Power ranking the 'Madden' covers from best to Hillis

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On Friday morning, Tom Brady was revealed as the cover subject for "Madden NFL 18," a first for the greatest quarterback of all time. I know this because I went back in the archives and checked every "Madden" cover since Brady entered the league in 2000. At that point, I fell down a wormhole and examined every single "Madden" cover since the venerable gaming franchise launched way back in 1988.

Given the occasion -- and congrats Tom, you seem like a guy who needed more good things -- let's go ahead and rank every "Madden" cover from best to Peyton Hillis.

29. Peyton Hillis (2011)

This still feels like a fever dream. Sometimes, in quieter moments, I wonder to myself, Did Peyton Hillis ever really exist? This cover ostensibly serves as proof, and yet I somehow remain unconvinced.

28. through 18. John Madden (1988-1999)

Amazing but true: It took EA Sports more than a decade of releases before they realized it was probably a more marketable option to put someone other than John Madden on the cover of the game. Which is no disrespect to big JM (I love "Boom, where'd that truck come from?" as much as anybody), but it's always been about the players. And let's be honest, they clearly started to run out of ideas after awhile ...

You get the picture. That said, I am quite partial to the gonzo original edition. Bottomless nightmare fuel!

17. Vince Young (2007)

Here's a nice reminder of how sure everyone was that Vince Young was going to be a franchise quarterback for years and years. VY was coming off Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, but it was pretty much downhill after that. Young threw 17 interceptions the following season and only made 22 starts the rest of his career.

16. Shaun Alexander (2006)

If you're playing NFL trivia and you're asked to name every league MVP in the aughts, I can guarantee you Shaun Alexander is the name that will trip people up most. Forgotten MVP, forgotten "Madden" cover.

15. Brett Favre (2008)

Favre is one of the sport's legendary figures, but this cover was undone by timing. The Packers traded Favre to the Jets five days before "Madden NFL 09" was released in North America. An alternate cover with Favre in Jets green was eventually released, but I've never seen it.

14. Daunte Culpepper (2001)

You kids out there might not remember how good Culpepper was before he suffered a catastrophic knee injury in 2005. People who reference Culpepper when talking up the phony "Madden Curse" don't know he had a couple more productive seasons before getting hurt.

13. Donovan McNabb (2005)

"Madden Curse" believers are fine to include McNabb in their thesis: He followed up a career-best 2005 season with a disappointing 2006 campaign that included a lengthy absence following sports hernia surgery. How come we don't call them sports knee injuries? Or sports back injuries? Stay focused, Dan.

12. Barry Sanders (2013)

"Madden" marked the 25th anniversary of the franchise by putting an all-time great on the cover. Not much to quibble with here. Lions teams with Sanders in the backfield was catnip for "Madden" fans in the '90s. Plowing straight ahead with Zach Zenner doesn't provide the same jolt.

11. Eddie George (2000)

The most notable aspect of the George cover was that it was the first one that didn't feature Mr. John Madden. Wonder if that made things weird between the two of them at "Madden" dinner parties.

10. Marshall Faulk (2002)

"Madden" creators missed their window with Faulk, who was already in decline by the time they made him their cover boy. Faulk, Favre and Sanders are the only "Madden" cover stars currently enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Well, four if you count John Madden as well, which, I mean, we definitely should.

9. Ray Lewis (2004)

Lewis was the first defensive player to grace the cover, a deserved honor for a linebacker who was coming off one of the most dominant individual seasons in the history of the position. He didn't come close to replicating that season in 2005, but again, shut up about the curse.

8. Drew Brees (2010)

This was Brees' reward for winning Super Bowl XLIV MVP honors. Chance Drew Brees has ever played Madden: Zero percent.

7. Troy Polamalu & Larry Fitzgerald (2009)

The only cover to feature two players. It's a pretty cool look, and it was coming on the heels of one of the most underappreciated great Super Bowls ever, but I declare this to be a half measure. Pick one guy and be done with it!

6. Richard Sherman (2014)

How much you like this cover probably depends on how much you like Richard Sherman. Like Pete Carroll, I'm kind of Sherman'd out myself, but you have to respect when a defender is great enough to break down offense-lovin' "Madden" folk. Kind of a weird pose though, no?

5. Calvin Johnson (2012)

Here's the cover that best chops down the "Madden Curse" cognescenti. Megatron was a great wideout before "Madden." After, he immediately set the NFL single-season record for receiving yards (1,964). Now what?

4. Michael Vick (2003)

During his heyday with the Falcons, Vick was quite possibly the greatest "Madden" athlete in the game's history. If you were playing against someone who knew how to best take advantage of Vick's incredible speed, it was over. Done. This cover is also ground zero for the curse conspirators. Shortly after the game's release, Vick broke his leg in the preseason and missed 12 games.

3. Rob Gronkowski (2016)

EA Sports has done a nice job in recent years ramping up the visual. The covers just look better now. Also, we're starting to see more of the players' personality come out. If you're going to put Gronk on the cover of your video game, he better be drinking beer or Gronk spiking. Preferably both, but we still like the final product here.

2. Tom Brady (2017)

Smart move by the "Madden" folks, who would have made a major error in judgment had they gone Brady's entire career without putting him on the cover once. Remember, this is a guy now widely seen as the greatest quarterback of all-time. Related: How about Brady leaning into this "G.O.A.T." thing?  He might not be calling himself that acronym, but he clearly has no problem letting other people do it.

1. Odell Beckham (2015)

The second Beckham made that catch against the Cowboys on "Sunday Night Football," he was going to be on the cover of "Madden." It was a wrap at that moment, and sure enough, ODB graced the game's next edition. Again, this cover just looks great while also providing a nice callback to one of the most memorable NFL moments of the last decade. Perfection.

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