Patrick Mahomes and JuJu Smith-Schuster Shared Their ‘Madden’ Strategies

NFL players love "Madden." We talked to several stars about their strategy for the game and favorite stories from growing up obsessing over it.

Patrick Mahomes Divisional Playoffs 2019
USA Today Sports

Jan 12, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) motions on the sidelines in an AFC Divisional playoff football game against the Indianapolis Colts at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Mahomes Divisional Playoffs 2019

Patrick Mahomes’ father taught him a very valuable lesson when he was in elementary school.

When he wasn’t busy serving as a major league relief pitcher for 11 years, Pat Mahomes would play Madden with his son. Just seven or eight years old in the early 2000s, the Chiefs QB and future Madden NFL 20 cover star remembers practicing for one of their showdowns for weeks with his favorite team, the Cowboys. He also remembers their game ending with him in tears.

The lesson the younger Mahomes learned? Choose your team wisely.   

“Of course he gets the Vikings with Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss,” says Mahomes. “He would let me hang around and then just throw a bomb to Moss, and you couldn’t stop it. So he would throw a touchdown and I’m crying, throwing my controller, because I had been practicing for weeks. He would love every bit of it.”

“I just kind of floated around with guys that had great skill position players, great receivers, and that’s why now I can play with the Chiefs, because, I mean, we’ve got the best skill position guys in the league.” — PATRICK MAHOMES

If you grew up playing Madden, or still pick up a copy every year, no doubt you can relate to the anguish Mahomes suffered back in the day. Because when you invest all that time and energy into the game only to suffer a brutal beating, no doubt you’re going to feel a certain way about it. And who among Madden players hasn’t thrown a controller, punched a wall, or sworn off the game after a frustrating finish?

As he got a little older, Mahomes realized the path to Madden happiness, and fewer cracked controllers, was picking the superior offensive teams. Because—let’s face it—it’s way more fun to rack up points and wins than stay loyal to your favorite IRL squad that might be trash.

“More recently, I would play with the Steelers. They had Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant at the time, and Big Ben [Roethlisberger],” says Mahomes. “I just kind of floated around with guys that had great skill position players, great receivers, and that’s why now I can play with the Chiefs, because, I mean, we’ve got the best skill position guys in the league.”


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Steelers wide out JuJu Smith-Schuster knows exactly what Mahomes is talking about. Another active Madden player, Smith-Schuster would always opt to play with the better offensive teams when he was growing up, and frequently picked the ones led by mobile quarterbacks like Donovan McNabb and Mike Vick. The pattern continues today. While Steelers fans might find this to be sacrilegious, Smith-Schuster is not above messing around with some of Pittsburgh’s bitter division rivals.

“I always had a quarterback who could move around,” he says. “Even now, I like playing with Lamar Jackson. Those kind of guys. Like Baker Mayfield. Sam Darnold.”

The coolest thing, of course, will forever be playing as yourself. Smith-Schuster remembers how crazy it was to see his likeness in Madden NFL 18.

“When I was first in the game, I played as myself all the time,” he says. “I went to practice mode as myself. It was like, ‘Damn, I can make that catch’ and move myself around. It was unbelievable. I’m even more excited about this year’s version.”

That’s mainly to see what his new rating will be. Smith-Schuster and Mahomes figure to have significantly improved ratings from last year, since they were among the best players at their respective positions. Smith-Schuster was an 88 last year, while Mahomes earned a 94. Aaron Donald, widely considered the best defender in football, kind of has an idea of what his rating will be.

“The past years, they’ve been pretty good,” says Donald. “I’ve been a 99. I can’t complain about that.”

Donald was one of seven players to start last season with the near-perfect rating and one of four to finish with a 99. For the man named the 2018 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, it’s still kind of surreal to fire up the game he grew up playing and see that mythical 99 next to his name.

“We always played Madden growing up, so that’s a big deal to us,” he says. “Not to just be in the game, but to be a 99 in the game is for real.”

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