It’s theme week at SB Nation, and this time we’re headed for the virtual world: video games. Over the course of the week, Pats Pulpit and the other blogs in the network are devoted to the best and the bizarre when it comes to gaming. We’ll start by taking a look at dominant football franchise.
In a Venn diagram with football fans on one side and gamers on the other, EA Sports’ Madden NFL series would take the center spot. Since 1988, when John Madden Football and its iconic cover was released, it is the most famous football-related video game and as such a big part of the culture surrounding the NFL. Being in Madden is significant recognition for younger players, making the cover is an honor reserved for the game’s biggest stars (and Peyton Hillis).
Of the players to make the cover — the first 10 versions of the series featured ex-Raiders coach John Madden on the cover each year — two were members of the New England Patriots at the time of the game’s release: tight end Rob Gronkowski graced Madden 17, which was released ahead of the league’s 2016 regular season, with quarterback Tom Brady earning the honor one year later (including as part of the properly named G.O.A.T. Edition).
With the new Madden cover being unveiled earlier today, and with SB Nation doing a video game theme week, one question naturally pops up: Do the Patriots have anybody on their current roster who could follow the footsteps of Brady and Gronkowski one day and represent the organization on the cover? And, if so, who could it be?
Let’s start by taking a look at who was on the cover before to get a feel for the direction in which EA Sports is going by choosing the cover athlete for its flagship sports game. Even including different platforms or non-English language versions we can find out that, since the inception of the player-based design in 1999, Madden a) likes to put offensive players on its cover, and b) likes to put quarterbacks on its cover. The Patriots have both of those!
That said, when looking at New England’s offensive players we don’t necessarily find talent or star power that is rivaling that of a Lamar Jackson (Madden 21) or a Patrick Mahomes (Madden 20) — or the two ex-Patriots mentioned above. Julian Edelman has the pedigree, but there are other wide receivers in the league who are likely more deserving based on their more prototypical WR1 status. Running backs Sony Michel and James White, or wide receiver N’Keal Harry are other candidates, but they have either not generated enough hype despite playing key roles in New England’s offense or are simply unproven.
And then, there is Jarrett Stidham.
The Patriots’ projected new starting quarterback and heir to Brady’s throne is the most obvious choice simply based on the position he is playing. Of course, Stidham’s NFL résumé is quasi non-existent considering that he is entering just the second season of his career and has thrown a grand total of four regular season passes so far. He could one day rise to prominence and become worthy of Madden cover recognition, but expecting anything other than him earning a 60+ rating would do him no service.
That brings us to the defensive side of the ball, and two players who could have what it takes to grace Madden one day: Chase Winovich and Stephon Gilmore.
Winovich is only entering his second year in the league (like Stidham and Harry), yes, but there is no denying his potential based on an impressive rookie season. Furthermore, he also has what can best be defined as swagger — from his high motor on the field to his recognizable blond mane. Winovich could very well be a star in the making, and as such is a better candidate to join a select club consisting of Richard Sherman (Madden 15), Troy Polamalu (Madden 10) and Ray Lewis (Madden 2005) than other Patriots.
As for Gilmore, he may not have the same outgoing persona as Winovich, but his track record of excellence speaks for himself: since arriving in New England in 2017, he has been among the league’s best defensive backs — helping the Patriots win the Super Bowl in 2018 while being named first-team All-Pro twice and the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2019. As opposed to Winovich, who could become a star one day, Gilmore already is one. If he has another standout season and helps carry his team without Tom Brady around, he could very well find himself in the Madden conversation.
Of course, there are a lot of hypotheticals in this here article. The truth, after all, is this: Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski were future Hall of Famers at the peak of their powers when they graced Madden. Mahomes, Jackson and Sherman, in the meantime, were rising stars. The Patriots, at the moment, have no clear-cut candidates to fall under either category. This could change over the next few years, but for now the new-look team will have to find its identity before possibly finding its way onto the Madden cover.