The start of training camps for most NFL teams is only a week away. After a brief break, football is back in the consciousness of the sports fan ... if it ever really left. And with it comes the preparation for the latest Madden video game. But this year's game, which will be released Aug. 19, is a little bit different.
Following the death of the series' namesake, Hall of Fame coach John Madden, on Dec. 28, 2021, and EA Sports' decision to put Madden on the cover, there's a feeling of legacy around the game this year. But Madden always wanted the game to be about football and to approximate the reality of the sport he loved to coach, teach and talk about as closely as it could. He was the one who pushed for it to be 11-on-11 at the outset. He was the one who was still involved in aspects of the video game up until his death.
As the game grew in the zeitgeist of American culture, certain aspects stood out more than others. Ratings matter to players. They'll complain on social media about their rating and sometimes raise questions to those who are doing it. The Madden staff has an entire crew dedicated to adjusting ratings throughout the year. It's a big deal.
And with that in mind, here's a breakdown of the initial ratings at launch of Madden 23, some top players at each position and the annual 99 club, which has turned into an honor around the sport. We'll roll out more positions each day this week:
1. Tom Brady, Buccaneers: 97
2. Aaron Rodgers, Packers: 96
3. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs: 95
4. Josh Allen, Bills: 92
5. Joe Burrow, Bengals: 90
6. Dak Prescott, Cowboys: 89
7. Justin Herbert, Charges: 88
T-8. Lamar Jackson, Ravens: 87
T-8. Russell Wilson, Broncos: 87
10. Matthew Stafford, Rams: 85
Tom Brady is the oldest quarterback in the game, plays it with his kids and has complained (jokingly, perhaps) about his Madden rating. But the man who grew up in the shadows of the Electronic Arts studios in San Mateo, California -- and used to play pickup basketball on the EA campus -- remains the top quarterback in the game at age 44.
Brady is a 97 for the second consecutive season, and last year's cover athlete moved from second to first in the process. The man he shared the cover with in Madden 22, Patrick Mahomes, dropped from a 99 to a 95 and from first to third this year.
Between Brady and Mahomes is Aaron Rodgers, who stayed at a 96 overall and moved up to No. 2 after his second consecutive NFL Most Valuable Player trophy. That Rodgers is not a 99, well, that's a gripe we'll have with the game considering Rodgers' dominance.
Josh Allen is No. 4 at 92, up from No. 7 (and an 88) last season. Joe Burrow, after leading the Bengals to an AFC title, enters the top 10 at No. 5 with a 90 rating. Dak Prescott goes from No. 8 to No. 6 and an 87 to an 89.
Justin Herbert joins his draft classmate, Burrow, in entering the top 10 at No. 7 with an 88. Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson both remain in the top 10 and have an 87 rating after both being 94s last year.
The top 10 is rounded out by the Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Matthew Stafford, who entered the top 10 after going from 83 to 85 this season.
1. Trent Williams, OT, 49ers: 99
2. Zack Martin, G, Cowboys: 98
T-3. Tyron Smith, OT, Cowboys: 95
T-3. Quenton Nelson, G, Colts: 95
5. David Bakhtiari, OT, Packers: 94
6. Terron Armstead, OT, Dolphins: 93
7. Lane Johnson, OT, Eagles: 92
T-8. Tristan Wirfs, OT, Buccaneers: 91
T-8. Corey Linsley, C, Chargers: 91
10. Ronnie Stanley, OT, Ravens: 90
Left tackle Trent Williams is the first offensive lineman to be part of the 99 Club at launch in 16 years -- since Seattle's Walter Jones last accomplished it in Madden 07. Grouping the offensive line as a whole instead of centers, guards and tackles, Williams also checks in at No. 1 among linemen in the game this year, up from a 94 overall and No. 5 last season.
Guard Zack Martin, last year's top offensive lineman at a 98 overall, remains at a 98 and is No. 2 (and No. 1 among interior linemen). Martin's Cowboys teammate, tackle Tyron Smith, is tied with guard Quenton Nelson at No. 3 with a 95 rating. It's a jump for Smith from a 91 last year, while Nelson remains the same as last year in rating and ranking.
Last year's No. 2, tackle David Bakhtiari, dropped from a 96 to a 94 and into fifth by himself. New Miami tackle Terron Armstead, previously in New Orleans, is No. 6 at 93, a drop from a 95 last season and a tie with Nelson for third.
Tackle Lane Johnson moved into the top 10 with a 92 rating, up from 88 last year, and the top 10 offensive linemen are rounded out with two new players -- center Corey Linsley and tackle Tristan Wirfs, both with 91s -- and one returning one, Ronnie Stanley, who dropped from No. 6 to No. 10 and is a 90 overall.
1. Jalen Ramsey, Rams: 98
2. Jaire Alexander, Packers: 94
3. Tre'Davious White, Bills: 93
T-4. Darius Slay, Eagles: 92
T-4. Denzel Ward, Browns: 92
T-6. Marshon Lattimore, Saints: 91
T-6. Stephon Gilmore, Panthers: 91
T-8. J.C. Jackson, Chargers: 90
T-8. Marlon Humphrey, Ravens: 90
10. A.J. Terrell, Falcons: 89
Jalen Ramsey may have lost his 99 Club membership (for now), but he remains in the top spot in Madden for the second straight year with a 98 overall rating. It's below Ramsey where the shake-up has really started to happen.
Last year's No. 2, Stephon Gilmore (then with the Patriots before being traded to Carolina), dropped from a 97 to a 91 and into a tie for sixth. Jaire Alexander, third last year with a 95, is now second despite dropping one point to a 94. Tre'Davious White remains at a 93 but moved from fourth to third.
Marshon Lattimore joins Gilmore at No. 6 with a 91 after not being in the top 10 last year (he was an 87 overall). Another new face, J.C. Jackson, is tied for No. 8 with Marlon Humphrey, who was fifth last season with a 92. Jackson was an 85 overall to start last season.
At No. 10 is another rising player, A.J. Terrell, who began last year as a 77 overall and is now an 89 after a season when he turned into a shutdown corner for the Falcons.
Interior defensive linemen
1. Aaron Donald, Rams: 99
T-2. Cameron Heyward, Steelers: 93
T-2. Vita Vea, Buccaneers: 93
4. Jonathan Allen, Commanders: 92
5. Chris Jones, Chiefs: 91
6. DeForest Buckner, Colts: 90
7. Kenny Clark, Packers: 89
T-8. Jeffery Simmons, Titans: 88
T-8. Michael Pierce, Ravens: 88
10. Fletcher Cox, Eagles: 88
While Wednesday we mentioned Justin Tucker being the easiest call at the top of his position group, that's not entirely true. That should be perennial 99 Club member Aaron Donald. The Los Angeles Rams star is once again a 99 in the game and this year ties Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning for the most 99 Club appearances in the history of the game.
It's the sixth straight year Donald is a 99, and if he plays in 2023, one would think he'll break Manning's record.
How much better is Donald than everyone else on the interior? Cam Heyward, himself a dominant player, is a 93 overall, tied for No. 2 with Vita Vea. That's a jump of one ratings point for Heyward and out of the cluster he was in tied for third last year. It's a bigger move for the run-stopping problem that is Vea, who was an 88 and tied for No. 10 in Madden '22.
Jonathan Allen is by himself at No. 4 with a 92 overall -- another big mover like Vea from an 88 last season.
Kenny Clark stayed at an 89 overall but moved into seventh by himself, and there's a three-way tie for eighth at 88 with Jeffery Simmons, Michael Pierce and Fletcher Cox, who was No. 2 behind Donald last year.
1. Derrick Henry, Titans: 97
T-2. Nick Chubb, Browns: 96
T-2. Christian McCaffrey, Panthers: 96
4. Jonathan Taylor, Colts: 95
5. Dalvin Cook, Vikings: 94
6. Joe Mixon, Bengals: 93
7. Alvin Kamara, Saints: 90
8. Aaron Jones, Packers: 89
T-9. Austin Ekeler, Chargers: 88
T-9. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys: 88
For the second straight year, no running back will start the season in the Madden 99 club, but there are a bunch of realistic candidates to potentially get there.
That starts with the No. 1-ranked back. Henry moves from a tie for second to first this year, and a 96 to a 97 overall. The 28-year-old was on pace for another season close to 2,000 yards but missed nine games in 2021 -- and had he been healthy, he might have been a 99. If he gets back to normal form, he could get there.
McCaffrey dropped from No. 1 last year down to a tie for second, and from 97 to 96 overall. Like Henry, if he is healthy and plays well, a return to 99 status is realistic. Chubb is tied with McCaffrey and made no moves from last season, remaining in second and at a 96. Taylor, who had a breakout second NFL season with an NFL-best 332 carries for 1,811 yards and 18 touchdowns, comes in at No. 4 at a 95 overall. Considering his age (23) and skills, he could be the No. 1 back in the game before too long.
It's clear Madden raters believe there's a tier system with the backs. Behind the top six -- Cook is at No. 5 with a 94, and Mixon is No. 6 at 93 -- there's a three-point drop. The next four backs are all talented but heading in different directions.
Kamara slid back four ratings points (and two slots) from 94 to 90, and No. 5 to No. 7. Jones dropped back slightly from 91 to 89 and No. 6 to No. 8. Ekeler made a move into the top 10, tied at No. 9 with an 88 -- the same rating Elliott had both last season and at launch for this season.
This feels like a position group that could have a ton of movement in the next two years.
1. Tyrann Mathieu, Saints: 94
2. Derwin James Jr., Chargers: 93
T-3. Budda Baker, Cardinals: 92
T-3. Kevin Byard, Titans: 92
T-5. Micah Hyde, Bills: 91
T-5. Justin Simmons, Broncos: 91
T-7. Jessie Bates III, Bengals: 90
T-7. Jordan Poyer, Bills: 90
T-7. Harrison Smith, Vikings: 90
T-7. Jamal Adams, Seahawks: 90
It's a new team for Mathieu, going from Kansas City to New Orleans, and he dropped slightly from 95 overall to 94. But for the second straight year, Mathieu is the safety king.
The biggest mover among safeties might also be the best actual Madden player of the bunch: James leaped back into the top 10 and from an 88 to a 93 rating, good enough for No. 2 overall. He takes that spot from Baker, who moved from No. 2 to a tie for third, and from a 93 to a 92. Byard returns to the list after a one-year absence, tied for third with Baker.
A pair of Bills make the list, as Hyde is tied for fifth (91 overall), and Poyer is in a tie for seventh at 90 overall. Hyde is tied with Simmons, who kept the same rating from last year, and Poyer is tied with Bates (who moved from a 91 to a 90), Smith and Adams. Both Adams and Smith -- who was the No. 1 safety in Madden 21 -- stayed at 90 for the second straight year.
1. Justin Tucker, Ravens: 90
2. Harrison Butker, Chiefs: 84
3. Evan McPherson, Bengals: 83
T-4. Chris Boswell, Steelers: 82
T-4. Younghoe Koo, Falcons: 82
T-6. Graham Gano, Giants: 81
T-6. Daniel Carlson, Raiders: 81
8. Robbie Gould, 49ers: 80
9. Matt Gay, Rams: 79
10. Nick Folk, Patriots: 78
Tucker could end up in the Hall of Fame one day and might be the best kicker ever. That he once again is Madden's top kicker is perhaps the least surprising ratings reveal that could happen.
Tucker jumped from an 87 to a 90 this year, the only kicker in the game over an 85 rating. Butker remained at an 84 but moved from No. 3 to No. 2, and McPherson leapt from a 71 at launch last year to an 83 this year to take the No. 3 spot.
Koo moved up from an 81 to an 82 after once again being one of the league's most accurate kickers -- and getting paid like it with a big offseason extension -- into a tie for fourth with Boswell, who also moved from an 81 to an 82.
Gano dropped from fourth to sixth and from an 82 to an 81, and he is now in a tie with Carlson, who made a move similar to McPherson, jumping from a 73 to an 81. Top-10 mainstay Gould remained at an 80, followed by Gay and Folk rounding out the top 10.
1. Myles Garrett, Browns: 99
2. T.J. Watt, Steelers: 96
3. Nick Bosa, 49ers: 94
T-4. Von Miller, Bills: 92
T-4. Khalil Mack, Chargers: 92
T-6. Joey Bosa, Chargers: 91
T-6. Cameron Jordan, Saints: 91
T-8. DeMarcus Lawrence, Cowboys: 90
T-8. Chandler Jones, Raiders: 90
10. Rashan Gary, Packers: 89
Last December, Garrett became the first Browns player in the history of Madden to earn a 99. Now, he's the first Browns player to be part of the 99 club at launch. He is coming off his fourth straight double-digit-sack season after a career-high 16 last season. It's the second year in a row in which Garrett is the top edge rusher at launch (he was a 98 overall to start last year).
T.J. Watt, last year's NFL Defensive Player of the Year, moved from third to second in this year's initial ratings and jumped from a 94 to a 96. Nick Bosa was the big mover in the group. Last year, he started at No. 9 with a 90 overall rating. Now, he's third with a 94.
Miller switched teams from last year's launch -- twice -- first being traded from Denver to the Rams and then signing with Buffalo in free agency. While he dropped to a 92 overall from 93 this season, he moved up from tied for sixth to tied for fourth with Mack, who was No. 2 and a 96 overall last year.
The bottom half of the top 10 has a couple of new faces and also is without future Hall of Famer J.J. Watt, who was tied for third as an edge rusher last season.
1. Fred Warner, 49ers: 94
2. Demario Davis, Saints: 93
3. Lavonte David, Buccaneers: 92
4. Bobby Wagner, Rams: 91
5. Darius Leonard, Colts: 90
6. Roquan Smith, Bears: 89
T-7. Micah Parsons, Cowboys: 88
T-7. Eric Kendricks, Vikings: 88
9. De'Vondre Campbell, Packers: 87
10. Devin White, Buccaneers: 85
Not much has changed at linebacker. Warner remains the top middle linebacker in Madden with the same rating he had at launch last year (94).
In actuality, the top four linebackers from a season ago all remain the same, just in a different order. Last year's order was Warner, David, Wagner and Davis, but this season goes Warner-Davis-David-Wagner.
Leonard moved up from sixth to fifth, and up to 90 this year from 89 last year. Kendricks, fifth last season, dropped to a tie for seventh this year -- with Parsons at an 88 overall rating. Parsons, by the way, has a chance to be a breakout candidate in Madden this year. The bottom of the top 10 sees Campbell and White join as new additions.
1. Davante Adams, Raiders: 99
2. Cooper Kupp, Rams: 98
3. Tyreek Hill, Dolphins: 97
4. DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals: 96
5. Stefon Diggs, Bills: 95
6. Justin Jefferson, Vikings: 93
7. Mike Evans, Buccaneer: 92
T-8. Terry McLaurin, Commanders: 91
T-8. Keenan Allen, Chargers: 91
10. Amari Cooper, Browns: 90
Perhaps no group of players has received as much of a boost in real life this past offseason as receivers. Once Christian Kirk received his four-year, $72 million contract from Jacksonville, it seemed to set off an explosion of money going to premium players at the position. And it, in many ways, turned receiver into a key NFL position alongside quarterback, left tackle, edge rusher and cornerback. Receivers are getting mega money -- and in Madden, their ratings have reflected just how talented this group has become.
It's one of three groups where the entirety of the top 10 has a rating of 90 or above, and as many as five receivers could have potential claim to being the best in the game.
While Adams has moved from the Packers to the Raiders, his status as the top receiver in the game -- and in the 99 club at launch -- remains the same. Last year represented a big jump from Adams, who was a 94 overall at the launch of Madden 21.
Behind Adams, there's significant movement. Hopkins dropped from 98 to 96, and from second to fourth. Replacing him at No. 2 overall is Kupp, who went from outside the top 10 at the start of last year to a 98 overall after a 145-catch, 1,947-yard, 16-touchdown season. Kupp's emergence knocked a lot of players down at least one spot.
1. Travis Kelce, Chiefs: 98
2. George Kittle, 49ers: 97
3. Mark Andrews, Ravens: 93
4. Darren Waller, Raiders: 91
5. T.J. Hockenson, Lions (89
6. Kyle Pitts, Falcons: 87
7. Mike Gesicki, Dolphins: 86
8. Dallas Goedert, Eagles: 85
T-9. Zach Ertz, Cardinals: 84
T-9. Hunter Henry, Patriots: 84
For a position that continues to grow in scope and importance on the field, the man at the top of it remains the same. While Kelce is no longer a member of the 99 club -- although don't be surprised if he earns it back during the 2022 season -- he remains the No. 1 tight end in the game with a 98 rating. And other than one other player, the list behind him is not all that close.
Kelce's biggest competition is Kittle, one of his fellow Tight End University stalwarts. Kittle is the No. 2 tight end again this season and is now a 97 overall, up from 96 last year. Then comes the drop. Andrews (93 overall) enters the 90s and moves from No. 4 to No. 3. He flips with Waller, who drops from No. 3 to No. 4 and from a 93 last year to a 91 this year.
After that, big moves happen. Hockenson -- one of the game's top young tight ends -- is now No. 5 in the game and an 89 overall after being No. 9 and an 85 last season. Pitts had the all-time second-best season for a rookie tight end in 2021, including 68 catches and 1,026 yards, and is now No. 6 with an 87. Gesicki slightly bumps up from No. 8 to No. 7 and from an 85 to an 86. Goedert made a similar move from No. 10 to No. 8 and from 84 to 85. Ertz, one of the most consistent tight ends in the league, made a big leap from an 80 overall to an 84 and enters the top 10 at No. 9.