Madden 21: Lamar Jackson Cover, Player Ratings, Roster Info and Modes Preview

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistAugust 27, 2020

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson reacts after running a drill during an NFL football training camp practice, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Owings Mills, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Madden NFL 21 from EA Sports launched Tuesday for some and goes live globally Friday with Baltimore Ravens superstar quarterback Lamar Jackson fittingly on the cover.

Fittingly, because Jackson had a historic season under center last year while revolutionizing quarterback play. It's a similar evolution the series hopes to take through some key gameplay and modes tweaks this year, too.

Here's a look at the cover:

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Lamar Jackson is your @EAMaddenNFL cover athlete.⁣ ⁣ New era.⁣ ⁣ @brgridiron 🎮 @BRGaming https://t.co/qAPwI4HB2B

Besides the cover, one of the biggest pre-release talking points was player ratings.

When it comes to the "99 club," the initial members aren't a shocker:

  • Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
  • Aaron Donald, DL, Los Angeles Rams
  • Stephon Gilmore, CB, New England Patriots
  • Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
  • Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints

As for Jackson himself, he's sitting on a 94 rating over at the full ratings list from EA Sports. But that could change in a hurry to reflect real-life happenings, as the game will update ratings and playbooks weekly.

As we noted in our official review, there are many upgrades to various game modes this year and the inclusion of outright new ones.

The most interesting new innovation is The Yard, a six-on-six street football mode reminiscent of games like NFL Street. It doesn't mind breaking all the rules in the pursuit of fun, with players tossing out behind-the-back passes.

Creativity is encouraged, as players can snap the ball to multiple players, throw it multiple times behind the line of scrimmage and generally run up the score in what amount to tense, arcade-based shootouts with interesting overtime rules. Customizing an avatar, finding teammates and leveling up different avatar prototypes is the name of the mode locally or online across a variety of creative, non-typical-to-Madden venues.

Putting the player in as much control as possible extends to the Face of the Franchise mode. Players create a character and go from the high school level all the way to the pros, making a few career-defining decisions along the way. It's another attempt at a high-production value story along the same lines of what the 2K series does for the NBA.

Within that mode, players will have to work through new storylines at varying stages of their created character's career. Some throw major expectations and goals on the player, others task them with coming back from a major injury in what is an attempt to freshen up what is otherwise a type of mode longtime Madden players have worked through plenty of times.

The other big-ticket item is of course Ultimate Team, the card-collection mode with something of a fantasy football twist. EA Sports has included a new onboarding process similar to a tutorial meant to make things easier on newer players and has also retooled the user interface.

As always, Ultimate Team includes a staggering number of modes within its ecosystem. Some let players work toward specific unlocks they want, others give access to legendary players of the past. It all lends itself toward tackling the biggest solo challenges or taking things online against other players in a competitive setting.

Normal franchise mode also makes a return, though it hasn't seen many updates compared to the other options mentioned. But it remains a generally in-depth experience for those who want to control many of the levers within one franchise, if not multiple teams.

Atop all of these modes sit gameplay tweaks, including the implementation of a Skill Stick that gives players more fine-tuned control over how a ball-carrier makes his jukes or what moves a pass-rusher uses. Better defensive A.I. and quarterbacks having a bigger emphasis on throwing on the run and cross-body throws also make the list as big-ticket items.

Provided EA Sports continues to add to the experience in the coming weeks and months, Madden NFL 21 offers a nice suite of options for a variety of players, ranging from straight-up street ball to deep league-wide simulations.