The onset of August doesn't just signal the return of the NFL—not with EA Sports and Madden set to launch another release.
This time it's Madden 18, the Tom Brady-led offering complete with a G.O.A.T Edition and a bevy of new features hitting store shelves on August 25, earlier for those who want to slap down a preorder.
Madden 18 offers much in the way of improvement, spanning from a new story-driven mode to innovative game styles meant to appeal to wider audiences, meaning Arcade, Simulation and Competitive slants to the on-screen action. Of course, Ultimate Team will also make a triumphant return, this time featuring co-op online play in the form of the new MUT Squads.
More than anything, though, the biggest generator of hype before the game gets in the hands of fans around the globe is simple—player ratings. EASports.com has the full list, but let's take a moment to break down some of the notable star ratings coming right out of the box before the action on the field alters them over the course of the season.
Breaking Down Star Player Ratings
99: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots; Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos; Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams; Julio Jones, WR Atlanta Falcons
One wasn't going to make it far down the ratings list without finding the cover boy.
Brady might not necessarily be the most fun quarterback to play in the game or in past years because he doesn't have much in the way of pocket mobility. But an astronomic awareness rating at the age of 40 coming off a season in which he threw for 3,554 yards and 28 touchdowns against two interceptions over all of 12 games justifies the rating.
Elsewhere, former Super Bowl MVP Von Miller gets a nod with a 99 rating for good reason. He didn't post another 18.5 sacks like he did in 2012, but 38.5 over the past three seasons says it all.
Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams doesn't get the attention he deserves, but the folks at EA Sports have done him justice, recognizing his 28 sacks over three seasons and collapsing the pocket in ways only matched by Geno Atkins and Gerald McCoy in their respective schemes.
Rounding out the list is Atlanta Falcons wideout Julio Jones, who enters 2017 off a 1,409-yard performance and six touchdowns despite missing two games. Some might champion other wideouts for the slot at 99, but no player combines the size (6'3", 220 pounds) and sheer freakish ability Jones presents.
98: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers; Luke Kuechly, LB Carolina Panthers; Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots; J.J. Watt, DL, Houston Texans
Green Bay Packers fans might split hairs over Aaron Rodgers falling a point behind Brady, but he's faster in the pocket on and off the digital field and not far behind in arm strength or awareness with a signature touchdown celebration to top it all off.
Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers is an interesting pick for a 98 rating because of his struggles to stay on the field. He hardly has an equal among inside linebackers in the NFL, but his missing nine games over the past two years means the playoff hopefuls will wait with bated breath whenever he takes the field. Madden, at least, has an injury rating to address this area.
It's an area the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski knows well coming off a year in which he missed half the season. He hasn't played in a full 16-game season since 2011 yet is likely already the best tight end in league history. If one wanted to make an argument for any non-99 player on this list, Gronkowski is the best bet.
Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt hasn't been the healthiest as of late either, not after missing 13 games last season. Like the other guys not named Rodgers at 98, though, Watt is a generational freak in terms of his play whose difference is vastly felt on the digital field despite being something of a gamble thanks to injury ratings.
97: Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers; Khalil Mack, LB, Oakland Raiders; Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Antonio Brown is one of two Pittsburgh Steelers to headline the 97 range, which is something of a runner-up list of guys who could easily classify for a slot at 99 were it not for the depth EA Sports goes to rank players.
Brown just dropped another 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns on the league, the former his minimum mark over the past four seasons and the latter making it 35 touchdowns over the past three. If one had to guess, strength and the ability to bully defensive backs in the way Jones can keeps him a few points off the lead.
Khalil Mack landing at 97 is harder to explain. The Oakland Raiders star is a monster with 19 sacks over his past two seasons, though it still boils down to an eye-of-the-beholder situation where one could point to Miller's Lombardi Trophy escapades and Watt changing the game as we know it as points of separation.
Le'Veon Bell is an interesting conversation. He's the top-rated back in the game, though the runner-up, David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals, might not stay behind him for long. Bell drummed up 1,268 rushing yards and seven touchdowns with another 616 yards and two scores through the air over just 12 games a year ago, so something as basic as between-the-tackles power likely prevents him from the coveted 99.
When it boils down to it, though, EA Sports' logic for the rankings is hard to argue. Best of all, the process next turns to fine tuning them by the week as Madden once again looks to capture the realism today's fans demand.
Information courtesy of EASports.com unless otherwise specified.