Every year, Madden NFL‘s ratings reveal week is a point of discussion. Boardroom spoke to EA about the process and science behind it all.
As with any Madden game in recent years, ratings reveal week is one of the most-talked-about, fun controversies that occur during every offseason. With the game dating all the way back to 1989, veterans have long awaited to see if game developers will improve upon their ratings in previous releases. Rookies are excited to see themselves for the first time in a video game. Each year, the game causes a frenzy amongst players.
This year, fans and players alike have been in an uproar about players such as Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard, and Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Chase, who broke nearly every rookie receiving record, is rated at an 87 — even though he had more yards and touchdowns than some of his peers. Howard is an 89, a few notches below other cornerbacks with comparable stats . Minkah Fitzpatrick, a two-time first team All-Pro safety, will not be a top-10 rated safety when the game releases.
Boardroom spoke to EA Sports’ Donny Moore, one of the game’s lead ratings adjusters, about the process of rating players.
The process that Moore describes is very calculated. Ratings adjusters use tools like Pro Football Focus, Next Gen Stats, and Dane Brugler’s “The Beast” scouting report to measure players.
“We take our jobs very seriously,” Moore said. “At the end of the day, it’s about authenticity. We are very passionate about how the ratings capture the NFL realism. We will always listen to the players, but we are sure we got this down. We’re looking at all these numbers, ranking everybody amongst all their different data points, so we feel pretty good.”
The team has also brought in former NFLers to be ratings adjusters. Two high-profile men that are a part of the program are Barry Sanders and Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson. The thought is that players will be more accepting of changes in their ratings if there are former players who are a part of the process. Moore said the program has definitely helped, but there will always be someone who wants something changed.
A consistent subject of discussion is rookie ratings. In most cases, standout rookie players don’t enter the game any higher than an 80 overall. At the NFL Rookie Premiere, Ochocinco took many rookies through a game of predicting their rookie ratings. In rare cases, there were rookies who were able to guess correctly, but in most occasions, the young players overestimated how high Madden ratings adjustors place their skills at.
“We spend a lot of time really fine tuning rookie ratings,” Moore said. “A colleague of mine, Dustin Smith, will have a handful of positions. I will have a handful of positions, and we basically work through them. Dane Brugler, an NFL Draft Analyst that writes for The Athletic, is a main source of information for the adjusters. Brugler had a total of 399 scouting reports and ranked 1,698 players over the course of scouting the 2022 NFL Draft.
Moore said he and Smith also use other sources, too. “My theory is the more opinions I can get, the more a picture starts to get painted, and I know it’s going to be an accurate description.”
He also acknowledges that there are misses along the way.
“NFL teams miss,” he said. “The Patriots and Belicheck missed on Tom Brady. If they liked him so much, they would’ve taken him earlier in the draft. Everybody has misses, and we are always happy to admit to it, speak up for it, and change it in game via the roster updates or during the offseason.”
Second-year Ratings & Injuries
Another challenge is rating second-year players. With only one year of play, stats, and footage to look at, ratings adjusters have to find balance. Ja’Marr Chase, Micah Parsons, and Rashawn Slater are all prime example of players who had standout rookie seasons. Despite the outcry of fans, Chase actually improved. He ended Madden 22 with an 85 overall — 10 overall points higher than when he entered the game. Fans could still argue that Chase is underrated.
That is because there are players like Saints wideout Michael Thomas and Christian McCaffrey who have played 15 total games between them out of a combined 66 total but maintain a high overall rating. Michael Thomas, who has played five games in two years, is rated higher than the Bengals receiver.
“What do we do to guys that have been hurt? Their level of play has not necessarily gone down; they just haven’t had the opportunity,” Moore explained.
Thomas was once a member of the 99 overall club in Madden 21 but will now be a 90 overall.
“We don’t like to make a lot of rash decisions in terms of dropping someone for bad luck injuries,” Moore continued. “What we like to do is react where it makes sense and then not react too quickly for things that are out of a player’s hands.”
99 Overall Ratings & 100 Overall Rating
Madden’s exclusive 99 Club will only consist of four players this year. Las Vegas Raiders receiver Davante Adams is once again a 99. Cleveland’s Miles Garrett has joined the club. Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Trent Williams will be the first offensive lineman ever to join the club, and Aaron Donald will be a 99 for his sixth-straight season.
“99” has served as Madden’s top rating for many years, but in some cases, the game has allowed players to have a 100 rating in certain categories. Chicago Bears return man Devin Hester once had a 100 in speed, and Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning had 100 in awareness.
“I think it’s cool that we did it in the past because it’s now a talking point or a historical fact and certainly a bragging point for the guys that had it,” said Moore. “If we were going to bring back a 100 rating, it should first come for Aaron Donald. I know he gets a lot of credit [and] usually the best player on the field is the quarterback, but AD blows past all of that and is really the unicorn.”
And so, with the official ratings reveal week having concluded, it will be up to the players — and the ratings adjusters — to earn the ratings they seek.
(This story has been corrected to show that Trent Williams is rated a 99 overall, not Terron Armstead. It has also corrected the spelling of Dustin Smith’s name.)