As is the case with most of the ancillary pieces of the NFL off-season in the social media age, the annual release of the player ratings for the EA Sports cornerstone game Madden NFL has become something that many fans across the NFL mark their calendars for. It's an intriguing thing to see where the nerds dressed in football clothing peg each player from each team - returning veterans, newly signed free agents, freshly traded players, and rookies who have never touched the field in the NFL - in anticipation of the upcoming season.
Keep in mind, these ratings are always a crapshoot because of when the game is released. Naturally, a football video game is going to come out before the actual football season kicks off. This year's edition will drop on August 15, but here we are a month in advance getting to see who's potentially overhyped, who's getting disrespected, and who may join the now-illustrious "99 Club" as the top-rated players in the game. Amid all of the other accolades that each have racked up in their careers in Kansas City, Patrick Mahomes, and Travis Kelce have each been regular members of this incredibly select club in their careers.
Apparently the folks over at EA Sports aren't too impressed with Kansas City's version of those position groups.
The 99 Club is a much more exclusive club than even Augusta National, with only 57 lifetime members compared to Augusta's roughly 300. Well, according to this year's player rankings—with so far just wide receivers and safeties released—none of those respective players for your Kansas City Chiefs will be getting fitted for green jackets any time soon.
Let's start with the wide receiver room. Last month, we talked about this being the first time since 2015 that the Chiefs entered a season with zero career Pro Bowls in the wide receiver room. That appears to be one of the criteria taken into consideration in this year's Madden ratings. That, or none of these guys has really proven anything just yet. Either way you look at it, there appears to be work still to do for the receiver room as far as the folks at EA are concerned.
Topping the list for K.C. is Kadarius Toney coming in at 81, followed by Marquez Valdes-Scantling at 78, newcomer Richie James at 76, rookie Rashee Rice and second-year promised prince Skyy More coming in at 73, Justin Watson at 71, the Ross brothers Justyn and John at 69 each, and Cornell Powell and Ihmir Smith-Marsette rounding it out at 67. When the class has a C average two things could happen: either the teacher graded the papers wrong, or you've got a room full of duds. Let's hope the Scantron reader got off a line.
Toney and Valdes-Scantling were given their dues in the speed department, with 93 and 94 ratings respectively, but Richie James topped the list with an 87 catch rating. Again, a scary sign is these ratings prove to be true at all. This is all good and well until you look at the ratings of two guys the Chiefs let walk the past two off-seasons: Tyreek Hill and JuJu Smith-Schuster, who sport 98 and 82 ratings overall. Both would top the Chiefs' charts at the moment—Hill easily. Best of luck to them catching passes from Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones this season in the intense race for third in the AFC East.
It's easy to get worked up about these kinds of things, but you have to remember that these ratings are put together by video game people. Different breed. We red-blooded football people know that you play the game on the field on Sundays, not on your X-Station in your mom's basement. This Chiefs receiving corps is built on the promise of young players stepping up and assuming roles that mid-to-upper 90s-rated players on other teams find themselves occupying now. Also on the fact that these C students may be trouble at times, but they're catching passes from a guy who has a case to be a 105 overall at quarterback and line up with the only (presumed) 99 tight end in the game.
The safety room is also built largely on promise in 2023, and their Madden scores reflect that. I have one thing to point out here: how is it that you actually quantify a safety? Sure, coverage skills are important, but safety is a much more instinctual position than say corners, linebackers, or edge rushers who have tangible statistical benchmarks to go off of. Yeah, safeties get credited with tackles, interceptions, and sacks just like those other three positions, but a great safety that isn't necessarily a ballhawk is going to have a hard time catching a proper Madden rating.
Case-in-point: Justin Reid. Reid is the 33rd-rated safety overall in this year's iteration of Madden, but he was a quiet lynchpin in a Super Bowl-winning defensive unit a season ago. If you were to tell me he was the thirty-third most effective trash talker in the league amongst safeties I'd buy that hook, line, and sinker. Don't get me wrong, no one is going to mistake him for Ed Reed, but he's certainly held his own as both a Texan and a Chief. Maybe I'm delusional, or maybe I'm just frustrated that guys like Derwin James and Justin Simmons are on top of this list every year and former Chief Tyrann Mathieu is still apparently a top 7 guy at the position. Maybe I'm bitter.
Looking at the safety ratings actually threw up a pretty big red flag for me as I was going through them, but mainly because at first I forgot the Chiefs signed Mike Edwards in March and I don't have a real baseline to judge his 75 score off of just yet. Chances are, I'm going to think Mike Edwards is an 80 floor by the time the season rolls around. Next to him, you have Bryan Cook at 70, Chamarri Conner at 69, Deon Bush at 66 and Nazeeh Johnson at 65. Again, C students, but we're early in the semester with these guys.
Johnson barely got on the field in his rookie year and we know nothing about how Conner will adapt to the speed of the NFL game. Cook represents the reason that the Chiefs let Juan Thornhill, who hilariously is still rated 78 as he has been his entire career, walk in the offseason. This position group is one that no one is expecting the world out of in 2023, but that's a good thing. Young guys will have the opportunity to learn from Reid and Edwards and fall into their natural groove on a defense that's still establishing its identity.
Let's put it this way: there probably aren't many people who would've pegged Kyle Dugger as one of the 16 best safeties in the NFL in his fourth season out of Lenoir-Rhyne. Preseason rankings are like an ear to the ground. Even if you figure out something is coming, you still have no clue what the end result is going to be. My bold prediction: most of these guys play football this year, and either live up to their rating, exceed expectations, or crash and burn miserably.