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Five Early Frontrunners for the Cover of Madden NFL 18

With the NFL combine just weeks away and teams around the league already gearing up for the 2017 season, who will grace the cover of Madden 18 this year?

With Super Bowl LI behind us, and a historic comeback that forever etched the New England Patriots into the stones of the NFL pantheon, it’s time to look ahead to next season. And with only a few weeks left until the start of free agency and even fewer until the combine, it’s time to start our pre-pre-pre-season predictions for who is going to grace the cover of Madden NFL 18 when it launches later this August.

Each of these players had breakout or historic runs during the 2016-17 season, from becoming the all-time leader in Super Bowl wins and winning Rookie of the Year to being athletic monsters and team MVPs.

That’s why we think they’re perfect candidates for the lauded cover of Madden NFL 18. Here’s to hoping they shake the cover’s legendary curse if they get the nod.

Tom Brady (QB) – The New England Patriots

Source: theinsidezone.com

What can we say about this legendary 6th-round draft pick? Over his vaunted career as a signal caller for the New England Patriots, Tom Brady has taken the team to seven Super Bowls in 16 seasons (winning five of those), been named Super Bowl MVP four times (including in Super Bowl LI), been to 12 Pro Bowls, and holds numerous NFL records.

If that’s not enough, with his win in Super Bowl LI, Brady surpassed Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw in most Super Bowl wins by a quarterback.

That’s not to mention this beast essentially carried the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl win after the arguably devastating loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski to back surgery just before the playoffs in the 2016-17 season.

During the playoffs, Brady had his fifth-best playoff completion percentage at 65.5 percent; his fourth-highest playoff QB rating at 97.7 percent; and his highest number of completed passing yards in the playoffs at 1,137 yards – or roughly an entire third of his total passing yards for the whole 2016 regular season. 

And all of that is even more impressive when you consider the fact that Brady is set to turn 40 this year and start his 17th NFL season. 

Tom Brady’s full 2016-17 stat line: Source: Wikipedia

Matt Ryan (QB) – The Atlanta Falcons

Source: atlantasportsfan.sportsblog.com

While Tom Brady may have been the MVP for Super Bowl LI, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan was the undisputed regular season MVP. Nabbing the honor for the first time, Matt Ryan led the Atlanta Falcons to only their second Super Bowl appearance in the team’s 50-year history.

The number three overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft, Ryan hasn’t had the same playoff success as Brady -- but his career regular season stats are nothing to balk at. Ryan ranks seventh in total passing yards among active NFL QBs, and has only thrown 114 picks in 5,064 pass attempts.

What’s more, his 2016 regular season stats were off the charts, helping him win the NFL’s top regular-season honor. A quick look shows that Ryan had his best regular season in completion percentage, passing yards, yards per attempt, yards per game, total touchdowns, and passer rating (at 117.1).

Ryan also took care of the pigskin. In the regular season, Matty Ice only threw seven interceptions (the fewest he’s ever thrown). In contrast, he threw 38 touchdown passes -- second only to Aaron Rodgers, who threw 40.

Since joining the Falcons in 2008, Ryan has been relatively consistent, too, and he’s secured for the team a combined 85 regular-season wins and an NFC Championship. He’s gone to the Pro Bowl four times and holds the NFL record for most consecutive games with 200-plus passing yards at 45.

Sure, Ryan’s struggled in the postseason, but so have other NFL greats like Peyton Manning, Warren Moon, Dan Fouts, and Dan Marino, just to name a few.

Matt Ryan’s full 2016-17 stat line:

Source: Wikipedia

Julio Jones (WR) – The Atlanta Falcons


Source: grantland.com

Julio Jones is hands-down one the best receivers in the NFL today. For all intents and purposes, Jones is undeniably an alien living among us making circus catch after circus catch just for shits and giggles.

Part of the Saban Football Dynasty, Jones was forged in the fires of college football legend – and he’s taken what he learned playing for the Alabama Crimson Tide and translated it into a winning formula for the Atlanta Falcons.

A four-time Pro Bowl selection, Jones averaged 100.6 yards per game in the 2016 season, bringing in just over 1,400 yards on 83 total receptions. That’s about 400 yards short of his monster 2015 season, where he set a receiving yard record of 1,871 yards, surpassing the legendary Jerry Rice to claim the second overall position in NFL regular season receiving yards by a wide receiver – second only to the now-retired Calvin Johnson.

Jones also took care of the ball in 2016, fumbling zero times -- something he hasn’t done since 2012. But what really pushes Jones above the rest of the wide-out pack are his intangibles, such as strength, agility, and awareness. Just reference his ungodly athletic catch in Super Bowl LI if you need proof – not to mention the other “routine” receptions he gets game in and game out.

Throw in Jones’ ridiculous 2016 post-season stats and plays where he was arguably even deadlier, and he’s a great contender for the next Madden NFL cover.

Dak Prescott (QB) – The Dallas Cowboys

Source: si.com

Sure, Dak Prescott only just finished his first NFL season, but it was a breakout season for the young rookie from Mississippi State. Not only did he win rookie of the year, but he filled in for the much maligned Tony Romo -- winning the NFC East, getting a first-round bye, and taking the Dallas Cowboys to the NFC Divisional Playoff round.

Although the Cowboys ultimately lost that game to the Green Bay Packers, where Prescott arguably had the worst first half of his nascent NFL career, the young rookie had a monster regular season through the air and on the ground.

A dual threat quarterback haunting the nightmares of secondaries around the league, Prescott not only threw for a whopping 3,667 yards, with 23 touchdowns to only four interceptions (a 67.8 percent completion percentage), he also ran for 282 yards on 57 attempts, scoring six touchdowns. What’s more, Prescott was selected to his first Pro Bowl in his first year as an NFL QB. 

Let’s take a quick look at how Prescott compares to other notable QBs in their rookie seasons:

Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts):

  • 16 games played
  • 7 percent completion percentage
  • 3,739 passing yards
  • 26 touchdowns
  • 28 interceptions
  • 15 carries
  • 62 rushing yards

Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins):

  • 11 games played
  • 4 percent completion percentage
  • 2,210 passing yards
  • 20 touchdowns
  • 6 interceptions
  • 28 carries
  • 45 rushing yards
  • 2 rushing touchdowns

Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers):

  • 16 games played
  • 0 percent completion percentage
  • 4,051 passing yards
  • 21 touchdowns
  • 17 interceptions
  • 126 carries
  • 706 rushing yards
  • 14 rushing touchdowns

Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks):

  • 16 games played
  • 1 percent completion percentage
  • 3,118 passing yards
  • 26 touchdowns
  • 10 interceptions
  • 94 carries
  • 489 rushing yards
  • 4 rushing touchdowns

Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers):

  • 14 games played
  • 4 percent completion percentage
  • 2,621 passing yards
  • 17 touchdowns
  • 11 interceptions
  • 56 carries
  • 144 rushing yards
  • 1 rushing touchdowns

As we venture into the offseason, it appears more and more that Jerry Jones and the Cowboys are looking to keep Prescott as the team’s starter and are set to release or trade long-time quarterback Tony Romo. That means that Prescott will only see more snaps in the season to come and become even more proficient in an offense he’s proven he can run with extreme efficiency.

Dak Prescott’s full 2016-17 stat line:

 Source: Wikipedia

Ezekiel Elliott (RB) – The Dallas Cowboys

Source: withthefirstpick.com

A veritable football and athletic maven, Ezekiel Elliott was the wind to Prescott’s sails in a nearly unstoppable Dallas Cowboys offense. Also in his rookie year, Elliot was the NFL’s best running back of the 2016 season.

With crazy stupid stats like 1,631 yards rushing on 322 attempts, 5.1 yards per carry, a whopping 108.7 yards per game, and 363 yards receiving on 40 targets, Elliott cemented his position as one of the best rookie running backs of all time.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the best rookie RB performances for comparison:

Earl Campbell (Houston Oilers):

  • 302 carries
  • 1,450 rushing yards
  • 8 yards per carry
  • 13 rushing touchdowns
  • 12 receptions
  • 48 receiving yards

Eric Dickerson (Los Angeles Rams):

  • 390 carries
  • 1,808 rushing yards
  • 6 yards per carry
  • 18 rushing touchdowns
  • 51 receptions
  • 404 receiving yards
  • 2 touchdown receptions

Barry Sanders (Detroit Lions):

  • 280 carries
  • 1,470 rushing yards
  • 14 rushing touchdowns
  • 3 yards per attempt
  • 24 receptions
  • 282 receiving yards

Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings):

  • 238 carries
  • 1,341 rushing yards
  • 6 yards per carry
  • 12 rushing touchdowns
  • 19 receptions
  • 268 receiving yards
  • 1 touchdown reception

From the looks of it, Elliott is in amazing company, and he’s set to grow exponentially in his second season with a Cowboys offense led by (another) rookie phenom in Dak Prescott. With the stats he put up during the 2016 season, as well as being selected to his first Pro Bowl, being named First-Team All-Pro, being named the NFL’s 2016 leading rusher, and chosen as the PFWA NFL Rookie of the Year, it’s hard to argue against Elliot being on the cover of Madden 18.

Bonus: Derek Carr (QB) – The Oakland Raiders

Source: sportingnews.com

Could it be? Are the Oakland Raiders relevant again? With third-year quarterback Derek Carr at the helm of a burgeoning offensive juggernaut, the potentially soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders are poised for a huge and momentous 2017.

Before going down to with a broken fibula in Week 16 at home against the Indianapolis Colts, Carr was in the driver’s seat of a Raiders post season appearance, perhaps with even a first round bye and home field advantage. That’s right, the Raider’s season was looking that good. But with Carr down for the count, Oakland’s finest fizzled out and quickly found themselves on the sidelines.

Statistically, it’s difficult to say that the 2016 season was Carr’s best: he’s been on a steady (and reliable) trajectory since being drafted in round two by the Raiders in the 2014 NFL draft. In those three years, he’s passed for 11,194 total yards on 1,055 completions, scoring 81 total touchdowns. 2016 did see his highest completion rate at 63.8 percent, his fewest amount of interceptions at 6, and his highest QBR at 96.7 percent. And that was through 15 games.

With the Raider’s upper management making stupid smart moves in the draft to sure up their offensive line, a freakish DE/OLB in Khalil Mack, and a well-seasoned and competent head coach in Jack Del Rio, Carr and the Raiders look poised to make another run at the Super Bowl in 2017.

Derek Carr's full 2016-17 stat line:

Source: Wikipedia

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Every year, it’s really a toss-up as to who’s chosen to grace the cover of the latest Madden game. And there are always worthy players who never make the cover, no matter their stat lines or accomplishments. It’s also highly probable that greats like Aaron Rodgers, Le’Veon Bell, Joey Bosa, LeGarrette Blount, Jarvis Landry, Khalil Mack, David Johnson, and Antonio Brown could grace this year’s cover. Only time (and voting) will tell.

Who do you think should be on the cover of Madden NFL 18? Sound off in the comments below!

Published Feb. 11th 2017

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