Madden NFL 12: B/R Experts Debate All 32 Choices for Madden Cover Athlete

Bailey Brautigan@BBrautiganFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2011

Madden NFL 12: B/R Experts Debate All 32 Choices for Madden Cover Athlete

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    Madden NFL 12 Needs Your Help, Football Fans!

    It's that time of year, folks!

    You know, when football season is over and we're all dying for a little more NFL action (that doesn't include filthy rich people debating with even filthier and richer people about money).

    Well, lucky for us, ESPN's SportsNation has teamed with EA Sports to let the fans decide who will grace the cover of Madden NFL 12. That's right! We get to decide who becomes this year's "cover boy," and several of Bleacher Report's very own NFL experts have weighed in with their own takes on who should become video game royalty.

    Click Through to Learn More About B/R's Resident NFL Gurus:


    Sam Westmoreland

    Gabe Zaldivar

    Rob Kelley

    Wes O'Donnell


    Bailey Brautigan (that's me!)

    Tim Wood

    Now sit back, relax and let the debate begin!

Aaron Rodgers (1) vs. Ndamukong Suh (16)

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Writer's Pick (Zaldivar): The selection committee did Rodgers no favors here. However, no 16 seed will never beat a number one…ever.

    Writer's Pick (Kelley): Poor Suh. Rodgers is still fresh off of a Super Bowl win where he took home the MVP. He is quickly becoming one of the top quarterbacks in the game and rapidly rising amongst the most popular players in the entire league. Suh will get his one day, but the cover is not going to happen for a second-year player for the Detroit Lions.

    Editor’s Pick (Brautigan): This is a tough one. Ndamukong Suh had one of the most impressive rookie seasons of any defensive player in NFL history (and how he ended up a 16-seed is beyond me), but Aaron Rodgers is the new “it” guy in the league. Plus, if the goal is to SELL games, nobody from the Lions is going to end up on any cover.

    Who Advances?

    Had the seeding been more accurate (and less like somebody drew names out of a hat), Suh may have had a better shot at the Madden NFL 12 cover, but Rodgers will make it to the next round.

Sam Bradford (8) vs. Larry Fitzgerald (9)

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Writer's Pick (O’Donnell): This is a tough one to call, especially considering Fitz has already earned some time on a previous cover. Bradford is a rising star who will be carrying his team, and I may be playing quarterback for the Cardinals before the year is out; Bradford gets the win.

    Writer's Pick (Westmoreland): The best rookie quarterback against the best wideout on a 5-11 team? Not even close…Even if Fitz is a beast, his team dooms him here. Plus, he was on the cover two years ago.

    Editor’s Pick (Wood): I think you have to go with the future here. Until Larry Fitz gets a QB, he’s the past. Bradford.

    Who Advances?

    All three of our experts agree on two things:

    1. Wes O’Donnell is a viable option at QB for the Arizona Cardinals.

    2. Sam Bradford has a better shot at the Madden cover.

Hakeem Nicks (5) vs. Brian Orakpo (12)

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    Writer's Pick (Zaldivar): This man stepped up in place of Plaxico Burress and shined. Yes, I am talking about Hakeem Nicks. If this man were any more solid, he would be me. You go on with your bad self, Hakeem.

    Writer's Pick (Westmoreland): Another matchup that will be closer than you’d think; both guys were breakout stars in 2010-11, although Nicks became a bigger star than Orakpo. Still, if you’re looking for defense, he was a Sack-Master General this year. In the end, Hakeem keeps his dream alive but not by as much as expected.

    Editor’s Pick (Wood): This is where it starts to make zero sense for me. How is Nicks a 5-seed? How is Orakpo a 12 in comparison to Suh? This is just silly. But Nicks advances.

    Who Advances?

    Again, our experts have reached a consensus, both on Hakeem Nicks getting the win AND the odd seeding in this “tournament.”

Danny Woodhead (4) vs. Steve Johnson (13)

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    Writer's Pick (Kelley): Is it just me, or is this the ‘pity’ matchup? You take one of the smallest players in the league and pit him against the guy who dropped one of the easiest touchdown passes ever and then blamed God. If Johnson wins, I want him on the cover dropping a pass in the end zone. If Woodhead wins, I want him on the cover in a shot with Vince Wilfork to teach kids compare and contrast. Ultimately, I have to go with Woodhead, mainly due to his fame on Hard Knocks.

    Writer's Pick (O’Donnell): Woodhead burst onto the scene for the Patriots after being released by the Jets this past year, and Johnson erupted to become the Bills' leading receiver after two quiet years on the bench. Woodhead is a tremendous talent, but he’s part of a team that does not need a Madden cover; Johnson is the complete opposite. His numbers were spectacular last season, and he will pull off the upset over the Patriot scat back.

    Editor’s Pick (Brautigan): Some of the same reasoning here as I used for Ndamukong Suh: The Buffalo Bills had a 4-12 record this past season, and any video game with Steve Johnson as its “star” sounds pretty terrible. And Danny Woodhead didn’t piss off the big guy upstairs.

    Who Advances?

    Danny Woodhead has my vote throughout this entire tourney, so I was happy to play tiebreaker here. Chalk one up for the little guys!

Maurice Jones-Drew (3) vs. Dwight Freeney (14)

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    Writer's Pick (Westmoreland): A closer than expected fight thanks to Freeney’s dominance on the defensive line this year. Even so, it’s hard to argue with Jones-Drew’s body of work, especially down the stretch this season. Now, if someone would explain why Peyton Manning isn’t the Colts’ representative, I’d love to hear it!

    Writer's Pick (Kelley): Both of these guys are students of the game. Literally. They both excel at Madden. But MJD is still very relevant and one of the best backs in the game, while Freeney is always getting hurt and spending too much time watching from the sidelines. Jones-Drew has to advance.

    Editor’s Pick (Wood): MJD. He had a stellar comeback year and showed he still has the skills. Freeney just doesn’t have enough buzz to be in this. He’s not cover boy material.

    Who Advances?

    The omission of Peyton Manning (Really, EA Sports? Too obscure of a player for you?) equals the win for Maurice Jones-Drew.

Jamaal Charles (6) vs. Tim Tebow (11)

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    Writer's Pick (O’Donnell): Tebow is not even guaranteed to be the starting quarterback this season in Denver, so it is tough to give him a chance. Charles has been electric for his Chiefs, and in this division matchup, the Chiefs are still better than the Broncos, including their backups.

    Writer's Pick (Zaldivar): I smell an upset. It could also be that time of the month to shower. Tim Tebow wins this one, even if it takes an act of God...It’s a good thing God likes Tebow. How else does one account for his sidelining Kyle Orton? It sure wasn’t skill.

    Editor’s Pick (Brautigan): While I have more respect for Tim Tebow than I do, say…Brady Quinn, and I get that he is one of the most “marketable” athletes in the country, I’m not convinced that Timmy is the right choice for the Madden cover. And as someone who has WATCHED Jamaal Charles play, I can’t give the nod to Tebow.

    Who Advances?

    Will putting Tim Tebow on the cover of Madden NFL 12 make the game more “family-friendly?"

    Of course.

    Will his appearance give the game more credibility?

    You’re joking, right?

Ray Rice (7) vs. Peyton Hillis (10)

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Writer's Pick (Kelley): To me, this is not as close of a matchup as people think. Rice has demonstrated that he has been among the elite running backs in the league for a few seasons now. Hillis had a handful of great games last year and then began to wear down as the season progressed. I need to see more from him. Rice takes this one.

    Writer's Pick (O’Donnell): One of the two toughest matchups on the board, these division rivals certainly know how to score points and carry their teams. Ray is the better all-around player and carries a ton of value out of the backfield, and Hillis needs to prove he can do it for another season; Ray escapes with the win.

    Editor’s Pick (Wood): The most fascinating showdown for me. This comes down to expectations. Rice already proved he belongs among the elite discussion. Hillis is the current national fascination. That sells product.

    Who Advances?

    Kelley and O’Donnell both make fantastic arguments for Ray Rice, but I think Tim Wood hit the nail on the head here:

    Peyton Hillis became a household name just weeks into this past season, and he gave football fans everywhere a reason to watch a Browns game.

Matt Ryan (2) vs. Jordan Gross (15)

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Writer's Pick (Westmoreland): How bad were the Panthers? Their choice as Madden cover representative was an OFFENSIVE LINEMAN. I think that sums this matchup up quite nicely.

    Writer's Pick (Zaldivar): Jordan Gross is a dynamite tackle. However, no one except Gross and his mother knows who he is. This would be the worst marketing decision by anyone…ever. Why not just put the place kicker from the Cowboys on the cover? Actually, Gross wins in an upset. I really want to see this happen.

    Editor’s Pick (Wood): Ryan. Sorry, another head-scratcher. This is like selecting a Pirate for the MLB All-Star Game. If Gross is the best the Panthers can offer, exclude them from the bracket.

    Who Advances?

    Did you read the opinions above? Sorry, Gabe, but a Jordan Gross upset just ain’t happening.

Philip Rivers (1) vs. Darren McFadden (16)

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    Writer's Pick (Westmoreland): I would like to speak to the selection committee regarding how woefully underseeded Darren McFadden is this year. He was the driving force behind the Raiders becoming relevant this season. Even so, he’s a bit overmatched against Rivers, who is quietly blossoming into a stellar quarterback, doomed by terrible receivers.

    Writer's Pick (Kelley): Rivers had a great season without many of his top weapons, while Run-DMC finally had his breakout campaign. By right, Rivers deserves a shot at the cover. But since this isn’t exactly Miami vs. Prairie View A&M as far as seeds are concerned, I’m going to take McFadden in an upset.

    Editor’s Pick (Brautigan): After seeing how the Chargers were able to do a complete 180 in the second half of this past season, my boy Philip Rivers deserves some kind recognition. I feel ya, Phil…No respect!

    Who Advances?

    Even though McFadden is about as explosive as they come in the NFL, Philip Rivers takes this one.

Julius Peppers (8) vs. Adrian Peterson (9)

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    Writer's Pick (Zaldivar): This is the toughest match to call. I love both these guys. If I only had one rose to give, I would take AP. Dude is four years in and still one of the most dominant backs in the game.

    Writer's Pick (O’Donnell): Down year or not, Peterson is still one of the most exciting running backs in the league. He can explode 60-plus yards at any time and runs the way every video game running back should run. Peppers was a tremendous addition for the surprising 2010 Bears, but that does not put him past the Vikes’ top talent.

    Editor’s Pick (Wood): How in the world does Peterson get relegated to a 9-seed? This feels more like something to create debate. I’m not biting. Peterson deserves it more.

    Who Advances?

    Our experts agree: AP is the obvious choice for this one. This past season, Peterson was the only player who made the Vikings worth watching, and this pick should be a no-brainer.

Mark Sanchez (5) vs. Jake Long (12)

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    Writer's Pick (Kelley): You may be tempted to pick an upset in the dreaded No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchup, but don’t waste your vote on Long. Sure, he is a beast, but once the female constituents get wind of this bracket, Sanchez will be a runaway winner.

    Writer's Picks (Westmoreland): Unlike March Madness, this 5-12 matchup won’t have a Cinderella story. Once again, who picks an offensive lineman for the Madden cover? I realize there weren’t many stars in Miami, but come on! This is like bringing a spoon to a gun fight.

    Editor’s Pick (Brautigan): While THIS female doesn’t fall into the category described by Rob Kelley above (sorry, Rob), even my extreme dislike for Marky Poo cannot cloud my judgment here. Sanchez takes this one.

    Who Advances?

    Excluding Dolphins followers, not many NFL fans would list Jake Long as a front-runner for the cover of Madden NFL 12…and Mark Sanchez does look better in a belly shirt.

Drew Brees (4) vs. Josh Freeman (13)

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    Writer's Pick (Zaldivar): Josh Freeman gets the mammoth upset. Drew Brees lost to the Seahawks in a playoff game. That is unacceptable. You don’t get rewarded after losing to the worst playoff team in history. Sorry Seahawk fans. I will make it up to you.

    Writer's Pick (Kelley): Tons of factors here. Brees was on last year’s cover, still plays like an elite quarterback, plays for a fan-friendly team and is suing the NFL to try and end the lockout. Freeman is heading in the right direction, working on organizing workouts for his teammates during the lockout and is playing for a team with some of the most fair-weather fans in the league. But something tells me that Brees will not become the first player to grace two consecutive covers. Freeman pulls off the upset.

    Editor’s Pick (Wood): Brees. There’s not going to be a repeat cover boy. But Freeman has to show he’s more than a one-hit wonder to earn any love here.

    Who Advances?

    EA Sports probably should have picked someone new to represent the New Orleans Saints here, but the only other Saint famous enough to make the cover would be Reggie Bush…and we all know how that turned out. Freeman with the upset.

Michael Vick (3) vs. DeMarcus Ware (14)

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    Writer's Pick (O’Donnell): Vick had a scintillating run last season but has already spent time on the cover and runs the risk of never staying healthy. Ware is coming off a 15.5 sack season, and although his Cowboys team was awful to start the year, he’s still an unblockable force at times. Ware sacks his division rival and forces the upset in this 14-3 matchup.

    Writer's Pick (Westmoreland): I guess Ware is on here because Jon Kitna is not quite the star they were hoping for in Dallas. Vick wins a walkover here; it’s not even close.

    Editor’s Pick (Wood): Vick. Come on, man. Really? I don’t think EA would have the guts to put him on the cover. At least with this vote, they can hide behind the demand of the fans when PETA comes a-calling.

    Who Advances?

    Vick. No contest. Many animal lovers still hate him, but the rest of us have seen him play football.

Andre Johnson (6) vs. Chris Johnson (11)

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Writer's Pick (Zaldivar):  I drafted Chris Johnson with the fourth overall pick in my draft last year. I now wish I could go back in time to change that one thing. Yes, if I had a time machine, that is the one thing I would do. That is how bad Chris was for my team. Andre, the victory is yours my friend.

    Writer's Pick (Kelley): I think the better contest would have been Andre Johnson vs. Cortland Finnegan, but you can’t vote for him. Either way, I can’t see CJ2K sitting still long enough to photograph for the cover shoot. Andre takes this one to advance in a great matchup.

    Editor’s Pick (Brautigan): I’m taking Andre in this Johnson showdown (I’m sorry, but I just can’t make it NOT sound dirty) because Chris Johnson…well, he’s unimpressive.

    Who Advances?

    Unfortunately, I have a feeling that Chris Johnson will squeak by based on the fact that he is the most recognizable player on his team (except maybe Randy Moss, but let’s be serious here).

Patrick Willis (7) vs. the 12th Man, Seattle (10)

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    Writer's Pick (O’Donnell): “The 12th Man” certainly earned some credit in aiding a team with a losing record to a major upset win over the defending champion Saints last postseason, but Willis has 595 total tackles in only four seasons in the NFL. There really is not much Patrick Willis CAN'T do, and that includes tackling everyone that fills Qwest Field on a regular basis.

    Writer's Pick (Zaldivar): Seattle fans were the best part of any game last season. Seahawks faithful know how to party. Imagine a Madden cover with three dudes completely wasted out of their minds. That would make me buy this game-not new pocket-passing AI.

    Editor’s Pick (Wood): Willis. Wow, that’s really the best Seattle could come up with? Mike Williams? Pete Carroll? Willis had a down year comparatively, but he’s still the best defensive candidate for the cover.

    Who Advances?

    While the thought of some drunk Seahawks fans on the cover of this video game is an interesting one, I’m having trouble believing that EA Sports would really go for this.

Hines Ward (2) vs. Carlos Dunlap (15)

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    Writer's Pick (Westmoreland): Ward’s hardly the star he once was, but he’s kind of like the Florida of this year’s Big Dance: He might be overseeded, but he’s still got more than enough to take down the likes of Carlos Dunlap. On an unrelated note, thank you for not using T.O. or Ochocinco as the Bengals’ rep, EA Sports. I’m sure Bengals fans appreciate it.

    Writer's Pick (Kelley): This one is too funny. Look at the Bengals who couldn’t even be considered for this nominee. Carson Palmer would rather retire than play for Cincinnati any longer. Chad Ochocinco is trying out for an MLS franchise. A decent number of players have been suspended by Roger Goodell, so they were not allowed to enter. Ward is a well-known name in sports and pop culture, so he wins this one hands down.

    Editor’s Pick (Brautigan): Being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I’m having trouble with this one. Did I watch a completely different season? Or did Hines Ward do absolutely nothing until the postseason? I guess a stint on Dancing With the Stars is all a dude needs to grace the cover of Madden. Remember that little bit of advice, Braylon Edwards.

    Who Advances?

    Even though Hines Ward is far from the best representative for the Pittsburgh Steelers (Rashard Mendenhall? Mike Wallace?), he is still a better choice than Carlos Dunlap. And he’ll get the W.

So Who Gets the Cover?

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    Many of these first round matchups were a bit...I guess the word would be “silly,” so let’s get to the good stuff. Who did our experts pick to be voted onto the cover of Madden ’12?

    Sam Westmoreland: Aaron Rodgers. The Packers quarterback has to be the hands-down favorite to land the cover this season. His emergence as one of the best quarterbacks in football was one of the dominant storylines of the year, as was his leading the Packers to the Super Bowl, despite having no running game and no tight ends. He’s my pick to win the whole enchilada plate.

    Gabe Zaldivar: Aaron Rodgers. There is no way this does not happen. He is the Super Bowl MVP for crying out loud! He is the epitome of NFL success at the moment. I guess he could be thwarted by my up-and-coming pick of Jordan Gross. Oh, please make that happen.

    Rob Kelley: Matching up against Aaron Rodgers in the finals will be Vick, who will look to make his second appearance on the cover. But after his involvement in illegal and immoral dogfighting, not to mention actually dissing Oprah, Rodgers will get the votes necessary to grace the cover of Madden ’12.

    Wes O’Donnell: Aaron Rodgers.The reigning Super Bowl MVP encompasses everything we look for in the Madden cover player. He has the statistics, he has the attitude, he has what it takes to win football games and he has arguably the best touchdown celebration in the league. He took the end of the season by storm, winning every “must win” game from week 16 on and has never given fans a reason to dislike him.

    Tim Wood: Aaron Rodgers. Titletown deserves to be on the cover. Rodgers just barely edges out Vick for me here. This might be an all-time conspiracy controversy in the gamers’ world. I think Vick would win the fan vote, but again, you can make a strong case for Rodgers. And EA would NEVER have the guts to put Vick out front. It’s still too soon.

    Yours truly: Wow, guys! Way to mix it up!

    Aaron Rodgers may seem like the “safe” choice here, but as much as I’d like to see little Danny Woodhead on the cover of Madden ’12, I have to agree with the experts. Aaron Rodgers wins the tourney AND the cover of Madden NFL 2012.