In the world of Madden NFL, it's a magical number -- not just to gamers, but to the players themselves. This is the highest individual rating anyone can achieve in the preeminent football video game. The 99 Club is a virtual fraternity comprised of the most supreme players in the league each season. And I'd argue that the honor is even more pronounced this year, with the late, great John Madden appropriately returning to the cover of the game that bears his name.
So, why am I talking about this right now? Well, as many of you probably know, EA Sports is revealing its player ratings for Madden NFL 23 throughout this week. At publishing, two players have officially earned a 99 rating: Las Vegas Raiders WR Davante Adams and Cleveland Browns DE Myles Garrett.
With that in mind, it's the perfect time to roll out my own list of transcendent talents. Heading into the 2022 NFL season, the following players would receive a 99 rating from me. Let's dig in, Schein Nine style!
A 99 rating for No. 99? Well, obviously. Aaron Donald is the greatest defensive player to ever walk the face of the Earth. Yes, I closely followed the extraordinary careers of Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White. No disrespect at all to those legends, but Donald reigns supreme. He's an unparalleled game-wrecker at defensive tackle, a disruptive force of nature since entering the league as the No. 13 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. In eight pro seasons, Donald has logged eight Pro Bowls, seven first-team All-Pros, three Defensive Player of the Year Awards and a Defensive Rookie of the Year. During this span, he leads the NFL in sacks (98) and QB pressures (713, per Pro Football Focus), astounding figures for an interior defensive lineman. And the dude has a special knack for taking games over in crunch time. Just look at the most recent NFL game played ...
Donald was a one-man wrecking crew in the Rams' Super Bowl LVI victory, as PFF credited him with seven pressures: four hurries, two sacks and one QB hit. And the last of those pressures put the game away -- putting a ring on Donald's finger.
Having just restructured his contract to become the highest-paid non-quarterback in NFL history, Donald remains squarely in the prime of his career. This is truly historic stuff we're watching. Soak it up, folks.
Trent Williams is the best offensive lineman in the NFL today. A Pro Bowler in each of his past nine active seasons, Williams was superb in Washington, but he's taken his Hall of Fame game to a different level in the Bay Area. The man they call "Silverback" is a brick wall for the 49ers on the blind side, allowing just one sack by Pro Football Focus' count during the entire 2021 campaign. But the most enjoyable aspect of his game, from a viewing perspective, is watching him get out and absolutely destroy defenders as a wrecking ball in Kyle Shanahan's run game. It's O-line porn.
On a super-talented roster, Williams is the top dog. In fact, Pro Football Focus had Williams as the No. 1 player in the entire league last season, crediting him with the highest PFF grade ever given to an offensive tackle. Somehow, he just received first-team All-Pro honors for the first time in his illustrious career. LONG overdue.
A kicker at No. 3? A kicker at No. 3! As the most accurate kicker in NFL history at 91.1 percent, Tucker is a legit weapon for Baltimore. You want clutch? How about booting an NFL-record 66-yard field goal as time expired in Detroit to lift the Ravens over the Lions, 19-17?
"When it went off his foot, I thought it had a chance," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after the game. "He's the best kicker in NFL history."
No argument here. This cat is different. Thunder in his foot, ice in his veins. Baltimore plays a lot of close games, so having an automatic kicker who can bank three points from basically anywhere on the plus-side of the 50-yard line is everything. Shoot, my colleague Dan Hanzus just welcomed Tucker beyond the velvet rope of the prestigious Superstar Club. This guy puts the "foot" in football.
The wide receiver position is fertile ground for debate these days. Cooper Kupp just authored a legit entry for GREATEST WR SEASON EVER. The 2021 Offensive Player of the Year led the league in catches (145), yards (1,947) and touchdowns (16) during the regular season, then piled up 33 grabs for 478 yards and six touchdowns in the playoffs, ultimately earning Super Bowl MVP honors. Meanwhile, Ja'Marr Chase just set a rookie record with 1,455 yards, as his former LSU teammate, Justin Jefferson, nabbed the record for most receiving yards in a player's first two seasons with 3,016.
Yet still, to me, one wideout still stands out above the rest. And even Jefferson, at least for the time being, agrees.
"I'll say, after this year, I'll be the best receiver in the NFL," Jefferson told Complex's Kameron Hay. "I definitely have to give it to Davante Adams as of now, him being so crazy and dynamic on the field. His route running is crazy, so I definitely have to give it to him right now, but I'm pretty sure after this year, it's going to be me."
I appreciate Jefferson's spirit -- that self-confidence is definitely deserved. But yeah, at the moment, Davante's the standard-bearer at the position. Adams checks every single box for domination: size, game speed, route running, toughness, hands like fly paper. He's excellent in the red zone and clutch on third down. Over the past four years, Adams leads the league in receptions (432), receiving yards (5,310) and receiving touchdowns (47). The 29-year-old is special, as Raider Nation is about to find out.
Yep, Allen heads into the 2022 campaign as my top-ranked quarterback. I mean, you watched him in last season's playoffs, right? A quick reminder:
- Allen in the 47-17 win vs. New England: 21-of-25 (84%) for 308 yards and five TDs (against zero INTs) with a 157.6 passer rating; six rushes for 66 yards.
- Allen in the 42-36 overtime loss at Kansas City: 27-of-37 (73.0%) for 329 yards and four TDs (against zero INTs) with a 136.0 passer rating; 11 rushes for 68 yards.
Is that good? And if the Bills had won the OT coin toss in that Chiefs game, the domination would've continued into the AFC title game and quite possibly the Super Bowl.
I think Allen's primed for the best season of his career in Year 5. I loved the James Cook draft pick at running back. Signing tight end O.J. Howard could pay major dividends. And Gabriel Davis, fully elevated to Buffalo's WR2 behind Stefon Diggs, is about to build off his record-setting postseason performance in a major way. Allen's arm, accuracy, athleticism and leadership are all off the charts. This is going to be must-see TV all season long.
Too low? Sure, you could argue that. But I'm admittedly performing this exercise while thinking about how things could play out in 2022. And given the depleted state of Green Bay's receiving corps, I'm a tad less bullish on my guy Aaron Rodgers than usual. This offense will experience some growing pains without Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. And it certainly doesn't help that last year's offensive coordinator (Nathaniel Hackett) and quarterbacks coach (Luke Getsy) are no longer with the Packers, having earned promotions with other organizations.
All that said, this is still Aaron Rodgers we're talking about. He's the most talented QB ever. He just won his second straight MVP! With four total MVPs, you think he's motivated to tie Peyton Manning for the most ever? To equal Brett Favre with a third straight? Wouldn't surprise me at all if he brought home the hardware once again, maximizing this ragtag group of pass catchers and guiding Green Bay to 12 wins. That's the genius and special nature of Aaron Rodgers.
Perhaps Ramsey gets shafted in the court of public opinion because he's the second-best defensive player on his own team. That's life when you play behind Aaron Donald. But he's been the best corner in the NFL for a while now. That's kind of a huge deal in a league that's throwing the football more than ever before. And he's such a versatile chess piece in Los Angeles' defense, wearing whatever hat the Rams need him to wear on any given Sunday.
Ramsey routinely talks the talk and walks the walk. He earned a spot in the Madden 99 Club last year, then went out and nabbed his third first-team All-Pro nod and first Super Bowl ring. That'll do.
I LOVE Jonathan Taylor, and I'm well aware of what he did last year, leading the league in rushing. But Henry finished ninth despite missing nine games. Taylor's well on his way to 99 status, but King Henry is there. He IS the Titans' offense, especially now that A.J. Brown's in Philly.
Now, combining Henry's absurd workload in recent seasons with last year's foot injury, some people are forecasting a regression in 2022. Not me. Until I see the 28-year-old fall off with my own two eyes, I refuse to bet against him. The blend of speed, size and power is intoxicating. And after an offseason of rest and recovery, I envision him taking back the crown as the best running back in the game this season.
I considered a number of people for the last spot on this list, including Mahomes' teammate, Travis Kelce. Regular readers know I'm completely obsessed with Justin Herbert. As mentioned above, Cooper Kupp just hit for the triple crown. Meanwhile, T.J. Watt and Myles Garrett are prolific QB hunters off the edge.
But a list like this without Patrick Mahomes would be incomplete. In four seasons as a starter, he's gone 49-13, leading the Chiefs to four straight AFC title games and two Super Bowls, winning the franchise's first Lombardi Trophy in 50 years as a 24-year-old. The stats (151:37 TD-to-INT ratio, 105.8 career passer rating) are crazy. And just watching the man play is endlessly entertaining, like a video game in real life. Oh, and did I mention he's already graced the Madden cover twice? I can't not have this guy in my 99 Club.