In the world of video games, there are very few constants. The Madden NFL franchise has been rolling out annually for decades and is often considered one of these said constants alongside FIFA, NBA 2K, and Call of Duty. Unlike these other franchises, Madden NFL has a storied history of cover athletes that range anywhere from first ballot Hall of Fame type guys to one-hit wonders that are often forgotten about. The franchise also has its own conspiracy theory attached to it by way of the fan labeled "Madden Curse." This curse claims that anyone who appears on the covers is often cursed for the following season.
We've seen it be pretty consistent over the years and has resulted in injuries, off years, disappointments, and general failures. Though the severity of the curse has a wide range and can sometimes be devastating while other times resulted in minor inconveniences, it's proven to have some hard evidence behind it. Today we'll be ranking all of these cursed cover athletes from worst to first. Now, the games feature marginal changes so comparing them based on the games isn't interesting. Instead, we'll be ranking them based on the cover athletes themselves. The list will probably feature one player higher or lower than you would like, but a good amount of thought was put into it.
As much bias as possible was thrown out the window as well, which is evident by the #1 player. Who honestly likes the Patriots outside of Boston? Let's now take a look at the last 20 Madden NFL cover athletes ranked from worst to first.
20 Peyton Hillis (Madden NFL 12)
Peyton Hillis was a fullback with the Denver Broncos who flashed athleticism and true running back ability. After his two year stint, he signed a contract with the Cleveland Browns in 2010 that led to a breakout 1,000-yard season and the cover of Madden NFL 12 in 2011. His following year was hampered by injuries and a lot of input from his agent to sit out and take care of his body in hopes of signing a nice extension in the offseason. The Browns didn't end up resigning Hillis, who eventually landed with the Kansas City Chiefs. His burst was never the same and he retired from the NFL in 2015.
19 Vince Young (Madden NFL 08)
Vince Young was arguably one of the greatest college quarterbacks of all-time and quickly rose to popularity as he was heading towards the NFL draft. The Tennessee Titans selected Young in hopes of him becoming the next Steve McNair for the franchise. After a promising and electric rookie stint coached by Jeff Fisher, Vince Young won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award as well as capturing the cover for Madden NFL 08. During the offseason Jeff Fisher and the Titans had numerous troubling events take place involving Vince Young and his mental health. He was never quite able to get over his inner demons and develop into a franchise quarterback.
18 Odell Beckham Jr. (Madden NFL 16)
Odell Beckham Jr. is arguably the most popular player on this list and has truly reached superstar status in the NFL. Though he is still quite young, his numbers on the field are impressive despite multiple coaching staff changes as well as being partnered up with Eli Manning, whose arm strength and precision quickly deteriorated over the years. After a surprising offseason trade from the New York Giants to the Cleveland Browns, he'll now be suiting up in the orange and brown in 2019. With a young confident quarterback and a dynamic offense around him, OBJ may be primed for his best year yet.
17 Richard Sherman (Madden NFL 15)
If there are two things that define the Madden NFL 15 cover athlete Richard Sherman, they're probably his intelligence and his trash talk. He's known for being one of the biggest trash talkers in the NFL as well as one of the smartest players on the field and in the film room. Sherman's never been the fastest or most versatile corner, but he's made up for it with his film study and instincts. He's often overlooked due to being surrounded by the rest of the Legion of Boom in Seattle, but his first year in San Francisco showcased his accolades weren't a byproduct of the talent around him. He's just that good, to begin with.
16 Daunte Culpepper (Madden NFL 2002)
When people talk about Minnesota Vikings offensive greatness the conversation usually circles around Randy Moss, Cris Carter, and Randall Cunningham. You rarely hear people talk about Daunte Culpepper and it's likely due to his inconsistency. Including his incredible sophomore year that led to the Madden NFL cover, Culpepper had 2 other incredible seasons for the Minnesota Vikings. The problem is that these were spaced between years and in his 7-year stint in Minnesota he only played a full 16 game season 3 times. Daunte Culpepper was never the perennial pro bowl quarterback, but he was a unique talent that gave the Vikings some incredible seasons.
15 Shaun Alexander (Madden NFL 07)
Shaun Alexander is a perfect role model for athletes who were never the fastest, strongest, or most agile. Alexander showcased that a consistent work ethic and a never-ending motor can take you places pure ability and talent can't. People forget that Alexander was one of the Seattle Seahawks greats because he was quickly succeeded by Marshawn Lynch. Alexander had 5 consecutive 1,000 rushing yard seasons and ending his career with 100 rushing touchdowns. You don't have the type of career if you're not dedicated to being the best version of yourself day in and day out.
14 Donovan McNabb (Madden NFL 06)
Prior to the craze of Nick Foles helping the Philadelphia Eagles win their first Super Bowl in team history it was easy to name the best quarterbacks in franchise's history. Two of the names that quickly come to mind are Randall Cunningham and Donovan McNabb. Donovan McNabb was a very talented quarterback who had the fortune of being coached by Andy Reid, one of the most intelligent offensive minds the NFL has ever seen. Despite putting up tremendous numbers and making the NFL Hall of Fame, McNabb never won the big game. It's the biggest missing piece for his resume when discussing all-time greats.
13 Adrian Peterson (Madden NFL 25)
Adrian Peterson from a purely physical recovery standpoint is a modern miracle. The guy's body just doesn't quit despite what years of research and analysis have told us. Running backs have one of the shorter NFL shelf lives for a given position in the NFL. He's managed to find opportunities despite numerous setbacks and continues to make a case for the NFL Hall of Fame. His off-the-field issues have tarnished his overall appearance, so it's tough to say how things will shake out in the end. Will he be in the Hall of Fame? Surely. How long will it take? Who knows.
12 Antonio Brown (Madden NFL 18)
Being the most recent athlete on the cover, Antonio Brown is obviously one of the most talented players in the NFL. The problem is really about how he fits into a team and how much of a problem can he be in your locker room. With his recent trade from the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Oakland Raiders, we're not quite sure how the Madden Curse might affect him. No one wishes for athletes to get hurt, but the consensus joke is that being paired with the once hopeful franchise quarterback Derek Carr may be his curse. Others feel that it may be a clashing of philosophy with Gruden. Either way, we're going to have to wait and find out.
11 Michael Vick (Madden NFL 2004)
Michael Vick is one of the most interesting players to dawn the cover of the Madden NFL franchise. He made the cover solely because he was a quarterback that the NFL had really never seen before. Though there were the likes of Steve Young and Randall Cunningham, Vick was the first true dynamic dual-threat NFL quarterback in the modern era of the game. Every time he stepped on the field in Atlanta he was easily the fastest person on the field. Interestingly enough his best years as a passer came in Philadelphia under Andy Reid and company. Everyone had a friend who only used Michael Vick in Madden NFL 2004.
10 Larry Fitzgerald (Madden NFL 10)
At first glance, people may be really surprised that Larry Fitzgerald sits on this list higher than the likes of Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham Jr., and because of that, I'll explain why he sits at #10. Fitzgerald has a resume of consistency in terms of individual statistics and all-star representation. He's managed to do all of this despite a rotating chair at both the quarterback and head coach position. Despite the numerous firings and substitutions, he's managed to be an all-time great at wide receiver and a hall of fame teammate as well. Fitzgerald never played with an elite quarterback as Antonio Brown did, and we haven't seen Odell's career completely play out yet.
9 Rob Gronkowski (Madden NFL 17)
At the time of writing this article, Rob Gronkowski recently announced his retirement from the National Football League. He's coming off one of his healthier seasons in recent memory, and of course another Super Bowl victory with the New England Patriots. There's no doubt that he'll be a 1st ballot Hall of Fame inductee based on his individual statistics and records at the tight end position in combination with his multiple Super Bowl rings. He'll arguably go down as the best tight end in league history due to his rare combination of run blocking and play-making ability. Pretty impressive considering his numerous unfortunate injuries.
8 Eddie George (Madden NFL 2001)
Eddie George is often overlooked at the running back position probably due to the fact that there have been so many tremendous talents in the backfield. George rarely breaks anyone's Top 10 list for the position despite doing a lot of the things Marshall Faulk did but in a smaller market. Now, Faulk's accomplishments are far greater than George's, but it doesn't mean he isn't one of the greats. He's arguably the best player in Tennessee Titans history next to the late Steve McNair. He was one of the harder players to rank on this list, but due to his surrounded cast, it's fitting to have him this high up after an excellent career in the Music City.
7 Brett Favre (Madden NFL 09)
Currently, there's a lot of revisionist history on Brett Favre partially due to the scandal at the end of his career as well as Aaron Rodger's success in Green Bay. Despite Aaron Rodgers often being considered the greatest thrower of the football in the history of the league, his resume is eerily familiar to his legendary predecessor. This is pretty ironic considering their touchdown-to-interception ratios couldn't be farther apart. One is a risk taker with a cannon arm while the other is cool and calculated with a cannon of his own. Green Bay is a franchise that has had back-to-back Hall of Fame quarterbacks, and only 2 Super Bowl wins in that time. Maybe Favre and Rodgers aren't to blame?
6 Drew Brees (Madden NFL 11)
If his career ended in 2019 it'd be hard to put Drew Brees in the Top 5 all-time consideration considering he has only one Super Bowl victory. Statistically, he's in that conversation and will likely break every career passing record in existence, but his lack of playoff success might hurt him. These last two years specifically have been disappointing for differing reasons. In the 2018 playoffs, Brees run came to an end due to his defense blowing the game late on a miracle touchdown pass. This year we had the controversial "missed call" that led to the Saints departure. Whether he wins another Super Bowl or not, Drew Brees is and always will be one of the greats.
5 Troy Polamalu (Madden NFL 10)
Despite sharing a cover with Larry Fitzgerald, Troy Polamalu's legacy is one that speaks for itself. He's very easily considered the most instinctual player to ever put on the pads. His film study and dedication to his craft allowed him to take risks that few others could even fathom. He was so prepared and knowledgeable about his opponents that he knew when he could cut corners in order to make the big play. Not only was he a ballhawk in the passing game, but he could also deliver a knockout blow on the ball carrier. In a city dominated by all-time defensive greats, Polamalu will always have a seat at the table in Pittsburgh Steelers history.
4 Calvin Johnson (Madden NFL 13)
Calvin Johnson, like Barry Sanders, is another NFL all-time great who may have hung up his cleats early due to the lack of success in Detroit with the Lions. Though Johnson sited lingering injuries as his major reason for leaving the game, there's no doubt that the lack of improvement or winning culture in Detroit hurt his passion for the game. Despite little to no playoff success and even years of sub-5 wins, Johnson managed to put up some of the greatest statistical seasons for a wider receiver in NFL history. Many people still wonder what he could have accomplished if he played with an elite quarterback and how many more records he would have set.
3 Marshall Faulk (Madden NFL 2003)
For the longest time in the NFL, the running back was meant to run the ball and leave the receiving to the actual wide receivers. As the West Coast offense caught fire and gained popularity we saw versatile running backs become a new niche these types of offenses pursued. No one in the history of the game quite defines the term all-around back like Marshall Faulk. He was the anchor of the "Greatest Show on Turf" and set a standard for complete backs to pursue for years to come. He made them realize that you shouldn't strive to just be an outlet but to have the skills of an actual receiver out of the backfield. Just ask Matt Forte or Alvin Kamara.
2 Ray Lewis (Madden NFL 2005)
Sometimes great players are great despite their situations, like Barry Sanders. Sometimes they land in a place that's so perfect it makes your head hurt. If you're lucky enough to win a Super Bowl near the beginning of your career and also win one the year you decide to retire, you have lived the best NFL life. Not only did Ray Lewis do just that, but he also managed to create and define a culture for a team in a new city and managed to do so alongside other all-time greats like Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs. Many players love the city they play for, but few define it. Ray Lewis is the Baltimore Ravens, and the Ravens are Ray Lewis.
1 Tom Brady (Madden NFL 17)
Now, Tom Brady is easily one of the most disliked players in professional sports. I personally fall in this camp and it's hard to look past some of the questionable situations the Patriots have been caught in the middle of in previous years. Despite this, the truth of the matter is that he has 6 Super Bowl rings. You can argue that he's never been the most talented, he's cheated, and that he's also been incredibly lucky. All of these are a matter of discussion and outside of New England, it's hard to find people who disagree. The best part about him being on the cover of Madden NFL 17 is that for Patriots fans it finally happened, and for everyone else, it can't happen again. Everyone wins.