Madden has had a lot of great — and puzzling — athletes over the years. While 2023 was a brief respite to deservedly honor the late John Madden, it appears Madden 24 is going to add another player to the pantheon.
The most recent athletes to be on the cover were Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes in Madden 22, on a cover with them side-by-side.
Some of the most famous cover athletes were some of the most confusing, such as Peyton Hillis in 2012.
There’s also talk of the Madden Curse, although that has subsided in recent years. Brady and Mahomes certainly didn’t succumb to such superstition in 2022, nor did Mahomes his other cover year of 2020.
Here’s every Madden cover athlete since 2000, when Madden himself graced the cover. Things came full circle after his death in 2021, with Madden appearing on the cover again for Madden 23.
List of Madden cover athletes
There have been 22 different athletes to appear on the cover of Madden, and two years have had two players on.
However, one of those years is nullified with Brady and Mahomes both having appeared on the cover before their joint showing.
Of those 23 players, 21 are offensive whereas only two (Ray Lewis in Madden ’05 and Richard Sherman in Madden ’15) play defense.
Here’s a look at the full list.
|2010||Troy Polamalu and Larry Fitzgerald|
|2016||Odell Beckham Jr.|
|2022||Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady|
* – Alternate version for PS4 / Xbox One
There have been multiple players on the cover just twice, once in 2010 with Polamalu and Fitzgerald and once in 2022 with Mahomes and Brady.
There’s no indication of that trend being replicated in 2024 as Madden goes back to its cover roots, in a sense.
Madden covers by year
Madden 2001: Eddie George
Among the first players to grace the cover of Madden was former Titans running back Eddie George. George was coming off a Super Bowl appearance in 1999-2000, rushing for 1,304 yards and nine touchdowns (with a second-team All-Pro appearance). The former Buckeye was similarly outstanding in 2000, rushing for 1,509 yards and 14 touchdowns to propel himself to first-team All-Pro.
Madden 2002: Daunte Culpepper
Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper became a household name after the 2000 season, having gone 11-5 in his first full year as Vikings starter while throwing for 3,937 yards and a league-leading 33 touchdowns. His follow-up campaign as the Madden cover-athlete, however, was derailed by a knee injury and marred by poor play. Perhaps also worth noting, 2,711 of those 3,937 yards went to Randy Moss and Cris Carter.
Madden 2003: Marshall Faulk
The Greatest Show on Turf had to get some representation as far as Madden covers go. Marshall Faulk was the prototype version of the modern NFL running back: A back who was nearly as deadly receiving as he one running out of the backfield. He had an unbelievable run for the Rams, but his dropoff was precipitous after appearing on the Madden cover.
Madden 2004: Michael Vick
Considered by many to be Madden’s GOAT, Madden ’04 Michael Vick was a different beast. With a defensive AI system that to this day doesn’t do well reading scrambling quarterbacks, the 2004 Falcons were a cheat code.
Madden 2005: Ray Lewis
Madden 2005 marks the first time we got a collector’s edition. It’s also the first time a defensive player was featured on the cover, and brought a feature still incorporated to this day: The hit stick. Lewis was the perfect choice for the cover, coming off a sixth-place finish in MVP voting and a Defensive Player of the Year win.
Madden 2006: Donovan McNabb
Madden 2006 went back to the QB well with Donovan McNabb, who had gone 13-2 as a starter for the Eagles the year before. It also brought on QB Vision, a variable cone that depended on the QB’s awareness rating. The controversial feature split Madden fans. Superstar mode was also introduced in this season, which let gamers take control of an NFL rookie and play out his career.
Madden 2007: Shaun Alexander
2005 Shaun Alexander was nothing short of a monster. He rushed for 1,880 yards and won MVP and Offensive Player of the Year, all while the Seahawks charged to a Super Bowl berth. Though Alexander didn’t return to that form after — with his usage to this point his career being a likely culprit — Alexander holds a special place in Seahawks history for his run.
Madden 2008: Vince Young
A Cinderella Story if there ever was one, Vince Young’s rookie year with the Titans was a dream. A somewhat polarizing pick, Young won Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl honors as a dual-threat quarterback. Though modern NFL fans would likely look at Young’s efficiency stats and scoff, there was a sense in this time that everyone wanted him to succeed due to his down-to-earth demeanor and his electrifying game. Though it didn’t work out, it was fun while it lasted.
Madden 2009: Brett Favre
A largely forgettable era of Madden deserves a cover athlete Madden might want to forget. Favre ended up playing in a different jersey the season he appeared on the cover in a Packers uniform, coming out of retirement to play for the Jets. John Madden always loved Favre, so it was a matter when — not if — he would appear. But Favre made a debacle of the whole situation.
Madden 2010: Troy Polamalu and Larry Fitzgerald
The first year Madden had two cover athletes also marks the first year it started to switch up its art design. Troy Polamalu’s electric, hard-hitting energy was the perfect foil to Larry Fitzgerald’s systematic, almost robotic consistency. The Cardinals and Steelers were coming off a Super Bowl showdown, and they were a solid fit together on the cover.
Madden 11: Drew Brees
This is where Madden started to get somewhat creative with its cover art, featuring the Superdome and fans in the background. Drew Brees was peeking into rooms during greatest QB debates in this era, having won the Super Bowl in 2010. That status didn’t last, but Brees proved himself to be a worthy addition to the Madden archives throughout the rest of his career.
Madden 2012: Peyton Hillis
Without question the most scoffed-at cover athlete to date, poor Peyton Hillis didn’t really do anything wrong. He won the cover in a fan vote coming off of a perfectly solid 2010 season with the Browns. Hillis unsurprisingly hit a wall, and it is now often asked how he got a cover spot in the first place.
Madden 2013: Calvin Johnson
The next year’s fan vote went a bit more smoothly, as Calvin Johnson beat out Cam Newton to get the cover spot. Johnson was an All-Pro in 2011, catching 96 passes for 1,681 yards. He’s also a strong argument against the curse, as in 2012 he had a career-best 122 catches for 1,964 yards. It’s safe to say, voters got this one right.
Madden 25 (2014): Barry Sanders and Adrian Peterson
Ushering in the new era of consoles, Barry Sanders and Adrian Peterson were co-covers for the Xbox 360/PS3 and Xbox One/PS4 editions, respectively. Sanders was a legacy pick, given it was an anniversary edition of sorts, and Peterson was one of the NFL’s most dominant running backs at the time.
Madden 15: Richard Sherman
Another fan selection, Sherman became the second defensive player to get on the cover during the height of the Legion of Boom. This also marked another artistic shift, as the backgrounds became more prevalent, in this case featuring Lumen Field (then Century Link Field).
Madden 2016: Odell Beckham Jr.
Odell Beckham Jr. was a phenom his rookie season, making one of the most iconic catches of all time with his one-handed grab against the Cowboys. From there, he was a natural cover choice. He had the game, the personality, and the market. And of course Madden had to feature his unbelievable signature catch.
Madden 17: Rob Gronkowski
The Gronk Spike is a beautiful celebration in its simplicity, and it looks great on a cover. Just look at those crazy eyes. Rob Gronkowski brought an otherworldly level of talent to the Patriots, being named an All-Pro in 2015 with 72 catches for 1,176 yards, all while being a very competent blocker. Though he struggled in 2016, Gronk returned to form just a year later.
Madden 2018: Tom Brady
Did Madden expect Brady to play another six seasons after the GOAT Edition came out? Probably not. The 2018 cover athlete had achieved all he needed to when he got on in Madden NFL ’18, coming off a 28-3 comeback win over the Falcons. Brady then appeared in two more Super Bowls after the GOAT Edition was released, winning one with the Buccaneers. He earned that title.
Madden 2019: Antonio Brown
File this alongside Brett Favre in the “regrettable decisions” bucket. Before he was Mr. Big Chest, Antonio Brown was nothing short of an incredible NFL receiver. He had four straight All-Pro seasons from 2014 to 2017, and seemed like he could have been on a Hall of Fame track before everything was derailed.
Madden 2020: Patrick Mahomes
It was clear by the 2019 season that Mahomes was bound to be the next big thing as far as NFL superstars go (hence the “Superstar Edition”). By the time he was on the cover, Mahomes was already an MVP and an All-Pro — and it only took him a season of starting. He has more than lived up to his status since.
Madden 2021: Lamar Jackson
Harkening back to fellow Raven Ray Lewis, reigning MVP Lamar Jackson got a black-and-white edition of his Madden cover called the “MVP Edition.” Jackson was the league’s most electric player in 2019, Jackson won MVP behind 1,206 yards rushing and 3,127 yards passing, proving he can do it all.
Madden 2022: Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady
What’s better than one MVP? Why, two of course. Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes became the first repeat Madden cover athletes since Barry Sanders (2000 and 2014) and the first co-cover athletes since Troy Polamalu and Larry Fitzgerald. This was coming off their 2021 Super Bowl showdown in Tampa Bay, where Brady and the Bucs bested Mahomes and the Chiefs. Either way, the moniker MVP Edition is beyond well-earned here.