I'm assuming we've all put the pitchforks away by now, yes? Listen. I, like the Joker in The Dark Knight, love watching the world burn as much as the next guy... but scrolling through my timeline yesterday to see a slew of NFL player, football media personalities and disgruntled fans alike looking to tar and feather the nearest EA Sports employee for the debut of the Madden 20 player ratings was...a bit much. The ratings? They'll change. They always do. Rather -- instead of griping about the launch ratings (CB Xavien Howard is laughably low, by the way), the wheels in my head immediately began spinning another direction.
How can I strategize my first Fantasy Draft in Franchise mode?
If you don't do fantasy drafts in franchise mode, please let me know so I can promptly unfollow you. Imagine settling for the lot in life you've been given by your real life team. Could not be me. Not in this house.
So let's talk about it. I don't care what team you choose -- pick your poison. But let's talk about Madden Draft Room strategies and tendencies we can expect based on last year's edition of the game in the form of a 10-round mock draft for your personal Madden squad.
By the way -- if you've missed the debut of the Madden ratings, you can read them here.
Round 1 - Skill player staple
The 1st-round of a Madden Franchise Draft is all about identifying your cornerstone player. You want to join Club 99? (You'd better pick Nuk) Or are you looking to lock down a quarterback? Hope you're picking first if you want Mahomes! Here's the interesting point -- the quarterback situation in Madden gets a little dicey since the elite cream of the crop passers are elder statesmen. After Mahomes (97 overall), you have Brady (96), Rivers (94) and Brees (92). They're going to be there. So do you miss Mahomes, do you take a guy like Luck/Wilson and live with it, do you target a younger talent like Mayfield (83 overall), Watson (82 overall) or Wentz (81 overall)?
I say nay. If Mahomes slips through your fingers, the only quarterback I consider in RD1 is Russell Wilson, but odds are you're going to have an elite skill player who can be used as the staple of your offense. Odell Beckham (96), Michael Thomas (95), Tyreek Hill (94) all fall behind Nuk, Antonio Brown and Julio Jones. I want the big time pass target if I can't get Mahomes.
Give me: WR Michael Thomas (95 overall)
Round 2 - Skill player counter
If you're drafting with buddies, you can be sure they've done their part to target a staple offensive weapon of their own -- and you'll need a counter. So before we go to gobble a quarterback, settle down! They aren't going anywhere for a while. It's time to focus on the task at hand, making sure your buddy's WR1 doesn't tear you to shreds. Gone will be the likes of Jalen Ramsey (96). But you might get lucky and catch a sniff of Byron Jones (91) as a size and speed combo corner. Or maybe Denzel Ward (88) is on the board? That's doubtful by the time the draft comes back around the horn, though.
Marshon Lattimore (87 overall), Marlon Humphrey (85 overall) and William Jackson (84 overall) are all worth consideration at this juncture, considering their skill, positional value and youth.
Give me: CB Marshon Lattimore (87 overall)
Round 3 - Front seven centerpiece
So now you've got your own X-factor and the great neutralizer in the passing game. Let's be honest -- this is a passing game (rimshot goes here). So now you're posed with two options -- you can target a key pass rusher to help harass your opponent or you can land a key off-ball linebacker -- something to help you in coverage underneath. It really depends on what kind of defender your prefer to manually control.
If you want an interior defender, you'll see DeForest Buckner (87) or Grady Jarrett (87) on the board and decide they're for you. Your best bet at the outside pass rusher would be Danielle Hunter (87 overall) or for a slight ratings discount (and only if you need the box checked), you can tab Yannick Ngakoue (84) or Dee Ford (84) at this juncture in the draft.
Me? For my money? I'm taking Jaylon Smith (85) to play MIKE on my squad and I'm prepping to wreck your day over the middle. Myles Jack (83) also bears consideration, considering he wasn't down.
Give me: LB Jaylon Smith (85 overall)
Round 4 - The Franchise Quarterback
It is time. Most of the mid-80s will be gone -- especially the young guns like Baker, Watson and Wentz. Our pickings right now are big-armed pocket passers like maybe Big Ben (85 overall), maybeeeee Cam Newton (84 overall), Dak Prescott (81 overall), Derek Carr (80 overall), Matthew Stafford (79 overall).
If Cam Newton is on the board, it's a home run. You get the running power, throwing power, athletic ability and he's just 30 years old -- young enough to be a long term starter with 2-way potential.
You know who else has good 2-way potential? Mitchell Trubisky (75 overall). So does Kyler Murray (73 overall). The answer here is none of the above.
QB Lamar Jackson is the fastest quarterback in the game. He's got equal throwing power to Kyler and Russell Wilson (and 1 point higher than Trubisky). He's the most elusive quarterback in the game (85 elusiveness). And his accuracy is short, intermediate and deep areas is marginally less effective than the competition you'd be drafting at this point. His intermediate accuracy is only 4 points lower than Stafford's while his deep accuracy is only 2 points lower than Trubisky.
Hope you like defending 95 speed.
Give me: QB Lamar Jackson (76 overall)
Round 5 - The pass rusher
We passed on Yannick Ngakoue and Dee Ford last time we were up. You might see some higher rated players thanks to age still left on the board, but we're drafting a dynasty and not a retirement home. Don't take the cheese. This comes down to if Ngakoue, Ford or Frank Clark (83 overall) are on the board. Perhaps a name like T.J. Watt (82 overall) can serve as your *in case of emergency break here* selection.
I'm banking on a glitch in The Matrix. Yannick will be there.
And don't worry Yannick, my first move is to pay you that extension you so clearly deserve.
Give me: DE Yannick Ngakoue (84 overall)
Round 6 - A tone setter up front
QUICK! I HOPE YOU PAID ATTENTION IN MATH CLASS! THE SHORTEST DISTANCE BETWEEN TWO POINTS IS WHAT?
...a straight line! Very good. Which is exactly why I need some beef in the middle of my offensive line to keep my quarterback as clean as possible. Here's the thing -- the offensive tackles already had their run. But the odds are strong if the game is like last year that there's going to be some Grade A beef at Guard and Center that is there for the picking.
No, you're not getting Zach Martin (96 overall). That's cute, thanks for asking. You might get Quenton Nelson as an 87 overall playing a low value position. Given his status as an elite rookie, I highly doubt it. The 2019 edition of the game featured Brandon Scherff consistently available in this space. He, C Jason Kelce (94 overall), Ali Marpet (88 overall), and Joel Bitonio (87) are all worth consideration here. For age purposes, I'll take the BPA.
Give me: OG Ali Marpet (88 overall)
Round 7 - The Upside Down
We've reached *that* point in the Draft. Where things get weird. Players remaining are going to be super tempting -- despite their age. Or their position. We don't really need another guard yet, do we? I'd love to look for a second pass catcher. This was the point in drafts in last year's game where we really ran out of attractive young targets. And sorry, I'm not interested in having flakes like Ted Ginn. If he's going to bail on a 40-yard dash competition after 7 weeks of talking shit, he's not going to fight for my crossing pattern over the middle.
Which brings us to two separate options. We can take a receiving back, we can take a tight end or we can break away from offense and look for a free safety that wets our whistle. Greg Olsen (89) will almost certainly be there, but you don't want to have to pay his AARP dues in 2021, do you?
Young studs like Derwin James, Keanu Neal, Kevin Byard, George Kittle and others will be gone by this point. So you need to pick up a player who is still waiting on the big breakout year. I've got two options for you -- Tampa Bay's OJ Howard (84 overall) or New York's Evan Engram (84 overall).
I'm a sucker for speed.
Give me: TE Evan Engram (84 overall)
Round 8 - Free to roam
We've reached critical mass in the secondary. We have Marshon Lattimore to lock down the opposing WR1, but right now the rest of the defense is in the front seven. We need a ballhawk. We need someone with some range to float around and swipe opposing passes. The bad news? Some of our candidates from last round are likely out.
Minkah Fitzpatrick (80), Jessie Bates (81 overall) and Malik Hooker (82 overall) are your best case scenarios here. But even these three I don't feel great about considering their youth and upside. If any of these guys are on the board, I'm grabbing one. But you know what happens when you assume...
Give me another young safety -- but like Evan Engram he's more potential than production to this point in his career, which should help him dip a little later into the draft pool.
Give me: S Budda Baker (80 overall)
Round 9 - Always use protection
The bad news? Your opponent has landed a pass rusher by now. You know he has. And so we need to make sure we're prepped for when the rush comes calling. Let's be honest -- Evan Engram isn't stopping anyone as an extra blocker. So we need someone with some chops of their own.
Candidates? Probably low 80s targets like Charles Leno Jr (83), Rob Havenstein (82), Taylor Moton (80), and Jake Matthews (79).
Wait. What? How in the hell is Jake Matthews a 79?!
Matthews is your guy -- plug him in next to Ali Marpet and we've got a promising foundation up front to protect for Lamar Jackson.
Give me: LT Jake Matthews (79 overall)
Round 10 - Running backs DO matter (kind of)
We've already acknowledged that Madden is a passing game. As colleague Joe Marino likes to call the college game, this is a "pace and space" kind of experience -- which is best implemented with a threat out of the backfield. I don't need some between the tackles schlep, I can find those guys literally anywhere. But how about a receiving back?
Getting the likes of James White (86 overall and 79 receiving) against linebackers has won the Patriots plenty of football games. Maybe it can win me one or two. And so I would like to welcome James Whit--OOP.
What's this? A lesser rated back who I'd surmise will still be available? With a 76 receiving skill but also a 97 agility and better speed and acceleration? Welcome to the squad, Tarik Cohen.
Give me: RB Tarik Cohen (85 overall)
I hope you all enjoyed the exercise. I tried to put myself in realistic positions while also accounting for new player grades and trying to fit my style of play with the game. Here's my end result through 10 rounds of this mock draft of my first 2020 Madden Franchise Fantasy Draft:
- QB Lamar Jackson - 76
- RB Tarik Cohen - 85
- WR Michael Thomas - 95
- TE Evan Engram - 84
- LT Jake Matthews - 79
- OG Ali Marpet - 88
- DE Yannick Ngakoue - 84
- LB Jaylon Smith - 85
- CB Marshon Lattimore - 87
- S Budda Baker - 80