Ranking the 10 best NFL players in the ‘Madden’ video game franchise

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Ranking the 10 best NFL players in the ‘Madden’ franchise originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

John Madden’s legacy stretches across so many areas of football.

Madden, who died at the age of 85 on Tuesday, has the second-best winning percentage of any coach in NFL history. He won 16 Emmys and covered 11 Super Bowls across four networks as a broadcast. On top of all that, he is the face of the signature football video game franchise.

The “Madden NFL” series has been a video game staple since 1988. Across 33 years and dozens of consoles, countless NFL players have been featured in the game.

Some athletes dominated the game throughout their NFL careers, while others have one year that stands out above the rest. Here are the 10 players whose dominance led to the most exhibition victories, franchise mode Super Bowls and rage quits in the history of the video game franchise:

10. Tom Brady, “Madden NFL 18”

It took Tom Brady 17 years in the NFL before he made it onto a “Madden” cover, but he was just getting started.

Brady was the cover athlete for “Madden NFL 18” after leading the New England Patriots to a miraculous Super Bowl LI comeback. He then shared the cover with Patrick Mahomes for “Madden NFL 22” after beating Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. 

In all, Brady has earned a spot in the elusive “Madden 99 Club” a record six times.

9. Marshall Faulk, “Madden NFL 2003”

Marshall Faulk was an all-around weapon during his Hall of Fame career, and it was reflected in “Madden NFL 2003.”

The St. Louis Rams running back was nearly impossible to bring down, whether he was taking a handoff or catching a ball out of the backfield. He earned a spot on the “Madden NFL 03” cover and made the 99 Club for the second straight year. 

8. Randy Moss, “Madden NFL 06”

When in doubt, just throw it up for Randy Moss.

That was an understood philosophy in “Madden NFL 06,” when Moss finally made it to the 99 Club. While he had a more successful stint with the Minnesota Vikings prior to the game’s release and a record-breaking stretch with the Patriots afterwards, he was at his most unstoppable in “Madden” when he joined the Oakland Raiders.

Moss would later re-enter the 99 Club for “Madden NFL 09” following his 23-touchdown season with Brady and the Patriots.

7. LaDanian Tomlinson, “Madden NFL 08”

With respect to San Diego Chargers teammates Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson, any play that did not go to LaDanian Tomlinson in “Madden NFL 08” was a waste.

Like Faulk, Tomlinson was lethal as a ball carrier and receiver out of the backfield. His combination of speed and elusiveness made him a menace when playing defense -- in real life and in the video game. He more than earned his 99 rating in the game after rushing for 1,815 yards and 28 touchdowns during the 2006 season.

Along with “Madden NFL 08,” Tomlinson was a member of the 99 Club for “Madden NFL 09.”

6. Ray Lewis, “Madden NFL 2005”

The introduction of the “Madden” hit stick was bad news for anyone going up against Ray Lewis.

The hit stick feature was added for “Madden NFL 2005” as a way for defensive players to unleash catastrophic tackles and knock the ball loose. Lewis was the hardest-hitting linebacker in the league at the time, and his “Madden” character was among the top beneficiaries of the new addition to the gameplay. It’s no surprise that Lewis was the cover athlete for the game that year.

While the hit stick helped Lewis, he didn’t need it to be among the best players in the game. He made the 99 Club for five straight years from “Madden NFL 2002” to “Madden NFL 06.”

5. Peyton Manning, “Madden NFL 06”

Another notable gameplay feature was added to the franchise for “Madden NFL 06,” and anyone who hated it could turn to Peyton Manning to fix things.

The vision cone was introduced to force quarterbacks to make more realistic throws. Accuracy hinged on the quarterbacks keeping their line of vision on their targets, but it was a difficult feature to get the hang of. Manning was impervious to the perils of the vision cone, though, since his 99 rating allowed him to essentially see the entire width of the field.

Manning went on to win his first Super Bowl the season following the release of “Madden NFL 06.” The game also kicked off a six-year stretch of Manning making the 99 Club.

4. Deion Sanders, “Madden NFL 99”

Forget the 99 Club – we’re entering triple-digit territory now.

For the second ever edition of the “Madden” franchise, two players received 100 ratings. Deion Sanders was one of them, as he was coming off three straight All-Pro first team selections with the Dallas Cowboys. Any throw or punt that went his way was in danger of being brought into the end zone.

3. Barry Sanders, “Madden NFL 99”

The other player to receive a 100 rating for “Madden NFL 99” was Barry Sanders.

The Detroit Lions running back was a real-life “Madden” character during his 10-year NFL career. With all-time agility and acceleration, Sanders was the perfect player to embody the franchise in its early stages.

While NFL legends have been brought back into the game through Ultimate Team, Sanders earned a spot on the cover nearly 15 years after his playing career ended. Instead of there being a “Madden NFL 14,” the franchise opted to name the 2013 edition “Madden 25” in honor of its 25th anniversary. Legends and current players went head to head in a 64-athlete bracket with Sanders coming out on top over Adrian Peterson in the final.

2. Jerry Rice, “Madden NFL 98”

The highest-rated player in “Madden” history came in the first edition.

Jerry Rice was given a whopping 189 player rating for the inaugural “Madden NFL 98.” His name is written all over the NFL’s record books for wide receivers, so he is worthy of being in the mix for the highest rating ever.

But a 189 rating?! How does that even translate to individual attributes? Was it even possible to throw an incompletion if he was on that side of the field?

Regardless, much like some of Rice’s real-life accolades, his best “Madden” rating will never be touched.

1. Michael Vick, “Madden NFL 2004” 

Madden’s rating equation horribly miscalculated how gamers were going to use Michael Vick in “Madden NFL 2004.”

Somehow, Vick ended up as just a 90 overall. He had an 84 throwing accuracy rating, which isn’t outstanding for a video game QB, but his other attributes turned him from a quarterback into one of the most dominant characters in sports video game history.

Vick’s 95 speed and 92 elusiveness made him an impossible player to defend. The argument of if you were even allowed to pick the Atlanta Falcons in “Madden NFL 04” was a fair one given Vick’s speed could turn a would-be sack into a touchdown with ease. Even if you weren’t doing the smart thing and scrambling with Vick any chance you had, he had a 98 throwing power rating to keep defenses honest.

To this day, no “Madden” athlete compares to ‘04 Michael Vick.