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Do running backs matter in Madden?

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Digging into trends in EA Sports’ NFL franchise.

Oakland Raiders v Denver Broncos
Phillip Lindsay will be easy to abuse defenses with in the latest Madden.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Passing is king in the real NFL and no player is more important than the passing game’s engine. This is why Patrick Mahomes’ half billion dollar deal looks like a bargain and why running backs have a tough time getting long term contracts. Things are different in fantasy formats, where backs tend to be far more important in most scoring systems. A similar situation plays out in Madden, where the 53 distinct ratings, superstar and X-factor abilities dramatically impact what positions matter.

Keep in mind that I have not played a single snap of the new game and this is based on my experiences dating back to 2003. Over the years I’ve spent countless hours chasing Super Bowls. Since year after year EA’s proven they’ll basically slap a fresh coat of paint on the graphics and provide a roster update, the trends remain.

Athleticism is broken

If you’re a serious Madden player you probably already know how a player’s “Overall” rating is mostly garbage. Awareness artificially inflates value, even though it’s a rating that has little to no value on how a player will feel under your control. Speed, however, is worth its’ weight in gold.

Back in Madden 25, I made a rule for myself where I only paid skill position players who made the “90-90-90” club because speed, agility, and acceleration were so important. In Madden 20 I made a similar rule for my defensive backs. They could be raw in coverage because that was a trainable skill, their athleticism rarely improved enough over the course of a contract to make up for a significant deficit there.

Barkley's game breaking speed is criminally underrated by EA Sports. Draft him anyways.
Barkley’s game breaking speed is criminally underrated by EA Sports. Draft him anyways.

Athletic tight ends are a cheat code.

I thought about omitting this trend because it’s been this way since I started playing Madden 03, but in case you’ve somehow missed it. The NFL loves to draft athletic receiving tight ends in hopes that they’ll blossom into mismatch weapons. If you’re looking to easily abuse safeties and linebackers in Madden, you should too.

Things got really out of hand since Madden 25 and it hasn’t been fixed yet. Does anyone else remember ReShawn James?

Noah Fant will beast in Madden 21.
Noah Fant will beast in Madden 21.

Quarterback’s are mostly fungible

This may seem crazy when you stop and consider how important accuracy is in the real NFL. I get it, I do. The thing is, most of a quarterback’s traits can develop once he’s on your roster, which makes it far easier to find passable ones. One big advantage I had in my competitive franchises over the years is that I rarely extended my rookie quarterbacks once they began asking for $20+ million. Instead I went and found the next prospect with at least 90 throw power and decent short and medium accuracy stats. The money I saved gave me cap space to retain the expensive players at scarcer positions, like defensive tackle or safety.

In Madden 20 I opened up my floor traits as my roster became stacked because an iffy quarterback hurt me even less. If a quarterback had low throwing power I’d prioritize short ball control passes and use my running game and tight end for chunk plays. I found athleticism to be a bonus, not a requirement. My favorite passers could also burn defenses on the ground, but players with Inside Deadeye or Fearless abilities were every bit as viable so long as they were accurate.

I'm going to have to pass on $40 million a year for a QB.
I’ll pass on $59 million a year for a QB.

Don’t overpay for depth on the offensive and defensive lines.

One area where there’s a huge gap between EA’s universe and the real world is the injury risk playing football presents. Even while Madden 20 did a better job than previous iterations at this with an occasional injury bug wiping out running backs or a snake bitten year with three or four players landing on IR, it overlooked the lines of scrimmage.

I’m currently in 2042 on my Madden 20 franchise and have never lost an offensive lineman to injury. This trend has existed as far back as I can remember, and I play around it by only keeping the minimum required lineman on both sides of the ball unless I’m trying to develop a replacement player.

Don’t overpay for hogs.

My go-to running play in Madden 20 has been HB Base out of the shotgun. If you’re familiar with the play, you’ll know the backside guard is asked to pull and lead through the hole, so there’s probably a certain degree of athleticism needed. Over my twenty plus seasons running the play I’ve run through players with 55 speed and an All Pro with 79, and I’ve found the results are more directly tied to the box count and my back’s ability in space than the blockers.

Perhaps the biggest gap between reality and EA’s universe is how offensive lineman aren’t worth $10 million contracts in Madden. Blocking AI doesn’t really improve with awareness in user-controlled games and the difference between an 80 pass blocking tackle and a 99 is negligible. Add to that how easy it is to improve the line in the current development mode, and your cap space is better used elsewhere.

There's no way I'd spend the kind of resources Dallas does on the offensive line.
There’s no way I’d spend the kind of resources Dallas does on the offensive line.

First One Free was broken in Madden 20

Because backs do suffer injuries in Madden, I tend to prefer depth in my backfield. This lends itself to a bit of a dueling banjos or committee approach, and so I’ve played with every type of back imaginable. My preference is for the game-breaking speed backs and I’ve noticed how easy it is to abuse the First One Free X-factor ability. Power backs can get comical as they run everyone over on their way to six, but the excessive contact also makes them likelier to get dinged up.

EA has confirmed they’re looking to tune X-Factor abilities for balance purposes this year, but keep an eye out for this one.