Donny Moore, who serves as the Madden NFL Live Content Producer and Ratings Czar for EA Sports, sat down with Complex to talk about the incoming rookie class and what we can expect out of them in Madden NFL 15.
Moore, who spends months researching all of the incoming rookies, certainly had his work cut out for him. By the time the season rolls around, each team will need to have their 53-man rosters finalized, which comes out to a minimum of 1,696 players spread across 32 teams that will have to be carefully rated. Of those players, the ratings for the incoming rookie class draws arguably the most interest since they enter the virtual gridiron as unknown commodities at the pro level, and there’s a lot of pressure on Moore to deliver.
To help rate these rookies, Moore puts in months of research. From watching games to highlight tapes, Moore uses every resources available to him. “I like the ESPN Insider stuff, and I like Sporting News. I like the NFL Draft Scout guys ‘cause they have great measurables—those are outstanding guys,” Moore says. “I have about 10 to 15 different resources, and I don’t put a whole lot of weight on any one in particular. I’ll get Pro Football Weekly and the Athlons and Lindy’s magazines to sort of just round it out. Really, the keeper for me is just to get as much data and as many opinions as possible and sort of see what are the themes that really comes across. Because you’ll get conflicting data a lot of times with these prospects, of course. I really try to focus on what are the guy’s main strengths and what are his main weaknesses, and really try to capture those in the game.”
Of course, countless gamers out there want to know what Moore’s research on Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel turned up and what his rating will be. One of the most divisive prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft, there are a lot of questions surrounded Manziel and whether he’ll be able to replicate his success at Texas A&M in the NFL. “That’s a popular topic, and we can’t reveal that,” Moore says of the former Heisman winner’s rating. “He didn’t make the top 10. He’s close, he’s very close. He’s certainly in the top 50, how about that?”
While Moore was unable to reveal his rating—Manziel was not one of the 10 highest-rated rookies—it won’t be long before we know where he falls. The ratings for all of the AFC North and NFC North teams will be revealed on Aug. 1 right on easports.com/Madden-NFL. “In general, Manziel is going to be fun to play with,” Moore continues. “He’s got a good arm, and he’s got some solid accuracy ratings across the board. He could probably improve his mid accuracy a little bit, and he’s got great elusiveness, agility and acceleration. So he’s going to be a guy that’s a lot of fun to play with.”
Moore may enjoy playing with Manziel, but he’s got a soft spot for another rookie signal-caller. “I’m a Buc fan, but I do like to play with the Jags as well. I like to play with [Blake] Bortles,” Moore admits. “Right now in the game they have [Chad] Henne as the starter because he’s starting in real life, but I go to the depth chart and make that quick substitution to get Blake in there. He’s got better accuracy numbers across the board from Henne, and he’s got 92 throw power and 73 speed. He’s like a mini Andrew Luck. You know, he’s not nearly as talented as Luck and not as highly touted, but he’s a guy that’s really fun to play with. I’m a UCF guy, too, so I’m a big Bortles guy.”
Bortles was widely deemed as the more developmental prospect with a higher ceiling than all of the other quarterbacks, but he managed to end up as one of the top-rated rookies. Teddy Bridgewater, however, fell out of the top 10 even though many considered him to be the more polished, NFL-ready prospect. “I’ll let you know a little spoiler: they’re very, very close in ratings in terms of overall,” Moore says of Bridgewater and Bortles. “But I guess the thing that separates Bortles is he’s got a better arm. Bridgewater, through the film, he looked very good. But then throughout the scouting process, there were some knocks on his arm. Several well-respected people had some really big knocks on it. We didn’t really take too critical of a knock on his arm, but I believe it’s in the high 80s, like 87, 86 or 88—somewhere in that range. So that sort of knocks him down compared to Bortles’ 92. Bridgewater also has some deep accuracy issues, so he’s got a lower deep accuracy. Granted, he’s higher-rated than Bortles in short and mid accuracy, so he’s going to be a guy who you can use in the short passing game quite well.”
Even though Moore seemed to really enjoy playing with the rookie quarterbacks, it should come as no surprise that his favorite rookie to play with in Madden 15 comes from the defensive side of the ball. The next version of Madden puts a heavy focus on defense, and those of you out there that like to play with pass rushers are going to really enjoy some of the new features at your disposal.
“I would say Clowney, because what he’s going to do in Madden is he’s going to give you two just beast-mode pass rushers,” Moore says of the No. 1 overall draft pick from the 2014 NFL Draft and his favorite rookie player in Madden 15. “You’ve got JJ Watt, who’s already a phenomenal pass rusher. He’s almost 90-plus in every meaningful category for a defensive player on the left side. Then you’re going to add Clowney at right side at outside linebacker, with 88 speed, 92 acceleration, 94 power moves—which basically determines if he can get through the offensive line in pass-rush situations using power moves—which is No. 1 for a rookie. And he’s got 95 hit power, which ties him for No. 1 as a rookie, so he’s going to cause some fumbles as well in the running game.
“Another guy that I would probably mention is Aaron Donald from the St. Louis Rams. He put up insane measurables at the combine for a defensive tackle. Granted, he’s 6-2, 280 lbs., so he’s a little undersized. But he’s got 81 speed, 93 strength, and because he’s a tackle with the Rams and the rest of those guys that they have on that front line, he’s going to be a beast, too.”
Sometimes it’s not all about the ratings, though. There are some low-rated players that are more effective than what their ratings dictate and are really fun to control. “I would say that a guy that was fun to create was a guy by the name of Lamarcus Joyner, a safety from Florida State,” Moore says. “He’s like a mini Tyrann Matthieu. He’s a safety, but he plays a lot of nickel corner. They line him up in man coverage a lot, so he can sort of do it all. Not a real big guy, but he’s got outstanding instincts, he’s got quick pursuit angles, and he’s a guy that I have a lot of fun with. He’s on the Rams, too, so I like to build around the Rams. The Rams defense is nice and young, and they got some really, really great players like Robert Quinn, [James] Laurinaitis and Janoris Jenkins.”
On the flip side, there are some players that Moore catches a lot of flak over because many feel they should be rated higher and play more effectively on the field. With a title like Ratings Czar, there’s naturally going to be a lot of pressure and criticism pointed his way. Moore deals with more than his fair share of complaints directly from players—both NFL players and gamers—but it doesn’t stop there. “I’ve sort of gotten hammered internally about Kelvin Benjamin, the wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers,” Moore says sheepishly. “We’ve got some Panthers fans in testing, and there are some Florida State fans, so they know him pretty well. They wanted to see him higher than what we have him at the moment. But, really, all of our resources and data on him have him as more of a second-round guy. He has some knocks: he’s a 4.66-guy, and his routes are very raw. He’s a guy that I expect to hear from a lot of Panthers fans, especially if he does good in the preseason. They’re going to be like, ‘Hey, why are you hating on the Panthers so bad? You’re a Bucs fan, what are you doing?’ It has nothing to do with that. It’s all about what all of our reports have on him.”
Benjamin was part of the heralded group of wide receivers from the 2014 draft class, and he was one of several players from that group selected in the first round of the draft. While the 2014 draft class is considered to have one of the best and deepest pools of wide receivers the league has seen in years, Moore continues to heap praise on the defensive players. He believes that if you were to simulate an entire season, the rookie with the highest chance of making the Pro Bowl would be a defensive player. “I might go with someone like [Ha Ha] Clinton-Dix,” Moore says with a slight hint of uncertainty in his voice. “It really depends on how the whole Packers defense will probably perform inside of that simulation. If the Packers did well, specifically, he would have a high chance because he’s got a 75 catch, so he’s a guy that can probably come close to leading the league in interceptions. He starts, he’s a guy that’s got 85 speed, 84 zone, and he’s good against the run. He’s a guy that might have a chance—sort of an all-around player that can get some stats. Pro Bowl might be a stretch, though. If I were to pick a guy in real life, that’s a different situation.”
Getting a rookie into the Pro Bowl is no easy feat, but one way to boost his stats to be able to perform at that level would be to have the Superstar development trait. For gamers that like to do their own fantasy drafts in Connected Franchise Mode, landing those players with the coveted Superstar development trait is paramount. It’s one of the most sought-after traits in Madden, but gamers will have to work to develop that for any and all rookies.
“If my memory serves me correctly, we didn’t tag any rookies with the Superstar,” Moore says. “Most of the rookies are all set to normal, so it can kind of let you, the gamer, take control of their career and do what you want with them. A handful of the top-rated guys are going to be set to the quick development trait. There will be a few guys set to slow—guys coming in with ACL injuries or some pre-existing injury concerns that they sort of need to work through. And keep in mind we’ll update those throughout the year with all of our weekly roster updates once guys break out of their mold. But I don’t believe that anyone is set to Superstar as a rookie.”
Madden NFL 15 comes out on Aug. 26 in North America and Aug. 29 across Europe, and it is set for release on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.