling the top five players in each area. Madden ratings have long been thought of as fans and even players as a general consensus of how the NFL's hierarchy truly plays out. It's also just a generally fun topic of conversation that gets the debate engines revving that will continue throughout the season.
And, let's be honest: Without another football video game to entertain us, most people will use any excuse possible to shift focus to the joysticks. With that in mind, let's take a quick look at some takeaways from the ratings released thus far.
|Peyton Manning||Denver Broncos||98|
|Aaron Rodgers||Green Bay Packers||98|
|Drew Brees||New Orleans Saints||96|
|Russell Wilson||Seattle Seahawks||93|
|Tom Brady||New England Patriots||93|
|John Kuhn||Green Bay Packers||93|
|Mike Tolbert||Carolina Panthers||92|
|Marcel Reece||Oakland Raiders||92|
|Anthony Sherman||Kansas City Chiefs||90|
|Jerome Felton||Minnesota Vikings||88|
|Top Running Backs||Team||Rating|
|Adrian Peterson||Minnesota Vikings||98|
|LeSean McCoy||Philadelphia Eagles||97|
|Jamaal Charles||Kansas City Chiefs||97|
|Matt Forte||Chicago Bears||95|
|Marshawn Lynch||Seattle Seahawks||95|
|Top Tight Ends||Team||Rating|
|Jimmy Graham||New Orleans Saints||97|
|Rob Gronkowski||New England Patriots||96|
|Vernon Davis||San Francisco 49ers||94|
|Jason Witten||Dallas Cowboys||93|
|Greg Olsen||Carolina Panthers||88|
|Top Wide Receivers||Team||Rating|
|Calvin Johnson||Detroit Lions||99|
|Brandon Marshall||Chicago Bears||96|
|Andre Johnson||Houston Texans||95|
|A.J. Green||Cincinnati Bengals||95|
|Dez Bryant||Dallas Cowboys||94|
|Top Offensive Linemen||Team||Rating|
|Joe Thomas||Cleveland Browns||98|
|Evan Mathis||Philadelphia Eagles||97|
|Josh Sitton||Green Bay Packers||97|
|Joe Staley||San Francisco 49ers||94|
|Top Defensive Ends||Team||Rating|
|J.J. Watt||Houston Texans||99|
|Robert Quinn||St. Louis Rams||97|
|Cameron Wake||Miami Dolphins||96|
|Calais Campbell||Arizona Cardinals||96|
|Cameron Jordan||New Orleans Saints||93|
|Muhammad Wilkerson||New York Jets||93|
|Top Defensive Tackles||Team||Rating|
|Ndamukong Suh||Detroit Lions||97|
|Geno Atkins||Cincinnati Bengals||96|
|Gerald McCoy||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||95|
|Kyle Williams||Buffalo Bills||95|
|Jurrell Casey||Tennessee Titans||93|
|Top Middle Linebackers||Team||Rating|
|Patrick Willis||San Francisco 49ers||96|
|NaVorro Bowman||San Francisco 49ers||96|
|Luke Kuechly||Carolina Panthers||94|
|Derrick Johnson||Kansas City Chiefs||91|
|Jerod Mayo||New England Patriots||91|
|Top Outside Linebackers||Team||Rating|
|Von Miller||Denver Broncos||96|
|Aldon Smith||San Francisco 49ers||96|
|Justin Houston||Kansas City Chiefs||93|
|Lavonte David||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||93|
|Robert Mathis||Indianapolis Colts||93|
Calvin Johnson, J.J. Watt and Everyone Else
Few outside the most most contrarian of contrarians would argue that Johnson and Watt aren't the best players at their respective positions. They're both humanoid freaks of nature who seem almost unfair in a sport comprised entirely of the best our genetic pool has to offer.
Johnson gives us a glimpse at what it'd be like if LeBron played football. He's gone over the 1,000-yard mark four straight seasons, has four double-digit touchdown campaigns on his resume and, right, he's the single-season record-holder for yards in a single season. Dude is insanely productive, which is no surprise given that he's 6'5" and 236 pounds and can still manage to outrun nearly every cornerback in football.
Watt could be the biggest superstar in WWE right now. He's a 6'5", 289-pound behemoth who bursts off the ball like someone 30 pounds lighter. He is the rare 3-4 defensive end who can be more productive against the run and pass than 4-3 counterparts. The fact that Houston was able to bring in Jadeveon Clowney to pair with Watt this season is unfair. Clowney and Watt are such dynamic athletes that they're going to make playing defense fun—a near impossibility in our offensive-minded video game world.
What makes Watt and Johnson so notable isn't their 99 overall ratings. Their ratings would have only been noteworthy had they not topped out Madden's ratings system. It's that their ratings show the chasm that exists between them and their contemporaries.
Brandon Marshall is the next highest receiver at 96 overall. Which, as an aside, is weird. One would have thought that A.J. Green had done enough by now to pass Marshall—especially given Green's skill set lends itself better to a video game setting. But alas.
Robert Quinn is the next highest defensive end at 97 overall. Not nearly as weird.
No other position players currently have a two-point lead over their competition. I find this in line with what shows up on film. Johnson and Watt are probably among the five best players in football (assuming we're eliminating the overall importance of the quarterback) and deserve to be treated as such.
Blake Bortles Receives Top Overall Rookie QB Rating
Out of respect for the NFL draft process, EA Sports typically tries to rate rookies as close to their draft spot as possible. Clowney and Greg Robinson, the top two overall selections, are rated 83 overall—two points better than any other rookie. Khalil Mack, Sammy Watkins and Jake Matthews, each top-six selections, round out the five players who receive ratings of 80 overall or better.
Then we get to Blake Bortles.
The former UCF star was taken third overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars and comes in at a 78 overall. The ratings for Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater—the other two QBs taken in Round 1—have not been released, but EA clearly calls Bortles its top-rated rookie signal-caller.
Given the quarterback situations in Minnesota, Cleveland and Jacksonville, that's a little curious. The Jaguars have exactly zero interest in starting Bortles right away. Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley has been transparent with his team's plans to keep Chad Henne installed as the starter—perhaps for the entire season. Bortles, while talented, is an extremely raw talent who is going to need a ton of seasoning to make an impact.
Manziel and Bridgewater, on the other hand, are each in the midst of quarterback battles they may wind up winning. The Browns have backed Brian Hoyer as their starter to open camp and he's done little to lose the job thus far, but they're keeping the door cracked just in case. Browns coach Mike Pettine recently told Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal:
It's definitely still up in the air. It could be sooner, and that's something we're going to discuss in that meeting. It'll be before the third preseason game. I just don't have a date. I don't know if I'll set a date and kind of paint ourselves into a date, but it will be sooner than the third preseason game.
Bridgewater is also a bit behind Matt Cassel with the Vikings. But he's drawn raves from everywhere since setting foot in Minnesota and many scouts thought he was the most NFL-ready quarterback coming into the draft. Of the three, Bridgewater probably has the best chance of making a real impact in 2014.
Here is where the difficulty comes in. Because we're yet to see any of this trio play a game, the natural inclination is to lean toward Bortles. It also, again, respects the minds of NFL personnel people. But it'll be interesting to see how the ratings are adjusted in the event Bridgewater or Manziel wind up winning their respective starting jobs.
Perhaps an adjustment to make Bortles' potential higher but his initial rating lower would do the trick.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.