The Madden release date in any given year amounts to big news. But it’s the only sports sim going where the Madden cover vote – where one NFL athlete is chosen to be on the packaging – generates even more buzz than actual in-game features. That tradition stems from the era when EA let fans decide the cover star each year, which infamously led to Cleveland Browns also-ran Peyton Hillis appearing front and centre of Madden 12.
Unsurprisingly, the mega-publisher now selects its own spearhead each year, but who’s going to get the gig for Madden 19 (opens in new tab)? Ahead of this weekend’s NFL draft, here’s a countdown of the ten most likely candidates. All of whom will be hoping to navigate around the infamous Madden curse (opens in new tab).
10. Alvin Kamara (New Orleans Saints)
The former University Of Tennessee running back proved an instant hit after being drafted in the third round by New Orleans, snagging Rookie Of The Year honours following 1300 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns in his first saintly season. A Madden cover would rubber-stamp household-name status across the globe, and provide Louisiana’s first since Drew Brees-helmed Madden 11.
9. Matthew Stafford (Detroit Lions)
As we explained last year (opens in new tab), no team boasts more Madden cover stars than the Lions. Barry Sanders started the Motown trend with Madden 2000, Calvin Johnson nabbed a follow-up for Madden 13, and Sanders scored the honour for a second time on the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of Madden 25. All of which keeps Detroit in the mix annually, with QB Stafford the most likely recipient.
8. Tom Brady (New England Patriots)
While Detroit leads the league in Madden covers, New England is one away from tying the record having claimed the most recent two. With Madden 17 (opens in new tab) cover star Rob Gronkowski reportedly considering his future in the sport, last year’s box boy (opens in new tab) Tom Brady again represents the Pats’ best chance of fronting Madden 19. Pushing him down this list, however, is the fact that no player has ever featured on consecutive Madden covers.
7. Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers)
It’s now four years since EA held a public vote for the Madden cover – and the last time it did, for Madden 16, Brown was one of only two wide receivers on the shortlist. Rival Odell Beckham Jr got the gig that year, and Pittsburgh’s number 84 remains cover-less despite five consecutive 100-catch seasons. He’s marketable and popular across the league, and seems a lock to front the game if and when Pittsburgh adds a seventh Super Bowl triumph.
6. Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers)
For all its attempts to mimic reality, Madden remains first and foremost a game about explosive quarterback play. While Cam Newton is superior to Rodgers on the ground, his overall play still doesn’t quite match up to the Green Bay signal caller, who – perhaps surprisingly – remains on zero Madden covers despite years of gunslinging excellence. Indeed, Rodgers would be the first Packer featured since predecessor Brett Favre’s fronting of Madden NFL 09.
5. John Madden (Hall Of Fame)
Boasting more Madden covers than anyone is John boy himself. While that’s of little surprise given that his name’s been on the box for three decades, it’s 18 years since he last appeared on the cover. In his favour this time out is the fact that it’s exactly 30 years since the very first edition of Madden emerged on Commodore 64 and Apple II, and – as demonstrated by the convention-smashing monicker of Madden 25, which actually came out in 2013 – EA does love an anniversary. But guys: please, please don’t call this one Madden 30.
4. Nick Foles (Philadelphia Eagles)
From the roster bubble to Super Bowl MVP: Foles’ fairytale story is a glorious one, and gives him a very credible shot at this year’s Madden cover. The key issue counting against him is that he’s likely to start the season on the bench, with Philadelphia committed to starting franchise QB Carson Wentz on his return from long-term injury – and EA is unlikely to risk putting a guy on the box who may not play a single snap across the 2018 campaign.
3. JJ Watt (Houston Texans)
It’s getting on for half a decade since a defensive player appeared on the cover, with then-Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman selected for Madden 15. Baltimore’s Ray Lewis and Troy Polamalu of the Steelers are the only other D-men chosen as figureheads, so you’d expect EA to expand that list soon – and the massive, beloved Texan seems the natural choice. Not only is Watt the sport’s best lineman, he also earned Sports Illustrated Sportsperson Of The Year and Walter Payton NFL Man Of The Year awards in 2017 for humanitarian efforts off the field.
2. Todd Gurley (St Louis Rams)
Georgia Bulldogs’ one-time rushing star couldn’t quite bulldoze the Rams to play-off glory, but he won countless fantasy leagues in 2017 thanks to more than 2,000 all-purpose yards – 1,300 of them on the ground – and a ridiculous 19 touchdowns. St Louis will once more pin their Super Bowl hopes to Gurley’s thunderous legs and Jared Goff’s surgical right arm for the coming campaign, in which (barring injury) he should challenge for a second consecutive Offensive Player Of The Year gong.
1. Jay Ajayi (Philadelphia Eagles)
We're predicting a Madden 19 cover for Ajayi for multiple reasons. Unlike Foles, he's a guaranteed starter for the reigning Super Bowl Champions, and at running back, a position with an illustrious history of Madden cover stars. He's still a relatively fresh face in Philly, having started last year on the Miami Dolphins roster and been acquired mid-season, which in turn would make the game feel contemporary ahead of a new campaign.
The London-born Arsenal fan has also done ambassadorial work for EA in the past, being interviewed for GR (opens in new tab) ahead of Madden 17, and his coronation as the first British Madden cover athlete would unquestionably make for a positive news headline, at a time when the NFL is bigger than it’s ever been in the UK. And what games publisher doesn't like a positive news headline?
It'll be Ajayi. I'm as certain about it as I was about the Pats winning last year's Super Bowl (opens in new tab). And we all know how that… wait, New England lost? Ohhhhhh.
Madden 19 is expected on PS4 and Xbox One this September. Can’t wait ’til then? Then make sure you check out 11 key changes the game needs to make according to fans (opens in new tab).