If you're like me, the most anticipated element of the latest EA Sports Madden video game every year isn't the first head-to-head game you play, it isn't the first franchise you start or even the first Madden Ultimate Team you create.
It's the new rosters.
With an entire offseason to plan and research -- including the additions of the latest incoming rookie class -- it's always fun to see where the Madden staff ranks each player in the league. It's a job that is much more difficult than you and I love to criticize, and I definitely want to recognize that truth before we begin this article. I have a ton of respect for the ones who put in more hours than I can imagine trying to perfect ratings and rankings for every single player in the NFL that only get talked about when they're getting critiqued.
So, for a moment here, I want to tip my hat to those working on the game year-round behind the scenes.
But, with all that said, since I am such a fan of the league as a whole, I have some thoughts on the initial ratings that were released this past Monday. It's all in good fun. These are my opinions, just like you have yours and the Madden staff has theirs. The beauty of it all is that there's a lot of football we get to watch to see how it all plays out.
These are the players who I think got snubbed the most in the initial ratings, and players who I believe will be on the up as the season goes on.
Patrick Mahomes Has Lower Throw Power Than Josh Allen
Ok, I get that Josh Allen has a cannon, but let's be real here. A video just came out where Mahomes threw a football from field level over the edge of the Chiefs' stadium.
Madden currently has Allen with a 99 throw power and has Mahomes at a 96. If you want to make Allen a 99, fine. You better make Mahomes a 99, too.
Falcons OT Jake Matthews
Falcons starting left tackle Jake Matthews is rated at 79 to start the season. That's not very high, even with Madden's lower overall scores this year -- which was planned by them. But when you see where he is compared to those around him, that's when it gets snub-worthy.
Matthews is the 16th ranked left tackle in the game behind players like Charles Leno Jr., Anthony Castanzo and even Taylor Moton, who hasn't even played a game at left tackle yet. Matthews was PFF's No. 10 rated offensive tackle with both left and right tackles in the mix.
Being the 16th ranked left tackle alone was an oversight, I think.
Vikings OT Riley Reiff
Staying with the offensive tackles, Vikings left tackle Riley Reiff came in at a 67, which is, uh, not very good.
Left tackles who were rated higher than Reiff: Greg Robinson, Donovan Smith and Kolton Miller.
Reiff was the 23rd best offensive tackle last season according to PFF. When you compare him to those other names, Robinson was ranked 63rd, Smith was ranked 46th and Miller was ranked 76th.
I know PFF isn't the be-all, end-all, but what am I missing here? This one seems bad.
Bucs TEs O.J. Howard & Cam Brate
Next on the list we have a little two-for-one.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have one of the best tight end duos in the NFL. If you look at their combined overalls, that holds true, as there are only three teams -- Colts, Redskins and Eagles -- who have a high combined overall between two tight ends.
However, it appears they sort of curb both Brate and Howard because they play on the same team.
If you take a step back, O.J. Howard has everything you'd want from a tight end. He runs as fast as a wide receiver and blocks like a left tackle. He's been one of the most explosive big-play playmakers over the last two years. I'm not sure how that adds up to him being an 84 overall and the 16th best tight end.
Then there's Brate, who comes in at a 79 overall and the 26th best tight end. The same Brate, who trails only Travis Kelce in touchdowns for a tight end over the last three seasons, is the 26th best tight end in the game.
If these two played on their own separate teams, they'd both be much higher.
Bears DT Akiem Hicks
Akiem Hicks was a beast for the Chicago Bears in 2018. He was PFF's fourth rated interior defensive lineman, and he posted the third highest run defense grade behind just Aaron Donald and Damon Harrison.
It's hard to tell exactly where Hicks lines up when it comes to pure defensive tackle ratings because Madden has him listed as a left end, but his 87 overall is still too low for me. They gave Michael Pierce and Geno Atkins ratings in the 90's. Hicks should have started as one, too.
Maybe he is if you move him to defensive tackle.
Dolphins CB Xavien Howard
Look, I don't care how you slice it, Xavien Howard is not the 27th best cornerback in professional football. But that's where his 83 overall puts him on the list.
Howard was ranked 19th in PFF's player grades from 2018, and I still think that's too low. Howard led the league in interceptions last season with seven (despite missing the last four games), allowed one of the lowest passer rating against in 2018, was selected to the Pro Bowl, and was named second team All-Pro.
He's not an 83 overall.