Madden 21: Release Date, Top Player Ratings, New Features, Preview and More

Theo SalaunContributor IIIAugust 24, 2020

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson works out during an NFL football camp practice, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Owings Mills, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Julio Cortez/Associated Press

NFL training camps are underway, Hard Knocks is airing and, as a clear sign of the NFL's season arriving, Madden 21 is officially releasing on Friday. This year, the record-shattering Lamar Jackson is on the cover and a variety of new features are at play.

If you're subscribed to EA Play, then you've been able to get into the game's early access period since August 21. If not, you can pre-order and get your preparation started now. 

In terms of new features, Madden 21 is expanding upon last season's iteration with a revamped Superstar X-Factor system that brings 50-plus new Superstar and X-Factor abilities to the table. That coincides with updates to the Live Playbooks and Ultimate Team offerings, which have each been upgraded for 2021. 

The only truly new features are a new franchise mode, Face of the Franchise: Rise to Fame, and a variety of new gameplay mechanics, which we'll touch on later. But first, it's a new season, and that means brand-new player ratings. As of writing, here are the top 10 players according to Madden 21's rating system.


  • Aaron Donald, 99
  • Christian McCaffrey, 99
  • Michael Thomas, 99
  • Patrick Mahomes, 99
  • Stephon Gilmore, 99
  • Bobby Wagner, 98
  • DeAndre Hopkins, 98
  • George Kittle, 98
  • J.J. Watt, 98
  • Zack Martin, 98


Aside from player specifics, one interesting thing to note in reaction to the top players for this season's title is that there is more cream at the top. In Madden 20, the top 10 was composed of four players rated at 99, three at 98 and three at 97. This season finds five at 99 and five at 98.

That formula actually continues for much of the ratings, as from 97 to 94, each rating has five players in its tier. Then the pools widen, as there are eight players rated 93, nine rated 92, 10 rated 91 and 12 rated 90. 

Of the top 10, it's hard to have many complaints. One aspect that's a welcome departure from former seasons is the inclusion of more positions at the top, as Kittle and Martin each get their impressive 2020 seasons rewarded with league-leading virtual ratings.

Those adjustments in position valuation tie directly into Madden 21's philosophy for gameplay, as the specific mechanics on both sides of the ball have been reworked to try to provide a more real, authentic experience. 

On offense, the Skill Stick is hoped to bring realism further into the fold by enabling players to control every movement their ball-carriers perform—including new dead-leg hesitations and slide hurdles. On defense, the Skill Stick is applied specifically to the pass rush for different moves and combos (which AI-controlled offensive linemen are intended to figure out and counteract over the course of a game). Tackling has also been revamped, with the inclusion of "breakdown tackling" being a major element that helps defenders step into position for accurate tackles.

Past those in-game mechanics, Madden 21's Rise to Fame mode is described as a "new playable documentary career mode" with "all-out levels of agency and depth throughout your journey to the Hall of Fame." 

As for Ultimate Team, it's simply being updated for 2021, just like the Live Playbooks system. Live Playbooks was partly disappointing in 2020, as the system's ability to convert NFL playbooks into Madden playbooks on the fly was pretty questionable. But Live Playbooks 2.0 is intended to reflect each team's playbook more frequently throughout the season.

Overall, Madden 21 is an effort toward authenticity in gameplay specifically. Last season's Superstar and X-Factor abilities were hoped to reflect game-changing players, and this season's mechanics should reflect every player's impact. As a cherry on top, the celebration system has also been reworked so that you can control your players' reactions between the downs, too.