It’s August and football is so close we can almost pull the tailgate tent out of the shed!
And that means Madden season is officially here, too. The game comes out right before the NFL season starts every year, and this week EA Sports released every player’s individual ratings and all their stats, like speed, agility, strength, and that kind of stuff.
Last week, we learned that the New England Patriots have four players that are rated in the top five at their position, meaning that they’re among the five best players in the game at that position. Here’s a rundown in case you missed it:
Rob Gronkowski (1st-ranked tight end)
Tom Brady (3rd-ranked quarterback)
Dont’a Hightower (5th-ranked outside linebacker)
Jamie Collins (5th-ranked middle linebacker)
It actually turns out that New England has five players earning top-five honors, too – kicker Stephen Gostkowski is the third-highest rated kicker in the game.
But we’re not here to talk about kickers – sorry Steve, but everyone knows you’re a good kicker already. Let’s see what else Madden ’17 thinks about this year’s Patriots team.
1) The wide receivers other than Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola aren’t very good
Minitron checks in with an 89 overall rating, with 91 acceleration and 91 agility, so he’ll be putting defensive backs on ice skates in the game just like he does in real life. After that, though, the wide receiver talent falls off a cliff:
Danny Amendola’s rating gets a slight uptick from last year, where he rated a 79 overall and is up to an 83 now. Kind of funny that they put Matthew Slater in there, too, since he was only targeted once last season (which is once more than he’s usually targeted in a season).
Good thing Gronk is a 99 and Martellus Bennett is an 85!
2) Chris Long is done (apparently)
Poor Chris Long. The guy has 54.5 career sacks, and a whopping 41.5 of those came from 2010-2013, but you get hurt for a couple seasons in a row playing for a Rams team that never finished better than 7-8-1 while Long was in town, and Madden thinks you’re washed up. Long is a 77 overall, and Rob Ninkovich, who also plays end sometimes but Madden is calling a left outside linebacker, is rated 5 points higher at 82. Rough assessment. In real life, it’ll be great to see Long used more situationally in New England, as opposed to run into the ground as a three-down lineman on a Rams team where whatever defensive coordinator that used to work for the Jeff Fisher Titans is calling the shots.
3) The interior offensive line is a mess
Heard that, Madden, HEARD THAT.
New England’s bookends on the offensive line, left tackle Nate Solder and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, actually pack the same rating of 84 overall. It’s the guards and center where, at least in this game, defenses are going to manhandle the Patriots.
Marcus Cannon, the BACKUP left tackle, is rated the same or higher than any center and all but one of the guards.
Also, the game is calling Josh Kline a center, which, um, not really. And Pro Football Focus actually graded Kline higher than any other Patriots offensive lineman last year, and 21st overall in the entire NFL, so rating Josh a 72, which is sub-replacement level (or Jacksonville Jaguars starter-level), seems way off.
Better keep an eye on those interior pass-rushers!
4) This year’s draft class is ranked really badly
Maybe this is to be expected, since New England didn’t have a draft pick until pick 60 this year, but the entire 2016 Patriots draft class is going to be perpetually stuck in the basement of your depth chart.
Cyrus Jones, who started every game his junior and senior years at cornerback for the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide? 71 overall.
Joe Thuney, the N.C. State offensive lineman New England took at pick 78? 70 overall.
Malcolm Mitchell, the Georgia wide receiver almost every analyst thought was a perfect Patriot (Pats Pulpit included)?
Surely, some of these will go up once the season starts, but that’s no good if you’re like most people and start your franchise mode game the week Madden comes out.
5) The defense looks pretty impressive overall
Key word: OVERALL.
The Patriots may not have a one-man wrecking crew like J.J. Watt or Von Miller on defense, but they do have nine defensive players rated 82 or higher. And they’re all over the field, too.
Defensive line: Jabaal Sheard, RE (88 overall), Terrance Knighton, DT (83 overall)
Linebackers: Dont’a Hightower, ROLB (90 overall), Jamie Collins, MLB (88 overall), Rob Ninkovich, LOLB (82 overall)
Cornerbacks: Malcolm Butler, CB (85 overall), Logan Ryan, CB (84 overall)
Safeties: Devin McCourty, FS (91 overall), Patrick Chung, SS (86 overall)
That’s just one of the most balanced defenses in the game. Attacking any part of the Patriots D this year is going to be risky – do you sling it down the field with Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan manning the outside and McCourty and Chung lurking in the deep part of the field? Do you run the ball up the gut, right into two linebackers that rank in the game’s five best (and Rob Ninkovich)? Do you scramble like Russell Wilson and hope Jabaal Sheard, Dont’a Hightower, and Rob Ninkovich, or even Jamie Collins, don’t get to the edge before you do?
Put all that together, and you get a New England Patriots team that’s the top-rated team in the AFC – 87 overall, 89 offense, and 91 defense.
(Don’t ask me how a team with 89 offense and 91 defense gets rated 87 overall.)