Training camps begin for all 32 NFL teams this week, which means Madden NFL 22 season is almost upon us. This year’s version of the video game will be released worldwide on Aug. 20.
Who will join the 99 Club after five made it last year? Those players will be revealed during Get Up on ESPN each morning this week, and the top 10 players from several positions will be discussed daily on First Take, SportsCenter and NFL Live. Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes will share the cover of Madden NFL 22.
Throughout the week, we’ll take a look at some of the top-rated receivers, running backs, quarterbacks, defensive linemen and defensive backs in the game. On Friday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN, check out the SportsCenter special breaking down the ratings process, with Louis Riddick and Mina Kimes interviewing players and revealing additional ratings.
Interior defensive line
Interior defensive linemen don’t often get attention. Unless they are premier pass-rushers, like 99 Club member Aaron Donald, they usually toil in anonymity like their offensive line counterparts. But when it comes to an actual defense, they are massive, both in size and importance.
Having a good run-stuffer can change a game. Having someone on the interior who can pressure the passer makes edge rushers and linebackers look good. It’s critical — and if used correctly, massively valuable in Madden. So if you play a defense where the interior is important, these are the players to have.
1. Aaron Donald, Rams (99 overall): If you thought there’d be anyone else in this spot you haven’t watched football the past half-decade. Donald is one of the most dominant interior linemen in NFL history. He’s a 99 for the fifth consecutive year, and even though he’s more of an interior lineman, he was rated No. 1 among pass-rushers a year ago. Now he’s No. 1 in this group. Donald is a 99 in strength, a 99 in power moves and a 97 in block shedding — best in all categories among interior linemen, the only one in the top five in all three categories.
2. Fletcher Cox, Eagles (94 overall): Cox dropped two ratings points from launch last year but moved up from tied for fifth among pass-rushers to second among interior linemen. He is one of the league’s best space-eaters and is an important part of Philadelphia’s defense. Cox played to his career averages last season with 6.5 sacks and 41 tackles.
T-3. Chris Jones, Chiefs (92 overall): Jones moved up from tied for ninth among pass-rushers to third among interior defensive linemen, but his 92 rating didn’t change. Jones, whose 97 power rating is notable, continued being a disruptor with 36 tackles, 28 quarterback hits, 7.5 sacks and four passes defended.
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald reacts after learning he’s received a 99 rating in Madden NFL 22.
T-3. DeForest Buckner, Colts (92 overall): Buckner was in a new place last year — he was traded from the 49ers to the Colts last March — and had the same type of production, notching 9.5 sacks and 58 tackles with 10 tackles for loss. His 85 acceleration rating is key to what makes him a difference-maker in Madden.
T-3. Cameron Heyward, Steelers (92 overall): He had a down year statistically — his four sacks were his fewest since 2016, as were his seven tackles for loss. But even then, Heyward still made his fourth straight Pro Bowl and continued being one of the tougher guys to block in the NFL. Hayward’s block-shedding rating (94) is elite.
6. Michael Pierce, Vikings (91 overall): Pierce, who opted out of the 2020 season, is one of the best run-stoppers and nose tackles in the league. He doesn’t give much out of pass rush, but his 96 strength rating and 93 block-shedding rating make him a pain for opposing running backs.
7. Calais Campbell, Ravens (90 overall): After three years in Jacksonville, Campbell landed in Baltimore in 2020 and his four sacks were his fewest since his rookie year in 2008, when he didn’t have a sack. His 28 total tackles were also the fewest of his career. Like many other longtime stalwarts, this rating is as much about him having a potential bounce-back year and his career achievement. The game recognized his slowdown, dropping him from a 95 to a 90. Last year he was tied for seventh among pass-rushers. This year, he’s seventh among interior linemen.
T-8. Kenny Clark, Packers (89 overall): Clark didn’t have his best season in 2020 — two sacks and 42 tackles (in 13 games) were his lowest totals since his rookie year — but he has become a consistent presence in the middle of the Green Bay front who allows the Smiths — Preston and Za’Darius — to be dominant around him. Clark’s strength rating (96) is elite.
T-8. Stephon Tuitt, Steelers (89 overall): Unlike a lot of the players ahead of him, Tuitt is coming off a massive season as a pass-rusher, posting a career-high 11 sacks. The 11 sacks almost matched the total from his past three seasons combined (11.5 sacks). He had a career-high 10 tackles for loss and uses a combination of his power (90 rating) and block-shedding (91) to be successful.
T-10. Vita Vea, Buccaneers (88 overall): There’s no question about Vea’s strength — he’s fourth at 97 overall behind Donald, Matt Ioannidis (98 overall) and Linval Joseph (98 overall) — and is a massive space-eater in the middle of the Tampa defense. He won’t give you much as a pass-rusher but showed progress in the area after playing only five games in 2020.
T-10. Akiem Hicks, Bears (88 overall): Hicks’ strength is one of his most valuable assets, as are his awareness (96 overall) and his impact blocking (94 overall). Like Vea, he’s going to give you more against the run, but Hicks has balance — he’s not that far removed from a 7.5-sack season in 2018, when he made his only Pro Bowl.
T-10. Jonathan Allen, Washington (88 overall): Allen didn’t have the biggest season in 2020 — his sack numbers dropped from six to two although his total tackles stayed consistent (68 in 2019, 63 in 2020). His acceleration of 83 is good for an interior defensive lineman, which should make him good to play next to. Allen is also fresh off a big contract extension with Washington, which includes a $30 million signing bonus.
Dropped out of the top 10 from launch last year: None.
Unlike last year, when we combined defensive linemen, we’ve organized things differently and given edge rushers their own category this year. While pass rush can come from anywhere, defenders coming off the edge as ends or outside linebackers possess similar skill sets, which means we can group together players in 4-3 and 3-4 defenses.
An oddity of this combined, stacked group is that not one but two sets of brothers dominate the top 10. Which, considering the talent level of the Watt and Bosa brothers, shouldn’t be surprising.
None of those players are ranked No. 1, though. That’s saved for one of the most disruptive players in the game.
1. Myles Garrett, Browns (98 overall): Garrett made a big jump from our combined defensive line ratings last year, when he was tied for ninth with Kansas City’s Chris Jones (more on him later). Garrett went from a 93 overall to a 98 after a 12-sack season, his third straight with double-digit sacks. He had a career-high 48 tackles along with 10 tackles for loss. He’s also the clear best power-move edge rusher in the game, with a 98 rating there.
2. Khalil Mack, Bears (96 overall): Mack might not have had as dominant a season as he had during his first year in Chicago in 2018, but he still had 50 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and nine sacks. He also moved up from tied for third among defensive linemen to second among edge rushers — but his rating dropped for the third straight year (he was a 99 in Madden 20 and a 97 a year ago).
T-3. T.J. Watt, Steelers (94 overall): The younger Watt brother continued his ascent in the real NFL last season, with his second straight All-Pro nod, third straight Pro Bowl and third season with double-digit sacks, leading the NFL with 15. His 23 tackles for loss were also a career-high. Watt jumped eight points from his launch rating last year (86), but was a big mover in-season, finishing the year as a 93.
T-3. Chandler Jones, Cardinals (94 overall): Jones moved up in the ratings (from tied for seventh to tied for third) but down in overall rating from a 95 at launch last year. That has to do with the change in how we’re looking at the ratings. Jones, of course, missed most of last season with a right biceps injury so this is likely a legacy rating with the expectation he’ll continue his dominance; before last year he had five straight double-digit sack seasons. Jones’ power rush is close to unparalleled. He’s second among edge rushers in the rating at a 95.
T-3. J.J. Watt, Cardinals (94 overall): It’s a new team for Watt for the first time in his career, but he’s still getting respect as one of the best edge rushers in the game (if not in his own family). Watt, for his strong rating, still took a drop. He was a 98 at launch last year and had been part of the 99 Club from Madden 25 in 2014 until Madden 17. After five sacks last season, his second straight under double digits, his rating is taking a hit but he still has enough respect to be one of the game’s best. And he and Jones form one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league.
T-6. Cameron Jordan, Saints (93 overall): Jordan saw a dip in his numbers last season — from 15.5 sacks to 7.5 sacks — and Madden accounted for that, dropping him from a 96 overall to a 93. He is splitting the difference from his prior ratings because he was a 91 overall at launch for Madden 20. He’s still one of the league’s most feared pass-rushers.
T-6. Von Miller, Broncos (93 overall): Like some of the other guys above him (J.J. Watt, Jordan), having Miller this high is a nod to what he has done in the past as much as what he might do going forward. That’s because Miller missed the entire 2020 season with a knee injury he suffered in September. In 2019, Miller had his first full season without double-digit sacks (eight in 15 games). He could still be a problem for offensive linemen when he’s fully healthy, but Madden is accounting for the decline of a former 99 Club member (Madden 17-19), dropping him a little bit this year.
8. Joey Bosa, Chargers (92 overall): Now we’re entering “emerging” territory. Bosa is one of the top edge rushers in the game and is still getting better. While he didn’t have quite the season he did in 2019 — when he had 11.5 sacks — his 7.5 sacks in 12 games (10 starts) with 15 tackles for loss was enough for him to jump into the top 10. Bosa is also the best in the game at finesse moves, with a 96 rating and bragging rights in the Bosa household.
9. Nick Bosa, 49ers (90 overall): That Nick Bosa is on here at all is a testament to what many believe his skills are going to be. He played in only two games last season and recorded no sacks. His rookie year? Nine sacks, 16 tackles for loss and a Pro Bowl berth. Figure the Brothers Bosa are going to keep moving up this list in future years and during in-season updates. Don’t be surprised if they are both top-five by midseason.
T-10. Za’Darius Smith, Packers (89 overall): Smith gets credit for emerging as a force after leaving Baltimore for Green Bay before the 2019 season. He had double-digit sacks the last two seasons with the Packers — 13.5 in 2019 and 12.5 in 2020. Smith is more of a power rusher in this game, as his power rush move of 90 ranks seventh overall.
T-10. Danielle Hunter, Vikings (89 overall): Hunter didn’t play last season, but recorded back-to-back 14.5-sack seasons in 2018 and 2019, making the Pro Bowl both years. The 26-year-old is an ascending edge rusher, with the thought being that he’ll continue his play even after missing 2020.
Edge rushers who dropped out from last year’s launch: None
This position continues to be one of the most competitive in the NFL — and one of the tightest races based on the Madden ratings. An argument can be made for any of the top six receivers to be ranked No. 1 overall in this year’s game.
And really, when it comes to game play, it’s more about preference. If you like speed, Tyreek Hill is your No. 1 (99 speed). If you prefer big-bodied receivers, Michael Thomas might be your man. Need guys to make the impossible possible? Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins are eye-popping options.
And for the third straight year, there’s a new player at the top of the Madden receiver chart.
1. Davante Adams, Packers (99 overall): After a season in which he put up a career-best 115 catches and a league-best 18 touchdowns and 98.1 yards per game, Adams jumps five points from last season’s launch rating and takes over the top spot. He was No. 5 last year and tied for ninth the year before, so his ascent continues along as he ranks as the game’s top receiver in catching (99), short route running (99) and medium route running (98).
T-2. DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals (98 overall): Hopkins remains the game’s No. 2 wideout and a 98 overall — the same rating he had to start last year. Will he become a 99 again, which he most recently had at launch in Madden 20? It’s certainly possible after a 115-catch, 1,407-yard season in a Kliff Kingsbury offense that can showcase him. He, along with Odell Beckham Jr., are the game’s top spectacular catchers (99).
T-2. Tyreek Hill, Chiefs (98 overall): Want speed? Hill has it as the only 99 among receivers. He moves up two ratings points and two spots from fourth to tied for second from his 96 at launch last year and continues to be part of one of the toughest tandems (alongside quarterback Patrick Mahomes) to defend in the NFL. Hill posted a career-best 15 touchdowns last year on 87 catches for 1,276 yards.
4. Stefon Diggs, Bills (97 overall): Diggs shined in his first year in Buffalo, creating a dynamic connection with quarterback Josh Allen and leading the league in receptions (127) and yards (1,535). It was enough to move him up five points from last year, and from tied for seventh to fourth. He’s particularly adept at route running, ranking in the top three in short (96), medium (97) and deep (94) route running this year.
5. Julio Jones, Titans (95 overall): Jones switched teams this offseason after being traded from Atlanta to Tennessee, and he continued to drop in Madden (he had a 97 rating that ranked third last year). Long a top-two receiver in Madden, he never has been a 99 at launch, and at age 32, he might never become one. But Julio Jones, even at 80% of his peak, is still one of the game’s top receivers, as evidenced here, and after an injury-riddled 2020, he can quickly move up again if he plays well in his new home in 2021.
6. Michael Thomas, Saints (94 overall): After ranking No. 1 in 2019 with a 99, Thomas spent a lot of 2020 sidelined — going without a receiving touchdown and averaging a career-worst 11.0 yards per catch. So his slide was expected. But last year was likely an aberration for Thomas, who had four 1,000-yard seasons and three 100-catch seasons in his first four years in the league. Thomas could miss the start of the season after having offseason ankle surgery.
7. Keenan Allen, Chargers (93 overall): Allen moved up two points and two spots from last season after his first year with Justin Herbert as his quarterback. This feels right for a guy who has been consistent the past four seasons (in 14 games last season, he had 100 catches for 992 yards and eight touchdowns, putting him on pace for the same type of numbers he had the three years prior). Allen has been in four straight Pro Bowls and is consistently one of the best in the league.
8. Amari Cooper, Cowboys (92 overall): Cooper dropped one ratings point and two spots in the rankings — potentially more a function of what guys ahead of him did. Cooper put up strong numbers, including a career-best 92 catches, playing without quarterback Dak Prescott for most of last season. He still had 1,114 yards and five touchdowns. If Prescott is healthy this season, Cooper could be a big mover.
Booger McFarland weighs in on Madden 22’s list of top 10 wide receivers and shares what his own top five would be.
9. Mike Evans, Buccaneers (91 overall): Evans dropped one spot and one ratings point this year, perhaps a function of what looks to be a small ratings spread for Madden 22 among receivers. Evans did in 2020 what he usually does, posting 70 catches, 1,006 yards and a career-best 13 touchdowns. He has been incredibly consistent throughout his career, even with different quarterbacks, helping Tom Brady win a Super Bowl in his first year with the Bucs.
10. Allen Robinson II, Bears (90 overall): Robinson had a massive 2020 despite playing in Chicago’s mess of a quarterback situation, posting 102 catches for 1,250 yards and six touchdowns. This year has the potential to be better for Robinson with either Andy Dalton or Justin Fields at quarterback. The fact that he was able to put up those numbers — and receive such respect from the Madden raters — considering the quarterback situation in Chicago last year tells you how good he really is.
Dropped out of the top 10 from launch last year: T-9. Odell Beckham Jr., Browns