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Michael RothsteinESPN Staff WriterAug 18, 2023, 07:26 AM ET15 Minute Read

Sauce Gardner: I wouldn’t be surprised if Aaron Rodgers was a 99 in Madden

Sauce Gardner joins Field Yates to discuss Aaron Rodgers’ Madden NFL 24 rating and why he wouldn’t be surprised to see it go up.

In some ways, the Madden NFL 24 video game, which was released Friday, is heading back to the future.

For the first time in years, the game has brought back minigames to help development in franchise mode. In that mode, EA Sports has revamped some of the trade logic and offered more spots to trade players and picks. The company has continued to tweak free agency, too, and offered ways to pick the strength of draft classes and new cities across the world to relocate, too (including Melbourne, Australia).

Within the game play, developers have attempted to get smarter with artificial intelligence improvements, added different ways to tackle and upgraded the mechanics of blocking for offensive linemen.

Players are expected to move with more realistic motion than in years past. The game also is bringing back its Superstar mode, which allows a user to create a player and guide him through a career.

While all these things are coming back, there is one thing that will be missing. For the first time in decades, users won’t be able to play as retired quarterback Tom Brady (unless he is created from scratch or added via Madden Ultimate Team), but don’t worry, there are plenty of other signal-callers to use.

Here’s what you need to know about player ratings and the best (and worst) teams in Madden NFL 24:

99 Club

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
Zack Martin, OG, Dallas Cowboys
Aaron Donald, DE, Los Angeles Rams
Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings

After a year without a quarterback in the 99 club, Mahomes returns to the top rating in the game following another Super Bowl season. He has brought his teammate, Kelce, marking the second time in three seasons both Chiefs have been 99s at launch.

Donald set the all-time 99 club record at launch this year, passing Peyton Manning with his seventh selection. After not having offensive linemen as a 99 overall since Madden 07, the game has now gone back-to-back years with San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Trent Williams last season (he begins this year as a 98) and now Martin, the best guard in the game.

Jefferson continues the tradition of having at least one receiver as a 99. The last time that didn’t happen was Madden 18.

Who has the best shot of joining the 99 club during the season? Williams is one player, as is his San Francisco teammate Nick Bosa (98 overall). So is the first member of the 99 club in Cleveland Browns history, Myles Garrett (98 overall). Don’t be surprised if Miami Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill (98 overall) or Dallas Cowboys edge rusher Micah Parsons (97 overall) get there at some point, too. If you’re looking for someone a little further down the list, consider Joe Burrow (95 overall), though his status for Week 1 is uncertain as he returns from a calf strain.

Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald was named a member of the 99 Club for the seventh time in his career, passing Peyton Manning for the most all time.Courtesy EA Madden NFL

Lowest-rated players

Zach Triner, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (26 overall)
Ross Matiscik, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars (26 overall)
Matt Orzech, TE, Green Bay Packers (26 overall)
Joe Cardona, TE, New England Patriots (26 overall)
Alex Ward, TE, Los Angeles Rams (26 overall)
Zach Wood, TE, New Orleans Saints (26 overall)

This is always the unfortunate reality of the long-snappers in Madden, who don’t have their own position because of constructs within the game. So instead, they end up as tight ends with very, very low ratings. Good news for Cardona, Wood and Orzech, though: They moved up a ratings point last season from 25 to 26.

Among non-long-snappers, Houston Texans defensive end Jacob Martin is the lowest-rated player at a 45 overall, followed by Green Bay quarterback Danny Etling (48 overall), Chicago Bears quarterback Nathan Peterman (49 overall), free agent center Jon Toth (49) and free agent quarterback Kevin Hogan (49). Martin seems underrated, as he has played in 74 career games with 16 sacks and was a core special teams player with the New York Jets and Denver Broncos last season.


Best rookies

Bijan Robinson, RB, Atlanta Falcons (81 overall)
Jalen Carter, DT, Philadelphia Eagles (79 overall)
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Seattle Seahawks (78 overall)
Devon Witherspoon, CB, Seattle Seahawks (78 overall)
Will Anderson Jr., LE, Houston Texans (78 overall)

For the second time in three seasons, a rookie is starting his Madden career as an 81 overall. Both times, it has been an Atlanta Falcon. In Madden 22, it was tight end Kyle Pitts. This year, it’s the Falcons’ No. 8 pick, Robinson, who should be viewed more as an offensive option than strictly a running back.

All of the top five rookies were first-round picks, and all but Smith-Njigba went in the top five. Carter, who had off-field questions, was considered one of the top talents in the draft, Witherspoon potentially the top corner and Anderson Jr. perhaps the safest pick in the draft. Smith-Njigba is questionable, mostly because he missed the majority of his final season at Ohio State.

The No. 1 pick in the draft, Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young, is a 74 overall and the highest-rated rookie quarterback. No. 2 pick C.J. Stroud (Houston) is a 73 overall and No. 4 pick Anthony Richardson (Indianapolis) is a 70 overall.

The biggest surprise might be Miami running back De’Von Achane, who at 76 overall is the highest-rated pick outside the first round, tied with first-rounders Emmanuel Forbes (Washington), Deonte Banks (Giants) Dalton Kincaid (Buffalo) and Peter Skoronski (Tennessee).

The lowest-rated rookies are tight ends (long-snappers in real life) Alex Ward (Los Angeles Rams) at 26 overall and Seattle’s Chris Stoll at 33 overall, followed by a trio of quarterbacks: the Rams’ Dresser Winn (50 overall), Chicago’s Tyson Bagent (52 overall) and Seattle’s Holton Ahlers (54 overall).


Need for Speed

Tyreek Hill, WR, Miami Dolphins (99)
Jameson Williams, WR, Detroit Lions (98)
Riq Woolen, CB, Seattle Seahawks (98)
Jaylen Waddle, WR, Miami Dolphins (98)

Hill is once again the only player with 99 speed in the game, and Williams is back for his second season as a 98 overall. Waddle bumped up from a 97 to a 98 in speed, giving the Dolphins the speediest receiving corps in the game (and real life). Woolen played incredibly well last year and showed his speed capabilities to take the top defensive speed spot.

The Dolphins’ speed runs deep, as five Miami players have 95 or better — Hill, Waddle, running backs De’Von Achane (95) and Raheem Mostert (95), and receiver Robbie Chosen (95). Good luck defending that.

The slowest player in the game is free agent left tackle Martez Ivey (45), followed by Kansas City defensive tackle Danny Shelton (49) and last year’s slowest player, free agent right tackle Bobby Hart (49).

The slowest non-lineman continues to be free agent kicker Robbie Gould (56), as he has been the past three games. Among those on rosters to start the game, Pittsburgh punter Pressley Harvin III is the slowest non-lineman at 60.


Strongest

Aaron Donald, DE, Los Angeles Rams (99)
Vita Vea, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (98)
Trent Williams, OT, San Francisco 49ers (98)

The top three strongest players remain the same for the second straight season, and Donald is a 99 strength rating for the fifth consecutive year. He’s continuing to make his case for the best interior defensive lineman ever (and on the short list for best defensive player of all time).

Vea has been a strength stalwart his entire career, and Williams is the strongest offensive lineman, followed by Indianapolis Colts left guard Quenton Nelson, Baltimore Ravens left guard Andrew Vorhees and Cowboys right guard Zack Martin, all of whom are 97s.

The weakest in the game is Gould, who is a 25 for the fifth straight year. He’s followed by Tennessee kicker Caleb Shudak (27). Philadelphia wide receiver Britain Covey (39) is the only non-kicker/punter below 40.


Got a cannon

Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills (99)
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs (97)
Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers (96)
Anthony Richardson, QB, Indianapolis Colts (95)

So your arm is not so strong

Ryan Griffin, QB, free agent (77)
Kevin Hogan, QB, free agent (79)
AJ McCarron, QB, free agent (81)
Alex McGough, QB, free agent (81)

Allen, Mahomes and Herbert have the same ratings they did as a season ago, and Richardson replaces Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford at No. 4 with a 95 (Stafford is now a 92). In all, 30 quarterbacks have throw power of 90 or above, a jump from 25 last season. This is notable because starting with Madden 20, ratings makers wanted to spread out throw power, but it’s bunching up again.

Richardson and Tennessee quarterback Will Levis (94) are the only rookies with throw power over 90.

The four quarterbacks with the lowest throw power are starting the game as free agents. Among those on teams, the Rams’ Dresser Winn (83), the Vikings’ Jaren Hall (83), the Rams’ Stetson Bennett (84) and the Packers’ Sean Clifford (84) have the lowest throw power.

Among non-quarterbacks, Philadelphia tight end Tyree Jackson (93), Washington tight end Logan Thomas (86) and New Orleans tight end Taysom Hill (84) have the strongest arms — and all three played quarterback during their NFL careers.

Josh Allen’s first pick when playing Madden? ‘Stefon Diggs’

Josh Allen says he’d draft his teammate Stefon Diggs first if he was putting together a team in Madden.


Best hands

Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams (99)
Tyler Lockett, WR, Seattle Seahawks (98)
Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings (98)
Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills (98)

Kupp has the best catching rating in the game for the second straight year, while Davante Adams is not a 99 in catching for the first time since Madden 21 (he’s a 97). Diggs kept his rating from a season ago, while Jefferson, the game’s top receiver, stepped into a 98 along with Lockett.

Jefferson led the NFL in receptions last season (128), Diggs had a 70.1 catch percentage, and Lockett caught 71.8% of his targets. Kupp has caught at least 70.1% of his targets every year since 2018, his second in the NFL.

The lowest catch rating for a non-lineman belongs to … Gould, with a 15. Five linemen — the Giants’ Jack Anderson and Ben Bredeson, Carolina’s Bradley Bozeman, Baltimore’s Ben Cleveland and the Jets’ Wes Schweitzer — have the game’s lowest overall catch rating at 12.


Can’t catch me (acceleration)

Tyreek Hill, WR, Miami Dolphins (99)
DJ Turner, CB, Cincinnati Bengals (98)
Deonte Banks, CB, New York Giants (97)
Jartavius Martin, FS, Washington Commanders (97)
Jakorian Bennett, CB, Las Vegas Raiders (97)
Jaylen Waddle, WR, Miami Dolphins (97)

Miami receivers once again rule the list as the only two defensive players in the top of the ratings. Hill (98) and Waddle (97) are also two of the three most agile players in the game, along with Tampa Bay cornerback Zyon McCollum (97).

If you’re facing the Dolphins, having Turner, Banks, Bennett or Martin could help. All have at least 90 speed — Bennett has 96 and Banks 94, making them dynamic potential options to catch speedy receivers and backs if they break free.

Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson has the top quarterback acceleration in the game with 96, followed by Chicago’s Justin Fields with a 95.


Tackle-breakers

Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns (99)
Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders (97)
Javonte Williams, RB, Denver Broncos (96)
Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans (94)

None of these players are surprising here. Chubb led the category a year ago, although he’s now a 99 instead of a 98. Williams also jumped up from a 94 to a 96. Henry has been one of the hardest runners to bring down over the past half-decade and led the NFL with 349 carries last season, while Jacobs was first in yardage with 1,653.

Only one non-running back is over a 90 in break tackle at launch this year — San Francisco receiver Deebo Samuel with a 92 — and only nine players are above 90: Chubb, Jacobs, Williams, Henry, Houston’s Dameon Pierce (93), Samuel, Indianapolis’ Jonathan Taylor (92) and the Giants’ Saquon Barkley (91).


Stiff-armers

Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans (99)
Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns (96)
Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders (95)
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts (92)

The only change here in the top four is that Jacobs replaces Arizona’s James Conner. Henry should have the top stiff-arm in Madden as long as he’s in the league, as he has made memes out of defenders. Deebo Samuel is the top non-running back at the stiff arm skill with an 88.


Spin-cycled

Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants (89)
Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills (89)
Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams (88)
Tyler Lockett, WR, Seattle Seahawks (88)

There’s a change at the top, as this was Christian McCaffrey’s domain last season. Now Barkley and Diggs are tied for first: Diggs remains an 89, and Barkley moved from 88 to 89. McCaffrey is tied with his teammate, Samuel, at an 85 spin move. Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu has the best spin move rating for a defensive player (85), one point ahead of his New Orleans teammate Alvin Kamara (84).


Best jukers

Tyreek Hill, WR, Miami Dolphins (98)
Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills (97)
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Baltimore Ravens (96)
Kadarius Toney, WR, Kansas City Chiefs (95)
Dalvin Cook, RB, New York Jets (95)

Hill and Diggs maintain the top two spots as the best jukers, as they did a season ago. Beckham, back from a torn ACL, seems like he’s getting a lot of respect here, and Toney is one of the best movers of the younger group of receivers in the game. Cook has long been considered one of the best jukers in the league and was a 94 last season. Hill is probably the most fun non-quarterback to play with in the game, considering his speed (99), acceleration (99), agility (98), catching (94) and change of direction (99).


Five players outside the top five at their position to start a franchise with

Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars (82 overall): Putting Justin Herbert here would feel like cheating because he’s close to the top five. Lawrence has good speed (87), enough arm strength (93), an 85 break sack rating and good accuracy numbers (88 short, 84 middle, 85 deep). Plus, at age 23, he has room to grow.

Anthony Richardson, QB, Indianapolis Colts (70 overall): It’s a close call between Richardson and Chicago’s Justin Fields, who was on this list last year, as young dual-threat quarterbacks you can build with. Valuing arm strength (Richardson is a 95, while Fields is a 91) over speed (Fields is a 93, Richardson a 91), Richardson is the better choice. Fields is more accurate (85 short, 79 medium, 82 deep) than Richardson (76 short, 75 medium, 76 deep), but both can improve. Plus Richardson (22) is two years younger, which matters in Madden.

Brian Burns, OLB, Carolina Panthers (87 overall): If you want to build defensively, Burns is the place to start. He’s No. 7 among left outside linebackers and is just 25 years old. His 88 speed and 91 acceleration will be problematic for opposing offensive lineman, and his 79 hit power combined with his 87 finesse moves rating will help, too.

Rashawn Slater, LT, Los Angeles Chargers (85 overall): To be fair, this is not the most exhilarating place to build a franchise. But Madden offensive linemen are tougher to develop and at age 24, Slater is one of the best. Plus, he’s going to protect your quarterback’s blind side for a long time. Slater edged another 24-year-old, Christian Darrisaw, because his pass-block rating is a little better (87 to 84), although Darrishaw is a better run-blocker (89 to 87). It’s a close call because Darrishaw is a slightly better pass-blocker against power (87 to 86), but you can’t go wrong either way.

A.J. Terrell Jr., CB, Atlanta Falcons (87 overall): Like Slater, Terrell was on this list last year, too. At age 24, he’s rated high enough he could get to a 99 faster than most, and both Pat Surtain and Sauce Gardner are already top five at the position. Terrell’s 92 speed and acceleration are valuable. While his 83 man coverage rating is a little concerning, his 92 zone coverage rating is excellent. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. — especially if you control the position defensively — is intriguing because he has an 89 speed rating with 91 acceleration and an 88 zone coverage rating. And he is just 25.


Teams you do and don’t want to play with

Top teams overall: Chiefs (92), Eagles (91), Bills (90)
Bottom teams overall: Cardinals (72), Rams (73), Titans (74)

Top offenses: Chiefs (91), Bengals (91), Eagles (90)
Bottom offenses: Packers (69), Commanders (70), Titans (71)

Top defenses: Bills (88), 49ers (88), Cowboys (87)
Bottom defenses: Cardinals (66), Rams (67), Texans (72)

Top special teams: Ravens (90), Raiders (83), Chiefs (82)
Bottom special teams: Broncos (66), Titans (66), Cowboys (66)

Aaron Donald makes record 7th appearance as 99 overall in Madden

Aaron Donald joins the 99 Club in Madden NFL 24 for a seventh time, setting a record for most appearances.

While the Chiefs are the best team in the game, they are not close to balanced, which could be a problem if you’re not a good defensive player. The team’s 81 defensive rating is close to the middle of the league.

Buffalo is the most balanced team in the game (90 overall, 89 offense, 88 defense), with Dallas (88 overall, 88 offense, 87 defense), Cleveland (87 overall, 85 offense, 83 defense) and Miami (86 overall, 83 offense, 86 defense) offering more than Kansas City.

The Cardinals and Rams defenses are the lowest rated since at least Madden 20 — and consider how bad the Rams’ virtual defense is considering Aaron Donald is on it. The biggest challenge in the game would be playing as Arizona, the lowest-rated team but also one without a defense that can do much and with an offense that could be difficult to move.

If you’re playing as Arizona in franchise mode, at least you’ll have two first-round picks to play with after the 2023 season.

Depending on your style of play, the Dolphins would probably be the most fun team to use in the game if you like speed and big-play offense. If you like getting after quarterbacks and causing defensive havoc, the Cowboys and 49ers will likely fit you quite well.

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