Super Bowl LV was billed an event for the ages, because a supposed changing of the guard had the potential of happening with Patrick Mahomes leading the Kansas City Chiefs against the Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
An 18-plus-year age gap existed between the two quarterbacks.
Mahomes appeared ready to take the reins as the game's biggest star attraction. The old hand had something to say about it, though.
The Buccaneers crushed Mahomes and the Chiefs—literally and figuratively—to capture Brady's seventh Super Bowl ring.
Now, the two signal-callers are meeting again. This time, they'll be on an even playing field as the co–cover athletes for Madden NFL '22: MVP Edition.
Brady is still the man, even though he turns 44 later this year. Mahomes, meanwhile, is the game's best player. The shift from one to the other has yet to be fully realized. So, the two sharing the cover represents today's NFL.
Eventually, the next big thing will replace both as the individual who encapsulates the way the game is trending.
For example, running backs were prominently on the Madden cover three times—Eddie George, Marshall Faulk and Shaun Alexander—in the first seven editions post-John Madden adorning the game's front. Since then, the only instances of running backs being featured include one-year wonder Peyton Hillis gracing Madden '12, thanks to an overwhelming vote by Cleveland Browns fans. The other is Adrian Peterson and Barry Sanders on the special edition Madden 25, which split covers depending on the system. No running back has been on the cover for the last seven editions.
Today's NFL is a wide-open league where quarterbacks thrive, wide receivers thrill, and pass-rushers hunt. As such, those positions headline the group with the most potential to be future Madden cover stars.
5. Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
Ray Lewis graced a Madden cover. Troy Polamalu and Richard Sherman have as well. The NFL may be driven by offense, but standouts on the other side of the ball still receive their due.
A pair of factors play in Garrett's favor.
Purely from a talent standpoint, the Browns defensive end is the league's most naturally gifted defender. The 6'4", 272-pound edge-rusher is yoked. He looked like Bruce Banner in mid-transition to the Incredible Hulk fully bursting at the seams during his appearance at this year's NFL draft. His workouts are regular fodder for viral social media moments. His physical prowess translates to the field as well.
Even after testing positive for COVID-19 last season and missing two regular-season games, Garrett still finished among the league leaders with 12 sacks. The 2017 first overall draft pick holds the league's highest pass-rush grade since the 2018 season began, per Pro Football Focus. Quite simply, Garrett is a 25-year-old game-wrecker.
Secondly, the Browns are now one of the league's ascending teams.
Considering the franchise's putrid history, Cleveland's status as a legitimate Super Bowl contender thrusts its players into the spotlight for a fanbase craving a championship. Garrett is the Browns' best player. He will receive the spotlight if Cleveland continues its upward trajectory.
4. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Football's golden boy has arrived.
Lawrence has been touted as the next great quarterback since his high school days when he earned the designation as the nation's No. 1 recruit. Nothing really changed once he stepped onto Clemson's campus. As a true freshman, Lawrence became the Tigers starter after four contests and helped lead the program to a national championship, where voters named him the game's offensive MVP.
Two-plus years later, the inevitable happened. The Jaguars chose Lawrence with the first overall pick in April's NFL draft.
Expectations are immense for the 21-year-old signal-caller. He's been dubbed the best quarterback prospect since at least 2012 when Andrew Luck entered the league. Ironically, Luck never became a Madden cover boy. Lawrence has all of the potential to do so.
The rookie fits the prototype as a 6'6", 213-pound quarterback with the arm to test all three levels, athleticism to work inside and outside the pocket, mobility to create beyond the designed play, and an unflappable nature in the face of on- or off-field pressure.
"This'll be a very easy transition," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said, per ESPN's Michael DiRocco. "He's well prepared. What he's stepping into, the expectations, all those things, that's his normal and it has been for a long time. "
Inevitable No. 1 overall picks don't always work out, at least to expected levels. Obviously, those individuals tend to enter terrible situations as the new face of the league's worst team. To fully realize Lawrence's potential as a franchise quarterback, the Jaguars must commit to improving his supporting cast.
If Lawrence meets expectations, he'll be viewed as one of the NFL's best quarterbacks which comes much adulation.
3. DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
Nine years ago, Calvin Johnson made the cover of Madden '13. The comparisons between Metcalf and Johnson are inevitable, though the active wide receiver is not a fan.
"Stop comparing me to people. I'm me. Playing against me. Not anyone else," Metcalf said during an interview on the Rich Eisen Show (h/t NFL Update). "Calvin is Calvin. It's a blessing to be compared to him. I take the compliment w/ a grain of salt. I'm trying to pave my own way."
The 23-year-old has a point. At the same time, others likening him to an all-time great should be viewed as a positive. Like Johnson, Metcalf is a physical marvel.
At 6'5" and 237 pounds with 4.3-second 40-yard-dash speed, the Hall of Fame wide receiver was unlike anyone else who played the game. The comparisons are made because Metcalf brings a physical presence no other receiver currently does, and the young target is already counted among the league's best at his position.
Metcalf is a 6'4", 235-pound powerhouse with elite vertical speed. His presence on the outside is intimidating because he's built like he's ready to take on the next Herculean task requested by the gods. His physical prowess demands attention by defender, coaches and fans alike.
Last season, the 2019 second-round pick finished among the league's top eight in receiving yardage, receiving touchdowns, average yards per catch among receivers with 80 or more grabs and first-down receptions.
A national audience has already taken notice if Metcalf's Nesquick commercials are any indication.
As long as Russell Wilson remains the Seahawks quarterback, Metcalf's profile should grow as the game's most dominating wide receiver.
2. Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
The previous two Madden covers featured Mahomes and the Baltimore Ravens' Lamar Jackson. These two trendsetters showed how important a quarterback's ability to create outside of structure and with their legs are to today's offense.
The quarterback position, as a whole, is more athletic than ever. As Sharp Football's Rich Hribar noted, quarterbacks set all-time highs last season in leaguewide rush attempts (15.6 percent), rushing yardage (15.5 percent), and rushing touchdowns (23.9 percent).
Murray looks like Warner Bros.' Road Runner when he's scampering away from oncoming defender. His legs pump at tremendous speeds with the ability to create chunk plays. He increased his rushing output to 819 yards and 11 touchdowns during his sophomore campaign.
The quarterback's running ability is only part of the equation, though. Yes, Murray is dynamic when he evades pressure and gets into the open field. But he's consistently improved as a passer, too.
Murray's passing numbers increased across the board in his second season, and head coach Kliff Kingsbury expects even more from his quarterback this fall. Growth takes time at the quarterback position. Murray is fortunate in that he's had the same head coach and play-caller going into his third season.
"He definitely is very confident right now," Kingsbury told reporters. "He's mastered our system.
"You can see the leadership qualities continue to emerge and we’re all really excited to have him here watch where this thing can go with him as our leader."
Purely from an athletic standpoint, Murray is one of the game's most exciting playmakers. A growing confidence and comfort level will only make the 2019 No. 1 overall pick even better.
1. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Bills Mafia already lives and dies with every comment—positive or negative—made about their franchise quarterback, Josh Allen. That mentality is understandable after the guff the quarterback and his fanbase endured for two seasons as Allen tried to find his footing at the professional level.
As the seventh overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, Allen always had the entire package from a physical standpoint. He's big and athletic with a howitzer attached to his right shoulder. But inconsistency plagued him well before he donned a Bills uniform.
Allen's massive frame to shrug off pass-rushers, coupled with uncanny athleticism for a 6'5", 237-pound quarterback, allowed him to get away with a lot during his first two seasons. Poor decision-making was hidden somewhat because the Bills remained competitive thanks to Allen's creativity as a runner. The quarterback ran for 17 total touchdowns in his first two seasons.
Everything clicked in Year 3.
The one-time project became a complete quarterback while still excelling in the areas that drive defenses mad. Allen finished top five overall in completion percentage, passing yardage, yards per attempt, passing touchdowns, quarterback rating and QBR. He also graded first against the blitz, in yardage from the playaction game and when he scrambled, according to Pro Football Focus.
Allen identified where he still needs to be better going into his fourth season.
"The deep-ins and the short 5-yard unders—just making sure I'm putting it in a catchable spot for these guys to catch and run," the quarterback told reporters. "That’s going to be a huge asset for us to be able to hit those type of throws and allow our guys to stay up and stay on the move. I didn't do a good enough job with that last year."
A better version of Allen after last season's performance is so scary, Bills games should be streamed on Shudder.
Like the Browns, the Bills are starved for championship glory. Allen gives Buffalo a chance to deliver as an MVP candidate and one of the game's premier quarterbacks.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.