The same old dominators are back. Von Miller and Aaron Donald are still going to try to run over Tom Brady. Of course, Brady will be looking for Rob Gronkowski, a connection that has been one of the staples of the NFL for years.

Brady-to-Gronk might have issues, though, in “Madden NFL 19,” especially if the tandem has to face the incredibly strong front of the Los Angeles Chargers. But as you get ready to mix and match players with fantasy drafts and settle in with your favorite team to use online in a quest to reach Madden Bowl or become a top-ranked player on Ultimate Team or just among your friends, here’s a little bit of help.

We’ve got you covered with your top overall players, rookies and skill subsets, plus a brief guide of players to consider building your franchise around if you’re like me and do a dynasty draft with some of your friends.

PLAYERS

The 99 club

Von Miller, LB, Broncos
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
Luke Kuechly, LB, Panthers
Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
Aaron Donald, DE, Rams
Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers

Expanding the group: After three 99s last year — Donald, Brady and Miller — Madden has diversified in 2019. It’s Brady’s fifth appearance in the game as a 99 — 11 seasons after his first 99er appearance in “Madden NFL 08.” Gronkowski and Kuechly return to the 99 club after being held out last year. Brown is the first receiver to be a 99 since Calvin Johnson in “Madden NFL 15.” And remember, these ratings are fluid throughout the season — so 98s such as Atlanta’s Julio Jones, Oakland’s Khalil Mack and Houston’s J.J. Watt could easily end up as 99s depending on their play during the season, as could Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey, Green Bay’s David Bakhtiari, Seattle’s Bobby Wagner and Minnesota’s Harrison Smith, who are all starting with 97 ratings.


Head of the new class

Quenton Nelson, LG, Colts (83)
Saquon Barkley, HB, Giants (82)
Roquan Smith, MLB, Bears; Baker Mayfield, QB, Browns (81)
Bradley Chubb, RE, Broncos; Denzel Ward, CB, Browns; Derwin James, SS, Chargers (80)

Fun facts: Nelson is one of the better interior line prospects to come out of college in years, so his being the top-rated rookie is no real surprise. He should be the real and virtual offensive line anchor in Indy for the next decade. After that, it’s a bunch of future stars. Barkley has a chance to eventually become another running back to hit the 99 club if he plays as advertised, and Mayfield, as the No. 1 pick and a potential star at quarterback, could soon be worth way more than his current rating. The rookie I’d keep my eye on, for Madden purposes, is Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. He’s rated a 79 overall — second highest among rookie quarterbacks (Josh Rosen is a 78, Sam Darnold a 75 and Josh Allen a 74), but what caught my eye is his speed. He has 94 speed, 95 acceleration and 95 agility. The only rookies with better speed are cornerbacks, and in the game overall, the only players with better acceleration are Tyreek Hill and Marquise Goodwin. His acceleration is four points higher than that of the next quarterback (Cleveland’s Tyrod Taylor), and his speed is six better than that of the next quarterbacks (Taylor, Marcus Mariota and Joe Webb III at 88). He’s the only quarterback above 90 speed. In other words, he has the chance to be incredibly fun to play with and destructive for opponents. The game was fair to most rookies overall — except one. Packers tight end Bradley Hunter is rated a 39 overall in the game, 18 points lower than four players with 57 rankings.


Most/least aware

Most aware: Antonio Brown; Julio Jones; Aaron Donald; Von Miller; Luke Kuechly; Aaron Rodgers; David Bakhtiari; Tom Brady; Drew Brees, QB, Saints (99).

Least aware: K.J. Brent, WR, Colts; Marcus Tucker, WR, Steelers (40). Hunter Sharp, WR, Giants; Gabe Holmes, TE, Cardinals (41).

Fun facts: It’s not a surprise that every player given a 99 awareness other than Brees is a 97 or higher. Which will lead to a little soapbox moment here. Brees is rated a 91 overall in the game — fourth highest among quarterbacks. Even with a respectable 91, Brees should be a bit higher, no? He’s likely to break the career passing record this year, was fourth in yards and second in passer rating and led the NFL in yards per attempt (8.1) and completion percentage (72.0) last year. Sure, he’s 39 years old, but Brady is 41 years old and a 99. A 95 is too much to ask? At least no one had awareness in the 30s this year, like the game did to kicker Giorgio Tavecchio and tight end Blake Bell last year (Bell is a 58 this year, Tavecchio a 60).


Strong vs. weak

Strongest: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Rams (98). Aaron Donald; J.J. Watt; Linval Joseph, DT, Vikings; Jared Veldheer, RT, Broncos; Russell Bodine, C, Bills; Quenton Nelson; Vita Vea, DT, Buccaneers (97).

Weakest: Phil Dawson, K, Cardinals (20); Robbie Gould, K, 49ers (25); Aldrick Rosas, K, Giants (30).

Fun facts: Hmm, Madden. This might seem like an area you want to update. Suh repeats as the game’s strongest man with a 98 rating (and no argument from me here, I watched him play up close a couple of years, and the dude is a rock). And if you’re looking for a strong team to play with you’re in luck, as nine linemen (five offensive, four defensive) are rated 85 or above, including Suh and Donald. For the second straight year, Dawson gets dinged as the weakest kicker and player in the game, with a 20 rating. The three weakest players last year are also the three weakest this year — which I’d take umbrage with if I were the longtime veterans Gould and Dawson. The game also continues to give Niners WR Aldrick Robinson no respect, as he and Chargers receiver Travis Benjamin are the weakest non-kicker/punters, with 37 ratings. Receivers in general should have a beef as the bottom 21 non-kicker/punters in strength are all receivers (including high-level receivers such as the Colts’ T.Y. Hilton, the Broncos’ Emmanuel Sanders and the Niners’ Marquise Goodwin).


Tortoises and hares

Fastest: Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs (98); John Ross, WR, Bengals (97); Six players tied at 96.

Slowest: Damien Mama, RG, Cowboys; Ramon Foster, LG, Steelers; Orlando Brown, LT, Ravens (50).

Fun facts: Another case of guys holding their own or Madden not shifting rankings enough? Hill and Ross were also the two fastest players last year — although the game flipped Hill’s and Ross’ rankings this year (Ross was 98 and Hill 97 last year). Foster again rates as one of the three slowest players in the game after holding the honor all by himself last year. Dawson also remains one of the slowest kickers in the game, tied with Matt Bryant with the slowest speed at 55. Of all the ratings, I’m somewhat surprised with Marquise Goodwin’s speed rating of 95. It’s a high rating, but that he’s not in the 96 group with some other players is surprising considering his high-level track speed.


Most/least agile

Most agile: Tyreek Hill; Antonio Brown; Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Giants (98).

Least agile: Toby Weathersby, LT, Eagles (39); Josh Walker, LG, Jaguars; Rob Havenstein, RT, Rams (45).

Fun facts: Golden Tate, the player with the most missed tackles in the league the past few years, is a 96 in agility, 94 in awareness, 91 in catching and a 91 in acceleration. The Lions receiver is an 89 overall, and if the game could re-create his shiftiness at all, he’d be incredibly fun to play with. Atlanta’s Matt Schaub is the least agile non-lineman/specialist with a 53 rating. It’s also worth noting Lamar Jackson here, based on the running ratings (he’s a 95 agility rating) and his passing numbers; he has a 94 throwing power, and his short and medium throwing accuracy are OK to work with as a rookie (83 short, 80 medium).


Unexpected guys to build with in franchise mode

Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens: Jackson has been all over this story, but based on his ratings, he has the makings of a potential Madden legend — think Michael Vick in 2004. Vick was a better-built player then in a less advanced game, but he was also considered almost an in-game cheat code. While Jackson has his flaws (that deep passing could cause problems, for instance), if you take him in franchise mode, there’s a chance you could, in a couple of years, turn him into 2004 Vick; that will be a nightmare for opponents. Heck, he has better acceleration and agility ratings than Tavon Austin.

Kenny Golladay, WR, Lions: His 78 overall rating isn’t super-high, but his height combined with 90 speed (not terrible for a taller receiver), 88 spectacular-catch rating and 85 jumping could make him a receiver to build with. Plus, if he gets the work he’s expected to in Detroit’s offense, Madden developers might jump up his marks naturally throughout the season.

Troy Apke, FS, Redskins: The former Penn State defensive back has a 69 overall rating (not good). But his attributes are intriguing, with a 95 acceleration and 94 speed (tops at his position). His awareness is bad (52) and his man (70) and zone (76) coverage ratings aren’t great, but, for franchise players, he’d be worth picking up and developing.

Patrick Mahomes II, QB, Chiefs: He’s an average 77 overall, but what is intriguing here is his throw power rating (97) along with decent speed (79) and acceleration (87). I like his 81 elusiveness rating and an 82 break sack rating that can be improved along with a 78 throw-under-pressure rating. (These two markers are higher than the other guy I considered here — Josh Allen). He also has better short (83), mid (78) and deep (78) accuracy ratings than Allen. So that’s why I’d consider him as a franchise draft quarterback, too.



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