Every single year fans and players alike get worked up about the ratings system in EA Sports' Madden NFL football game. It's like clockwork. With the football season right around the corner, EA today rolled out all of their ratings for this year's game.
Naturally, the reactions have been all over the place, with everyone from Keenan Allen to Tom Brady commenting on their various ratings. Fans quickly noticed that QB ratings overall were skewed a bit down, with only seven QBs ranked a 90 or better. Among them was Aaron Rodgers, who came in right at 90, which sent fans through the roof. On paper, it seems a little off, but when you look at the full list of QB rankings for this year's game, it makes sense. They're grading them harder, which makes sense.
With so much chatter going around about the ratings this year, we talked to Andre Weingarten, who is the associate franchise & gameplay designer and part of the roster and ratings team. We talked about the early reactions to the ratings this year, how they came up with the rating for Rodgers, if players are ever happey with their ratings, and much more.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
I'm sure it's a very busy day for you guys.
It is absolute hell.
Give me a rundown of what you do and kind of what goes into you guys make the initial rankings each year.
I am an associate designer on Madden for game play and franchise and part of the roster and ratings team. I'm one of two. The other one is the ratings adjuster. That is Dustin Smith. He's a producer as well for Madden. And basically we come up with our yearly rankings based on a lot from last year, a little bit of projecting, just a little bit, and then seeing what if last year was more of an outlier based on the previous years and see what direction they're trending. We go through a tremendous, tremendous amount of game film, and then we basically sit down and discuss who we think is better at individual skills and then we figure out whether that comes out to a rate overall formula or not. And then we go from there.
A lot of people have noticed that the quarterback seem to be skewed down. Was that on purpose? How did you guys come up with the quarterback rankings in general this year?
Yes. So we did a rating stretch overall this year where we separated out the elite players from the rest of the players to really make them stand out. We basically clipped into tiers. You have your elite players, you have your good, very good guys, you have your league average solid guys and you have your low level starters, back ups, etc. And so we really stretched that out to make those top players stand out more. And as you can tell by Matt Ryan to Big Ben going from 89 an 85, I think we accomplished that best for our quarterbacks because there's only one per position starting. So that was the main approach that we took on the quarterbacks and we knew that they were going to be stretched out. And one thing that we want to drive home in general is that each position has a different overall formula.
Comparing guys across positions is not the best approach because some positions have numbers that just inflate their overall score than others, like a middle linebacker might be a little bit lower because coverage stats are skewed lower for linebackers because it's on a one to 99 scale across the league. So they are pretty good at it, but relative to corners they're not. So they have to be a little bit lower.
One thing I've noticed so far is a lot of reactions around the Aaron Rodgers grade. You said a lot of that is due to last year with little projection for next year. So the Aaron Rodgers greatest basically based on his performance from last season?
For the most part, yeah. It's tough because Rodgers specifically ... I mean we do it for as many players as we can. Rodgers has been kind of taking a bit of a downhill slope the past three years. His accuracy has gotten progressively worse over the past two years and while he might've been playing hurt, we can't really project how much that impacted him because we don't know everyone who was hurt and how much it impacted them on week to week basis. So we can only base it off of the film we're seeing, and we saw a different Aaron Rodgers the past two years than we had seen in years past. Last year specifically, his short accuracy was all over the place. And when your accuracies are all over the place inherently he has to go down because that's just such a big part of the formulas for us.
How much film would you guys say you watch? You said you watch a lot of film. Are you watching like like every game? Like multiple times?
Yeah, every game multiple times, live and then all 22 afterwards. Throughout the season we've spent 5,000 hours combined between the two of us watching rookies this year, plus than studying all of the regular guys throughout the year and then revisiting, talking with NFL players if we have that opportunity, talking with experts, people who coach player groups or who study them very heavily. We're crosschecking all of our information and adjusting accordingly. We hear something, they say, "Take a look at this film, break it down together." We go look at it. They explain what they're seeing and we ask questions. We evaluate it ourselves and then we go from there.
That's amazing. One thing that I was wondering, players usually are just outspoken about everything because they have to be, but how many times do you guys get players that are like, "Oh I love my grade. You guys got it perfect."
Never. Very rarely. Devonta Freeman put out a video on the Falcons thing that he was good with his ratings. Dustin, the head ratings adjuster had an experience that he went to the Buccaneers camp last year and they told Lavonte David his grade and he just shook his hand and walked away. Snacks Harrison pointed out that he was really happy. I mean guys will do it, but there are plenty of guys who are unhappy and they will make it very well known.
How do you guys deal with the unhappiness from the players?
It's tough. Usually we'll have our marketing team kind of rally together and we'll talk. We'll ask them questions. Can you provide something here? Some evidence to show why you think this individual rating should go up here or there or whatever. It's never easy because these guys are very proud and they should be. They're professional athletes. They're at the top of the world in their profession and it's tough to even approach them by saying, "Hey, can you prove it with some film, where you think you're better?" Because it's like they know. It feels almost insulting, but that's the only way we can learn because we need to see what they're saying. And I think our entire ratings adjuster team does a really good job of being willing to ask those questions and being responsive when we get the feedback. Not all of it's always accurate. You know, some guys will over project but at the same time it does mean that we get extra intel on these players. Then we can keep that in mind moving forward.
Is speed the biggest thing that the players kind of go in on? That seems like the one that they talk about most often.
Speed is big and strength is big. Really tough one because strength is position specific.
Yeah, that one seems tough.
Yeah. So it's position specific. The highest rank we have to wider receiver is a 79. So as an example, DK Metcalf wasn't happy with his strength at 76, but I think he was tied for fourth best of position. And it's like, sorry, it's really good. So that's always tough. But you get it. Everyone thinks they're as fast as whatever. And I really can't blame them because you see the difference between a 4.3 and a 4.5 . It's less than a ...Like maybe half a foot. So it really depends on, you could be fast with there's somebody in long distances versus short distances. And then maybe a positional specific thing. Catching as big one because that's pretty universal. People love having good hands.