EA Sports and Madden NFL 15—this year's iteration of the lone kid on the block—have done right by NFL fans around the globe, to say the least.
At a time when training camp bores fans to death because everyone's a winner, the next big thing and eventual champion, the folks at EA Sports have stolen attention and caused much debate as they roll out the top player ratings at positions, units and groups.
As a realistic sim of the beloved sport, the folks in charge of the Madden rating system work hard to reflect on-field results in each set of numbers. They are never perfect by any means—nothing in this world is—but the company takes it one step further by even providing roster updates after each week of the regular season.
For now, let's dial in on a few of the surprises from that reveals that show the folks in charge are deeply in tune with all facets of the NFL, which will in turn lead to an ultra-realistic experience upon the game's release on August 26.
Blake Bortles the Top Rookie QB
Normally the pool of rookie ratings is a tough sell, because the numbers are based on both collegiate performance and overall draft position.
That is not so much the case this year, though, as one can glean from the first batch of rookie ratings that have been made public:
|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|
The fact that Blake Bortles was the No. 3 overall pick and so far down the list speaks volumes about the time the EA Sports rating gurus have put into this—as does the fact that the UCF product is still the No. 1-ranked rookie quarterback, as Donny Moore details:
Bortles grades out as our top rookie QB in Madden NFL 15. 92 THP and 73 SPD make him a mini-Andrew Luck.
Were others at the wheel when it comes to ratings, perhaps the nod would have gone to either Teddy Bridgewater in Minnesota or Cleveland's Johnny Manziel. The former stands a great shot to beat out veteran Matt Cassel for the starting gig, as does the latter over journeyman Brian Hoyer.
Bortles, meanwhile, has been the backup since his arrival. The staff had been adamant about Chad Henne as the opening-day starter, and he in turn has been vocal about the point, as captured by Jeff Elliott of The Associated Press:
"Definitely with them saying I'm the starter this year and gravitating and becoming more of a leader on this offense and team. I definitely feel that way," Henne said.
Yet there Bortles is, atop the quarterback ranks. And here are Moore and Co., already beginning to look something akin to prophets as the high-upside gunslinger is—in the words of offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, per ESPN's Michael DiRocco—"ahead of where I thought he was going to be."
Oh, and he is threading the needle like this:
The point is, Bortles rightfully sits atop the ratings despite some conventional wisdom that suggests he should not. Even better, those numbers Moore provides means he will be the surefire starter in the virtual realm thanks to his ability to chuck it deep and roll out of the pocket.
Lavonte David Gets Respect
Sometimes it is easy for Madden players to scoff at ratings of relatively unknown players.
Lavonte David is one of those for now, with just two (great) years under his belt in Tampa Bay, a small-market team that has won 11 games since his arrival. As an added caveat, fans see the label "outside linebacker" and want to see high sack numbers, so it can be a perception hit to notice that he only has eight total so far in his career.
But Moore and Co. know better and are ahead of the general public, as they should be:
|Von Miller||Denver Broncos||96||Von Miller|
|Aldon Smith||San Francisco 49ers||96||Aldon Smith|
|Justin Houston||Kansas City Chiefs||93||Justin Houston|
|Lavonte David||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||93||Lavonte David|
|Robert Mathis||Indianapolis Colts||93||Robert Mathis|
Lavonte David may just be the best true 4-3 weakside linebacker in the NFL. His 88 SPD/88 AGI/90 ACC put him on par with some of the best RB’s in football, while his 98 TAK/98 PUR/96 PLAY REC are all position-bests at ROLB in Madden 15.
David is the second-best 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL (behind Von Miller), at least according to grades dished out by Pro Football Focus (subscription required). As a rookie, he came in sixth place.
Even generic statistics salute David in a major way, for those who care enough to do some research. The former Nebraska star tallied 139 total tackles as a rookie before exploding last season for 145 to go with six sacks and five interceptions.
So kudos to EA Sports for getting it right, especially at a position that is near impossible to rank in a way most would agree on (although the names in front of him very much deserve to be).
The Miami Secondary
It is way too easy to forget that the Miami Dolphins defense last season allowed just 20.9 points per game, perhaps because it surrendered 359.4 yards on average in the process.
A major reason for the positive performance can be attributed to the work of two men in the secondary.
The first is safety Reshad Jones, who continues to fly under the radar as an enforcer. He ranked as the No. 3 overall safety in the league last year at PFF on a list that graded 88 players. His 107 tackles were a career high; in second place is his 96 from 2012, a clear indication he continues to improve.
Moore's explanation rings home and identifies Jones as one of the best in-the-box safeties to play as in this year's iteration of the game:
Former fifth-round pick Reshad Jones rounds out the top five with equally impressive ratings in Madden 15. Players love his 88 Hit Power and 86 Speed for run-stopping support, but feel comfortable when stopping the pass with his 79 Zone Coverage ability.
Where the love for Miami's secondary truly shines, though, is with veteran corner Brent Grimes. No, he is not ranked in the top five with Richard Sherman and the like, but it was spoiled on Twitter that he is darn close:
He's 1 point off the Top 5! - DM RT @Mike_dolphins: Brent Grimes isn't top 5?!— EA SPORTS Madden NFL (@EAMaddenNFL) July 30, 2014
Now 31 years old, Grimes proved he was one of the best in the business in what amounted to a redemption tour in his first year with the Dolphins last season after missing 15 games with a serious injury in 2012.
Going by PFF's advanced metrics—which has him as the No. 2 overall corner in the league last season—Grimes allowed no touchdowns.
Few names in the NFL are better than Grimes at what he does, and that will show on the virtual field.