From the Armchair: 6 Madden NFL 19 Cover Athlete Predictions
It's already time to dial in our predictions for Madden 19's cover athlete. In the wake of Super Bowl 52, where the Philadelphia Eagles knocked off the New England Patriots for their first Championship of the Super Bowl era, and with the combine already behind us, it's time to turn our attention to Madden 19.
While many football fans tuned in to the Super Bowl for the zany commercials -- or just to watch the “Evil Empire” burn -- other NFL fans were thinking of something grander, something much more meaningful than the Lombardi Trophy. And while scouts were watching college standouts show out in the combine, I was thinking of the legends that would make the cover of Madden NFL 19.
OK. Maybe I was the only one actually thinking about Madden NFL 19’s cover during the Super Bowl and throughout the combine, but I get paid to think about these things. So here we are, nearly a month later -- and we’re only slightly closer to having the answers we seek.
So who are we left with now that Brady didn’t secure his sixth Super Bowl Championship? Well, there are the obvious contenders, of course. But there are also others I think have a legitimate shot of making the cover this year that you may not have considered. With the relative parity in the NFL throughout the 2017 season, it's really anybody's game.
Carson Wentz & Nick Foles (QBs) -- Philadelphia Eagles
We’ve had two athletes on the cover before -- so why not now?
While one of these quarterbacks was a second-year phenom and the other a grizzled back-up veteran, both of these quarterbacks rose to the occasion time and time again throughout the 2017 NFL season. Sure, the Eagles had plenty of standout players on their roster, but without either of these quarterbacks, the Eagles would’ve been going through mock draft scenarios in early February instead of competing for a Super Bowl title.
If I had to put my money on it, I’d say at least one of these guys makes the cover of Madden NFL 19 -- if not both of them.
Looking at Wentz's 2017 performance, it’s impossible to deny he had one of the best sophomore seasons in NFL history. Comparing his '17 statline against his 2016 statline, it's immediately apparent he was well on track to obliterate his fantastic rookie-year numbers. What’s more impressive is that he drastically reduced the number of interceptions thrown in 2017, while at the same time dramatically increasing the number of touchdowns thrown (of which he now holds the Eagle’s single-season record at 33).
Add to that nearly a 30 point increase in passer rating (79.3 to 101.9) and the fact he did that with three fewer games under his belt due to a season-ending ACL injury in Week 14 against the Los Angeles Rams, and Carson Wentz is basically a no-brainer for Madden 19’s cover.
Looking at Foles, it’s true that his numbers are nothing to write home about, especially when you compare them to Wentz’s. But this is where I’m drinking the Kool-Aid and going with intangibles.
We’ve seen Nick Foles struggle with the Eagles, Rams, and Chiefs in the past. In fact, he’s a career backup and not necessarily someone you want helming your offense for the long term. But we saw something in 2017 that we’ve never really seen from Nick Foles before: complete resolve and confidence under pressure.
Foles essentially put the Eagles on his back and not only played not to lose -- but expressly played to win. The two things that immediately stand out when looking at his 2017 postseason stat line are his TD/INT ratio and his passer rating. Both are exactly where you want them to be -- especially for a QB that basically played only two games for the Eagles in 2017.
It’s safe to say that without Nick Foles as the backup to Carson Wentz, the Eagles most likely would’ve fizzled in the playoffs, squandering a miraculous season and going home early. And to think, Nick Foles once thought about retiring.
Jacksonville Jaguars Defense
Source: The New York Times
While we’re on the topic of having multiple athletes on the cover of Madden NFL 19, no list of this magnitude would be complete without including the Jacksonville Jaguars defense.
But I hear you say, "The Vikings had the number-one-rated defense in 2017 -- how can the Jags be on this list and not them?" Well, it’s simple really: the Jaguars were in the top six in terms of PPG, YPG, rushing TDs allowed per game, sacks per game, opponent passer rating, interceptions, and takeaways.
They were the only team of the final four to accomplish that feat.
With standouts like Calais Campbell, Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Yannick Ngakoue, and more, the Jaguars gave opposing defenses fits for the entire NFL season (not to mention the time they made Big Ben question whether he “still had it”). Fifteen defensive players registered 20 or more total tackles in the 2017 campaign, and the entire team registered 950 total tackles -- only 114 fewer tackles than all of their opponents combined. On top of that, five Jaguars players worked together to secure 21 total interceptions combined.
And those stats are just in the regular season.
Considering the season as a whole, it’s no wonder four Jaguars players went to the 2018 Pro Bowl (the team’s first representatives since 1999). The most important fact about that stat? All of them were on defense. No other team had as many defensive players play in the Pro Bowl this year as the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Because of that -- and because the defense was the primary reason the team was even in the playoffs for the first time in 10 years -- "Sacksonville" is a solid contender for the cover of Madden NFL 19.
Alvin Kamara (RB) -- New Orleans Saints
Named Offensive Rookie of the Year by the NFL at large, Alvin Kamara had an astounding season for the New Orleans Saints. Confident and electric, Kamara immobilized defenses around the league and surged to a league-best 6.1 yards per carry for RBs with 120 carries or more. Looking at his overall stat line, it’s easy to get caught up in his numbers on the ground. Netting 728 yards running between the tackles, Kamara only fumbled the ball once, while putting the pigskin in the endzone eight times.
Of course, those numbers alone are impressive for a 22-year-old rookie. But when you look at his receiving numbers, his total contribution to the Saints offensive comes into full, mind-boggling focus. A constant target for quarterback Drew Brees, Kamara was able to gash opposing secondaries for 826 yards and five touchdowns on 81 receptions.
Tack on to that Kamara was also a dangerous return man -- netting 347 yards on 11 attempts with a touchdown -- and it’s obvious why he was the best rookie in the NFL in 2017.
A fantastic running back can make any quarterback or team look good. And although the Saints got beat on a miracle by the Vikings in the NFC Divisional round, it’s clear that one of the main reasons they were in the playoffs at all was because of Alvin Kamara.
Todd Gurley II (RB) -- Los Angeles Rams
Speaking of running backs, third-year running back Todd Gurley II had another standout season for the Los Angeles Rams. Expertly complementing a much-improved Jared Goff (QB), the dynamic Gurley II improved on his numbers over his previous two seasons with the Rams and proved to be one of the best offensive players in all of football this season.
Surpassing only Le’Veon Bell in 2017, Gurley II produced 1,305 yards on 279 carries. He averaged 4.7 yards per attempt, had eight carriers for more than 20 yards, and put the pigskin in the endzone 13 times on the ground. Not only does Gurley II make himself a formidable weapon going between the tackles, but he’s proven that he can be a hobgoblin on the edges, too.
That means he’s a great target in the passing game. Looking at his 2017 statline, it’s clear Gurley II was (and is) a weapon of mass destruction, wreaking havoc on opponent secondaries. Across 48 receptions, Gurley II secured 788 yards with 16.4 YPC. He also found the endzone six times.
Those numbers make him a worthy contender for Madden 19’s cover athlete.
Antonio Brown (WR) -- Pittsburgh Steelers
There’s little doubt Antonio Brown is one of the best wide receivers to ever play the game of football. He’s a six-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro, two-time NFL receiving yards leader, and a two-time NFL receptions leader. Oh, and he was drafted in 2010, so he’s done all of that in eight seasons.
Looking at the wideout field in 2017, Brown was at the top of the class, only rivaled by the Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins.
Brown had an insane '17 statline: 1,533 yards receiving across 99 receptions, 15.5 YPC, 109.5 YPG, and nine touchdowns. Even though the Jaguars defeated the Steelers in the AFC Divisional Round, Brown was a big reason the Steelers almost came out on top, outclassing some of the best players in one of the league’s best secondaries. Take a look at the footage and it’s clear Brown is a monster at the position.
He wasn’t targeted as many time as Hopkins -- that's true -- and he wasn’t the only target for Big Ben like Hopkins was for T.J. Yates and Tom Savage -- that's true, too. But Brown made plenty of impossible catches to keep his team in the hunt -- and to help the Steelers lead the league in passing yards per game and get into the playoffs.
And when you compare him to Hopkins in 2017, Brown had eight 100+ yard games, while Hopkins had five. Tack on to that Brown has eight 1,000+ yard seasons in his career, and it’s about time he made the cover of Madden.
Sean McVay (HC) -- Los Angeles Rams
Not since the eponymous John Madden graced the cover of Madden 2000 have we had a coach featured on the binding of a Madden game.
But it’s time to change that.
When he was hired by the Los Angeles Rams to replace Jeff Fisher in 2017, 30-year-old Sean McVay became the youngest head coach in modern NFL history. On paper, that might seem like a recipe for continued disaster for the then-abysmal Rams. But in a bit of irony, it was astounding what McVay was able to do with the Rams in 2017.
Taking the team to its first playoff appearance in 13 years, McVay and the Rams may have lost to the Atlanta Falcons in the Wild Card round, but it's one of the few times a loss can be seen as promising. That McVay was even able to steer his team to a winning record and the playoffs in his first season speaks volumes to his uncanny coaching acumen. Whereas Fisher misused key pieces of the Rams offense and defense, McVay built a culture that took the team from 4-12 in 2016 to 11-6 in 2017.
We’ve already looked at Todd Gurley II and the monster season he had under McVay’s tutelage (Gurley II had 881 more total yards and 13 more touchdowns in 2017 than he did in 2016). But taking a closer look at second-year QB Jared Goff and the Rams defense highlights McVay’s ability to generate a winning team culture.
In 2017, Goff won 11 games and threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 28 TDs across 296 completions. In 2016, he lost all of the games he started (seven) and threw for a measly 1,089 yards and five touchdowns across 112 completions. Whereas 2016 was a harbinger of a wasted career, 2017 showed that Goff really is worth the hype.
And under Fisher, that most likely wouldn’t have been the case.
In 2016, the Rams offense ranked dead last in the league, while the team’s defense ranked 23rd, seven spots from dead last. To say the team was in shambles is an understatement. But in 2017, under McVay, the Rams ranked first in total offense and 12th in total defense. If that’s not a turnaround, I don’t know what is.
So if we were ever going to get a coach on the cover of Madden (sans Bill Belichick), Sean McVay is the perfect candidate -- and his time is now.
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 Le’Veon Bell, Khalil Mack, DeAndre Hopkins, or the Vikings defense could grace this year’s cover. Only time (and voting) will tell.
Who do you think should be on the cover of Madden NFL 19? Sound off in the comments below!