Madden NFL 2013 Cover Vote: Top 32 Candidates

A BContributor IIIDecember 22, 2011

Madden NFL 2013 Cover Vote: Top 32 Candidates

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    Assuming ESPN SportsNation runs another "Vote for the Madden Cover athlete," I decided to put together my top 32 candidates to fight it out for their spot on the well-known video game.

    This is only meant for fun and some healthy discussion. Of course, we could always go back to seeing his healthy mug on the cover (look up).

    Comment on who you think has no place on the cover or who you think should be on the cover in 2013. Or, just comment if you like the list as a whole! Hopefully, we'll get to vote again this year!

    And I don't care about some stupid curse, either.

32) Jimmy Graham

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    Jimmy Graham has quickly become one of Drew Brees' favorite targets and is a massive part of the Saints' offensive attack.

    Graham has set himself as one of the best TE's currently in the NFL, and it's only his sophomore season. 

31) Jason Pierre-Paul

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    Osi Umenyora and Justin Tuck may be the flashier names on the Giants' defensive front, but it's Jason Pierre-Paul that has been a dominant force thus far in 2011.

    With 13.5 sacks, he hasn't given opposing QB's to feel good about and that's a good thing.

30) Matthew Stafford

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    The Lions have turned into something we aren't used to: a team that can win football games. One of the reasons for their resurgence has been a healthy Matthew Stafford. He hasn't stayed healthy for an entire season yet in his career and finally looks to do that this season.

    He has been at the top of his game and he's been at the lowest of his game this season, but he has found ways to win. The Lions are looking at the playoffs for the first time since 1999, and Stafford has put up the numbers that a star QB should.

29) Laurent Robinson

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    Again, there may be a couple of flashier names on the Dallas Cowboys as far as receivers go but to be honest, who has been the most explosive, especially in the red zone?

    Laurent Robinson has been primarily a journeyman in the past four years, but he has found himself established as a vital component in Dallas' passing offense. With 9 TD's in only 8 games, he is a nice option for his QB.

28) Andy Dalton

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    Rookies haven't gotten their mug on the game yet, but this season has had more rookie success than many seasons prior. As rookie QB for the Bengals, he has simply managed his team to a surprising 8-6 record when many felt they weren't going to win much more than two or three games.

    He may not be a gunslinger like Rodgers or Brady just yet, but he has shown the arm strength to put balls down-field for his play-makers to go up and get. He isn't the only reason for the Bengals success, but he is a big part of it.

27) Reggie Bush

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    Apparently, Reggie Bush was serious when he said he could be a workhorse back and has become a dominant force in Miami's offense. 

    After being buried as a bit player in the Saints offense, Bush was traded to Miami, where as of late, he has shown the explosiveness that made him famous at USC. 

26) Tim Tebow

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    Even Tebow-haters have to admit, what he's been able to do since becoming the full-time starter in Denver is nothing short of a miracle. Week-to-week, Tebow's become the new king of the comeback since Week 7 against the Dolphins. 

    Statistics-wise, Tebow isn't your typical QB, but he has the moxie and never-say-die attitude that makes him who he is. 

    Although he may never be a true starting QB with Denver, he's still proven that, hey, the kid can win when it matters and in football, winning is what matters, not QB rating.

25) Patrick Peterson

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    Patrick Peterson is another rookie who has made a name for himself in Arizona. He may not have become a shut-down corner quite yet, he has been unstoppable on punt returns. With 4 TD's already, he has become the new Devin Hester.

    The Cardinals still have their issues on offense, but with an explosive special-teams weapon in Peterson, they are always ready with a big play that can turn the tide of any game.

24) A.J. Green

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    What helps a rookie QB acclimate to an NFL offense? Besides playing in a system that resembled one, how about a sensational rookie wide receiver in the mold of Randy Moss?

    A.J. Green, before injuries slowed him down recently, is a deep threat in all senses of the term and has the insane ability to go up and grab passes. 

    The Dalton-Green connection has been rumbling all season long and with a chance to grab a Wild Card slot in the playoffs, maybe it'll only get sweeter.

23) Frank Gore

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    Playing on the best team in the NFC West usually references a mediocre team that stumbles their way into the No. 4 seed in the playoffs, but the 49ers have beat up on their opponents week in and week out. 

    Frank Gore is the offensive weapon that the team is centered around and behind him, they have brought back the excitement in the Bay Area that hasn't been there since Joe Montana was slinging the ball.

22) Eli Manning

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    As the singular Manning playing in 2011, Eli hasn't exactly caused others to forget about Peyton, but he has played some of his best football since leading the team to a Super Bowl title in 2007.

    After his poor 2010 season, Manning has bounced back to throw for the third most yards in the NFL behind only Drew Brees and Tom Brady.

    He said it earlier this season, and he might be proving that he could be in the same conversation as those two after this season is said and done.

21) Maurice Jones-Drew

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    As pitiful as the Jaguars have performed this season, they have one bright spot and his name is MJD. He's only 5'7" but is a shady back who can make people miss, and he has an eye for the end zone.

    As the No. 1 back in the NFL currently, he has taken his moribund franchise on his shoulders and has run them through ups and downs. Against the Buccaneers, he posted one of his best games as a professional with 4 total TD's on only 136 total yards.

20) DeMarcus Ware

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    Defenders are a tough sell on the Madden cover simply because they aren't on the flashy, star-powered side of the ball, but DeMarcus Ware is a force to be reckoned with. 

    With 16.0 sacks, Ware is a beast off the edge and terrorizes opposing QB's; he's been doing that consistently for 7 seasons. He's had double-digit sacks in all but one of those seasons.

    It's about time that we show him some love and get him a shot at the cover.

19) Tom Brady

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    Tom Brady is a surefire Hall of Fame QB and simply has been the sole reason why the Patriots are consistently in contention and winning the AFC East year after year. 

    He resembles Joe Montana in so many ways but unfortunately, since 2004, he has had very little defensive help which, when the offense is clicking, isn't as big of a deal, but he has tried to shoulder it all on himself.

    Although nobody outside of New England seems to like him very much, Brady deserves to get a shot at the cover.

18) Von Miller

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    Another rookie who has proven to be worth his draft pick is Von Miller in Denver. He has simply become the heart and soul of the Broncos defense.

    Many will say Tebow is responsible for their remarkable turnaround, but Miller's performance on defense has sparked a defensive revolution that has given Tebow chances to take advantage on offense.

    Von Miller is John Elway's first big draft pick, and it was a successful one.

17) Tony Romo

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    Much like Eli Manning in New York, Tony Romo has had a resurgence in 2011 after breaking his collarbone late last year. Not only that, after cracking his ribs this season against San Fran, he continued to play through the injury the very next week. 

    Through all the pain and adversity he's had to play with this season, he still has Dallas in playoff contention. Even after losing his No. 1 receiver, Miles Austin, for a number of games, he continued to put up stellar numbers, utilizing Laurent Robinson as a dangerous weapon.

    Romo may have had troubles in the playoffs, but his performance in the regular season and the guts (recklessness?) he displayed playing with a cracked rib and possibly punctured lung shows his love of the game. He deserves a chance at the cover.

16) Jared Allen

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    Jared "Rodeo" Allen is much like DeMarcus Ware in that he is a monster edge rusher who makes a living off burying a QB's face in the turf.

    He has 17.5 sacks and should finish with over 20 sacks this season, but the real reason he's worth a shot at the cover is simply because he's a colorful personality.

    Obviously, the stats count, but Allen is a boisterous player and a fun one to watch.

15) Ray Rice

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    Another one of the short, explosive backs whose power originates from their legs is on the list in Ray Rice from Baltimore. 

    With Joe Flacco slinging the ball, they aren't going to focus on playing football like the Packers or Patriots. The Ravens are going to focus on running the ball up, down and around opposing defenses with Ray Rice.

    He's done just that with over 1,086 yards so far this season, but he's also potent as a pass catcher, too, with 648 yards out of the backfield. He adds a lot to their offensive attack and without him, it's hard to see them as successful as they are. 

14) Drew Brees

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    There's not much to be said about Drew Brees that hasn't already been said, but as the first QB expected to break Dan Marino's single-season yardage record, he has blown up the stats chart. 

    His offense is one of the most explosive ones in the league, and it has to be when their defense doesn't help him much as far as stopping opponents. 

    Since coming to New Orleans, Drew Brees has reestablished what it means to be a QB in the league and not just be a game manager.

13) Mike Wallace

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    Hard to find a reason not to like Mike Wallace and his contributions to the Steelers attack. Not an overtly large receiver, Wallace makes up for his shortcomings with otherworldly speed and ability. 

    He allows Big Ben to have a reliable deep threat to test opponents downfield consistently and open up the middle for fellow receivers Antonio Brown, Hines Ward and tight end Heath Miller.

    With a second 1,000-yard season in a row, Wallace has established himself as a top-tier receiver in the league.

12) Victor Cruz

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    It didn't take long, but Victor Cruz has perked up as Eli Manning's downfield burner capable of making big plays. In one play this season against the Eagles, he immediately placed himself on the map.

    He broke two tackles in this particular play, making vaunted cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha look like a high-schooler as he took a 74-yard catch to the house for his first of two. 

    It's taken less than a season, but Cruz has suddenly found himself in the same echelon as the other premiere outside speedsters like Mike Wallace and DeSean Jackson.

11) Roddy White

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    Matt Ryan's go-to playmaker in Roddy White has made fireworks in Atlanta his entire career. The emergence of Julio Jones this year definitely takes something away from White, but it actually shows something else.

    With another sure No. 1 receiver playing No. 2, it leaves opposing defenses scrambling trying to find ways to stop either of them.

    When they focus on White, it leaves Jones wide open for big plays but as team's started to clamp down on Jones, it has allowed White to do what he's good at.

    That's making unbelievable catches and giving Ryan a reliable target all over the field.

10) Rob Gronkowski

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    There is a number of pass-catchers on this list and not on it who deserve it, but this one has reaffirmed the trust in pass-catching tight ends.

    Gronk, as he's known around the league, is an unbelievable playmaker coming out of the tight-end position.

    Resembling Tony Gonzales at his peak, Gronkowski is only in his sophomore season and leads the league in passing TD's with 15, a new record for tight ends. 

    With his size and how amazing his ability to catch the football is, Gronkowski should have one of the best careers for a tight end ever, regardless of who's throwing him the ball.

9) NaVorro Bowman

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    Who? That's exactly what many of San Fran's opponents are saying to themselves as their QB is picking himself up off of the ground. In Patrick Willis' absence, NaVorro Bowman has exploded onto the scene as one of the best linebackers this season.

    As a primary reason for the 49ers success on defense this season, Bowman sits at the forefront. Leading the league in rushing defense, they average 71.5 yards against on the ground, which is unheard of in the new-age NFL. 

    In 15 weeks, the team has yet to allow a rushing TD and could end the season without allowing a single score on the ground, a first in the Super Bowl era. Bowman is a centerpiece in this defense and put to rest any concerns when Willis was set to miss the season.

    He makes another case for a defender on the cover of Madden.

8) Steve Smith

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    There may have been concerns with Steve Smith's desire to continue playing football with the Carolina Panthers, but Cam Newton should be thankful that he stuck around.

    He has been in the top 5 in receiving the entire season and has thrived with Cam Newton at the helm. With a QB who has the arm to put it down the field, Smith has shown no regression in his ability to make plays.

    With two games remaining, Smith could very well finish as the top receiver in the league and ensure the Panthers faithful that he's truly back to form.

7) Jason Babin

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    He may not have been the flashy free-agent signing that Nnamdi Asomugha was, but Jason Babin has been the most ferocious defensive player on the Eagles squad. 

    With 18.0 sacks, he leads the league and is very similar in play style to Jared Allen. He's integral to their defensive schemes and without him, the Eagles may be a lot worse than their 6-8 record already appears.

6) Wes Welker

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    The little guy is probably the most important part of a New England attack besides Tom Brady. Wes Welker leads the league with 1,380 yards and is all over the field whether he's playing wide, in the slot or running screens. 

    He was buried in the depth chart at San Diego and Miami, but he truly came into his own when he was picked up by New England in 2007, where he was integral to that record-breaking season.

    The thing that makes him so reliable is his hands. In five seasons, he's caught over 100 catches in four of those, tying him with Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison with most seasons with over 100 receptions. 

    He may not be as tall or as flashy as most starting receivers but as far as versatility and ability are concerned, he's one of the best.

5) Cam Newton

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    If there's one quarterback who deserves the Madden cover more than any, it's Cam Newton. After being drafted No. 1 overall by the Carolina Panthers, nobody was giving him a chance.

    Now through Week 15, Newton only needs 17 yards to surpass Peyton Manning's rookie season yardage record of 3,739. He's already set a new rookie record for yards in a game with 432 only two games into the season. 

    As a big, physical QB, he has the arm strength to heave bombs down the field and as only a rookie, he has plenty of time to improve his accuracy.

    People still have issues with spread offense/rushing QB's, but Cam Newton should put those concerns to bed with his unbelievable performance this season. 

4) Arian Foster

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    A word that conjures a player who is unproven and not expected of much. Boy, has Arian Foster obliterated that term to pieces.

    In almost two seasons as the full-time starter in Houston, he has kept alive the single-back workhorse who can take 30-35 carries a game and be successful doing so.

    Effective on the ground or through the air, Foster is a scary playmaker who defensive coordinators stay up at night game-planning for.

    The best most can do is restrict his yardage the best they can, because he can find the end zone any time he touches the ball. 

3) Calvin Johnson

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    Who's the best receiver to play the game of football? Jerry Rice is the unanimous answer.

    Who's the best current receiver who seriously threatens Rice's records? Calvin Johnson should be your No. 1 answer.

    The one they call Megatron is the prototypical wide receiver most teams salivate over. With hands and big-catch ability like Randy Moss and size like Terrell Owens, Johnson is the scariest receiver to step foot on a field in today's NFL.

    The important thing about Johnson is that teams playing the Lions are going to focus 90 percent of their attention on stopping him from making the big play, which leaves Nate Burleson and Titus Young wide open for catches.

    All it takes is one mistake by a defensive back and before they know it, Johnson has already burned them deep.

2) LeSean McCoy

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    He's known as Shady and he flies like an Eagle, a Philadelphia one to be exact. LeSean McCoy is essential to the Eagles offense because he's an effective runner, pass-catcher and has a nose for the end zone. 

    Just take last Sunday against the Jets, he scored 3 TD's on only 18 carries for 102 yards, against a supposedly stout run defense.

    Obviously having Michael Vick at QB and playmakers at wideout helps but McCoy is on a level of his own. No matter how poorly the Eagles play football, McCoy is consistently in the top-3 of running backs throughout the season.

1) Aaron Rodgers

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    No list is complete without Aaron Rodgers, and it's simply because the guy can play football. If he isn't considered the top QB in the NFL right now, it's hard to find a replacement.

    He's playing with an otherworldly QB rating at 120.1 and is one of four or five players who are threatening to break Dan Marino's record.

    It can said that the amount of reliable targets in the Packers system helps his stats, but it's definitely on him. Not many guys can move the ball as well as he can. Not only that, but Rodgers is even better when flushed from the pocket and on the run.

    It's never healthy to overestimate Rodgers when your team plays the Packers, because he will consistently burn defensive backs, no matter who's on the receiving end of the pass.

    Plus, who wouldn't want to see the Discount Double Check on the cover of Madden 13?