From the Armchair: 5 Madden NFL 21 Cover Athlete Predictions
NFL football is over, which means that a new season is in full swing: Madden hype season. And with it comes a slew of questions. What new features will Madden 21 bring to the table? Will EA finally fix some longstanding issues with the franchise? And most importantly, who will be the Madden 21 cover athlete?
The 2019 season was marked by high-flying and dynamic offenses, so it's a safe bet that the cover athlete will come from that side of the ball. So why not start with the unanimous regular-season MVP?
Lamar Jackson (QB) — Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson is the safest bet for the Madden 21 cover athlete. Sure, he flamed out spectacularly in the postseason after getting shellacked by the Tennessee Titans, but overall, he was, without question, the best player in the league this year.
Jackson shattered records in 2019, setting the single-season record for QB rushing yards (and rushing touchdowns), while also becoming the first quarterback to throw for over 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in a season. Perhaps most impressively, he silenced the critics that said he was a gimmick quarterback using his legs to mask a lack of arm strength and accuracy.
All that is well and good, but numbers alone aren't enough to put an athlete on the cover of Madden. The stunning thing about Lamar Jackson, and what I believe solidifies his status as the frontrunner above all, is that he's just fun to watch.
The Baltimore Ravens' offense is dynamic and aggressive, full of unpredictable play calls that take advantage of both Jackson's quickness and arm strength. It'd be a huge surprise if anyone other than Lamar Jackson is on the cover.
Tom Brady (QB) — New England Patriots
Yes, he's ancient by football standards. Yes, he's long past his prime. Yes, the Titans' defense made him look like a scared child. Yes, there's no guarantee (yet) that he'll even be on the New England Patriots next year. For any other player, this would almost categorically remove them from consideration for the Madden cover. Not so for Tom Brady.
It's more of a long shot than some of the other picks on this list, granted, but Tom Brady is still arguably the best quarterback to ever play the game. And if this season is indeed his last with the Patriots, it wouldn't be out of the question for EA to plop Brady on the cover as a bit of a career retrospective.
I think this is more likely to happen when Brady finally does retire, but it's not entirely out of the question this year either, even if he was on the cover a few years ago.
Derrick Henry (RB) — Tennessee Titans
If Brady or Jackson don't make the cover, it stands to reason that EA might give the honor to the man who steamrolled them both. Derrick Henry had a very respectable season as the Titans' star running back, but he really shone bright in the postseason, dicing up the vaunted Patriots defense before bulldozing the Ravens.
Henry's stats are impressive, sure, but the reason he appears on this list is that he's just so freaking strong. He's a running back in the Marshawn Lynch tradition; he's fast and nimble, sure, but he can also bust through a defensive line like he's the Kool-Aid Man. In the open field, it routinely takes three or more defenders to bring him down.
He's a special player, and though there is plenty of talent on the Titans (especially on the defensive side of the ball), Derrick Henry is near single-handedly responsible for the team's success in 2019. What makes it more impressive is that every team the Titans faced this season knew they have a run-with-Derrick-Henry-until-the-opposing-team-can-stop-it gameplan.
Most elite teams in the NFL still couldn't stop it. Not only did Henry carry the ball, he carried the team.
Patrick Mahomes (QB) — Kansas City Chiefs
This would be a controversial pick for the next Madden cover athlete, specifically because he, um, was on the Madden 20 cover just last year. But there are a few compelling arguments for Mahomes, above and beyond his amazingly freakish skill set.
First, and most obvious, is that he was the star of the Super Bowl, specifically the Super Bowl 54 MVP. Second, in leading the Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory, Mahomes broke the storied Madden curse. You don't have to look far to see the havoc that the Madden curse has wrought.
16 of the 22 athletes who have appeared on the cover of Madden over the years have either been injured, had shortened seasons, or flamed out in the season following the game's release. Mahomes broke that streak by winning the Super Bowl.
Is that enough to win Mahomes the cover? Probably not. But then again, it's not impossible!
Michael Thomas (WR) — New Orleans Saints
Let's end with the athlete not named Lamar Jackson that I think is most likely to land the cover spot: Michael Thomas.
Thomas was the best wide receiver in the NFL last year, setting a new single-season record for receptions, and leading the league in yards per game. Above and beyond that, Thomas was responsible for some of the most amazing, acrobatic catches all year. If nothing else, the cover photo would be incredibly dynamic.
The other arrow in Thomas's quiver is that he's been passed over multiple times for the Madden cover despite putting up silly numbers over the past few seasons. He was a Top-10 receiver in both yardage, receptions, and first downs as far back as 2017. He added to that in 2018, becoming a Top-10 receiver in total touchdowns as well, and leading the league in receptions.
In 2019, however, he became a full-on gamebreaker. Thomas led the league in receptions, yards per game, first downs, receptions per game, total receptions, and total yards. Antonio Brown got the cover spot for 2019 and only led the league in one of those stats: total touchdowns. If Madden doesn't pick a QB, a lot of people would be rightfully mad if it doesn't pick Thomas.
Regardless of who appears on the cover, we can all breathe a huge sigh of relief that the young Patrick Mahomes did the dirty work of breaking the Madden Curse, freeing us to root for our favorite players to appear on the cover without fear that they'd, like, tear their ACL or something.
So thank you Mahomes, for removing the biggest Madden-related stressor, other than the fact that defenses still cannot stop the TE Angle play.