No one knows how rookies like Kyler Murray, Josh Jacobs and D.K. Metcalf will perform in their NFL offenses.
But some of us know exactly how they would fare in our offenses.
We're talking Madden video game offenses. Like my unstoppable ground-'n'-pound-'n'-run-'n'-fun-'n'-gun-West Coast-Triple Spread-Pistol-Shotgun-Air Raid attack, built from money plays and fine-tuned since the days of Michael Vick in Madden '04—which is just waiting for some new weapons.
There's a difference between an NFL offseason that makes a real-world team great and one that makes a Madden team great. Rookie quarterbacks and skill-position players usually struggle, ride the bench early in the year or get trapped in conservative roles by fuddy-duddy coaches in the real world. But in a video game where you are owner, general manager, coach and puppet master—where the playbook is your virtual playground—rookies and newcomers get to do anything you dream of.
Here's a rundown of the teams we can't wait to get our hands on in Madden now that rosters are mostly set. We'll base projected player ratings on the information in the official Madden 19 database. We'll also assume that we're waiting for Madden '20, with fresh playbooks based on last year and official ratings for rookies and others. But nothing is stopping you from whipping up a few custom players and taking control of these electrifying offenses (and some fun-to-blitz defenses) on your favorite version of Madden right now.
5. Arizona Cardinals
- Kyler Murray is going to earn Speed, Acceleration and Agility ratings in the 90s, similar to Lamar Jackson's ratings last season.
- If designers project Hakeem Butler to be anything like Broncos rookie receiver Courtland Sutton last year, he should earn Spectacular Catch and Catch in Traffic ratings in the high 80s, making him a prime target for deep balls.
- Larry Fitzgerald still had an 85 Overall rating last season and should get a solid number this year, because the folks at EA Sports remember Fitzgerald from the Madden '10 cover and respect an OG when they see one.
- Kliff Kingsbury's arrival in Arizona gives the game designers an excuse to dust off one of those Big 12 playbooks from NCAA Football 2014. A little Air Raid Under here, a little Speed Option from a pistol diamond formation there, a little Murray chaos everywhere. (That's Texas A&M and not Texas Tech in the link, but close enough!)
- The Cardinals offensive line will force you to take advantage of Murray's speed, acceleration and agility ratings—a lot—while running for your life.
- Butler's Catch rating may be in the single digits. Nothing sends the game controller whizzing at the screen like a dropped bomb. (You should probably throw those bombs to second-round speedster Andy Isabella instead.)
The Cardinals offer a mix of new (Murray, Kingsbury), familiar (Fitzgerald, David Johnson) and the thrill of taking a franchise from worst to first. But low ratings across the offensive line and defense (other than Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones) will lead to some frustrating gameplay as well. Like the real Cardinals, the Madden version is likely to be more intriguing and occasionally breathtaking than really good.
4. Los Angeles Chargers
- Madden isn't just about offensive firepower. Not only does Derwin James currently have an 87 Overall rating (which is likely to increase), but he may be the perfect Madden defender, because his play in real life is like our's on the couch: flowing to the ball on early downs, blitzing from wherever on passing downs.
- Speaking of defense, it will be fun to use James, Desmond King and rookie Nasir Adderley in Big Nickel, Dime and Dollar defenses. For best results, insert all three into the Chargers' base 4-3 alignment and turn it into a wacky 2-2-7.
- On offense, borrow the Saints playbook and use fifth-round quarterback Easton Stick (and his 4.62-second 40-yard speed) or Tyrod Taylor in the Taysom Hill option packages. It's the best of both worlds: Philip Rivers when it's time to pass, a dual-threat when you are having wistful NCAA memories.
- Jerry Tillery is a great prospect and a fascinating individual. No one plays as a nose tackle in Madden, but I just wanted to say something nice about Tillery.
- Rivers' 29 Elusiveness rating (which will only get lower) can make it feel at times like you are playing Missile Command for the Atari 2600.
James, Adderley, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will give the Chargers the most fun defense in the game. Rivers, Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon keep the offense fresh, and Hunter Henry's return will add appeal for Stephen A. Smith. Not sold yet? How about the return of powder blue uniforms? Yep, the Chargers definitely belong on the short list.
3. Cleveland Browns
- Odell Beckham Jr. 'Nuff said.
- Baker Mayfield's Overall rating crept up to 83 last year. Bet it's higher when Madden 2020 launches.
- Nick Chubb had a Speed rating of 90 and a Truck rating of 89: for when you are done throwing to OBJ and just want to be Reinhardt from Overwatch.
- The Freddie Kitchens playbook is going to get built from a mix of old Bruce Arians Cardinals plays and some stuff left over from NFL Blitz.
- On defense, just mash buttons as Myles Garrett.
- Jabrill Peppers is gone, so you can't run around the field doing random things on defense the way the real Jabrill Peppers did.
- It's still not fun throwing four-yard drags to Jarvis Landry eight times per game, no matter how hard you try to make it fun.
- The Browns are one of the most anticipated teams to watch in the real NFL. Now, they've finally given Madden gamers more to do than make Moneyball trades with the AI before simming games for two seasons.
2. Oakland Raiders
- You get complete control of Antonio Brown, something even Antonio Brown seems not to possess.
- Tyrell Williams had Speed, Acceleration, Agility, Catch in Traffic and Jump ratings in the 90s last season. With Brown across from him, the 6'4" Williams will be guarded by guys with ratings in the low 70s.
- Josh Jacobs could easily inherit Marshawn Lynch's 96 Truck and 90 Stiff-Arm ratings. The designers may give the former college committee back Stamina of 30 or something to compensate. But you won't be rushing Jacobs 20 times per game with Brown and Williams to play with.
- Rookie Hunter Renfrow will likely get a "scrappy-fan-favorite" boost from the developers, like a Catch rating of 96 for when you just want to force-feed him shallow drags.
- Defensive upgrades mean it won't feel like you are running in quicksand and magnetically attracted to blockers. Newcomers Vontaze Burfict, Lamarcus Joyner and rookie Clelin Ferrell will keep defense from being a chore.
- Few people purchase a video game for the vicarious thrill of pretending to be Derek Carr. But you can always trade Carr to the AI in exchange for some rookie quarterback you are itching to make a star out of, like Tyree Jackson or Gardner Minshew. Jon Gruden surely considered the same thing, so this is realistic role-playing.
The Raiders always appear to be assembling a Madden franchise-mode team: they accumulate guys with big names, make loopy trades for future draft picks and stockpile fun-to-watch players at the expense of logical depth-chart construction. The 2019 Raiders are built to win a Madden Super Bowl. Why not be the gamer who takes them there?
Before we announce the winner, some honorable mentions:
Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson is the best Madden quarterback since 2004 Michael Vick, with awareness and agility ratings in the 90s and passing ratings (including an epic 97 Throw on Run rating last year) that are perfect for gaming. Also, D.K. Metcalf's Speed, Jump and Power ratings will make him an acrobatic wide receiver tank, the equivalent of Overwatch's Winston. But you will be stuck with Brian Schottenheimer's original Tecmo Bowl playbook of two runs and two passes.
Indianapolis Colts: Frank Reich's real playbook, Andrew Luck's accuracy ratings in the high 80s and low 90s, speed at all the skill positions and rookie Parris Campbell to turn drag routes into juke-stick symphonies. Also, you can't spell newcomer Devin Funchess without "fun!"
Buffalo Bills: Jamming your thumb down on the pass button as hard as you can to see if Josh Allen can throw one through the side of your television will be more fun now that the Bills acquired receivers like John Brown and Cole Beasley to chase those balls down. Also, play as rookie Ed Oliver on defense and create your own position for him (like the University of Houston coaches should have done).
Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes' Overall rating may be 120 or so in 2020. (But the Chiefs may have been more of a Madden 19 phenomenon.)
And now, the Madden team we cannot wait to get our hands on:
1. Baltimore Ravens
- Check out some of Lamar Jackson's Madden 2019 ratings: 95 Acceleration, 95 Agility, 89 Juke Move, 86 Spin Move, 81 Breaking Tackle...and 94 Throw Power when you decide to stop using him like Sonic the Hedgehog and chuck one deep. Speaking of which:
- Marquise "Hollywood" Brown's diminutive size and explosive capability make him a cross between JuJu Smith-Schuster and Young Link.
- Offensive coordinator Greg Roman's late-season playbook for Jackson last season mixed some of the wackiest elements of the 2012 49ers Option playbook with stuff Navy ran in the early 1950s.
- When it's time for a change of pace, you can just run Mark Ingram or Gus Edwards between the tackles behind a four-tight end set. The Ravens have a lot of tight ends.
- Oh yeah, you get to be Earl Thomas on defense.
- With a Carrying rating of 62 and Medium- and Deep-Accuracy ratings in the 70s, Jackson is likely to send you into a console-smashing rage with an off-target bomb or a fumble.
Playing as the Ravens has been a chore through most of Madden video gaming history; even on defense, it was best to just take your hands off the controller and let Ray Lewis do his boss-level thing. Jackson, Brown and a roster built for option mayhem make them a must-play team for anyone who ever dreamed of taking over an NFL team and doing things their own way. And isn't that what Madden is all about?
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.