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The Schein Nine

Madden NFL 22 cover: Who SHOULD get spotlight? Aaron Donald, Alvin Kamara among 9 players I'd pick

Truth be told, I'm not a video game guy. OK, back in the day, I was obsessed with Tecmo Bowl. Bo Jackson. Lawrence Taylor. Four plays to choose from. Eight in Tecmo Super Bowl. Those were the days. Obviously, I'm a child of the '80s.

Over the last three decades, though, Madden NFL has clearly reigned supreme. Inherently, the Madden cover's become just about the most prestigious place on which an NFL player's mug can reside. To earn this spotlight, you need to be a star. You need to be dominant and marketable. You need to capture an audience, move a football-crazy nation. Well, unless you're Peyton Hillis, but I digress. Or maybe I don't! Mr. Hillis played a starring role, alongside two literal goats, in a teaser video this week for the Madden NFL 22 cover, which apparently will be revealed Thursday morning:

Now everyone's speculating on which player(s) could grace the cover. I'm here to tell you who should grace the cover.

You won't find my guy Aaron Rodgers in the rundown below. You know I think he's the Michael Jordan of the NFL, as a player who consistently creates "I can't believe he just did that!" moments. The reigning MVP's a top-five all-time quarterback fresh off his best year yet. But I truly think Rodgers is done in Green Bay, creating an unsolvable problem for anyone who'd want to slap him on the cover of a football video game: Which uniform do you put him in?

But enough about who's not on my list. Considering marketability, domination and sizzle, here are the NFL players I'd feature on this year's Madden cover, Schein Nine style.

Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs · QB

Yes, I know Mahomes just hit the cover of Madden 20. I don't care. Since then, he's led the Chiefs to a pair of Super Bowls, nabbing the franchise's first Lombardi Trophy in half a century. Generational talent sells.

Don't let the banged-up toe or the battered offensive line from this past Super Bowl fool you: Mahomes is the best player in the NFL. He's a megastar, a real-life cheat code, routinely producing impossible throws and "wow" plays. Mahomes dominates with a million dollar smile and infectious intensity. With a mindboggling touchdown-to-interception ratio of 114:23 in his first three seasons as a starter, Mahomes has enjoyed the greatest start to a career ever at the quarterback position. He's the face of the NFL -- and constantly appears on your television as a product pitchman. This is easy. Let's move on.

Aaron Donald
Los Angeles Rams · DT

They should change the name of the Defensive Player of the Year Award to the Aaron Donald Award. The only debate is who'll finish second. Donald's unstoppable. He wrecks games and makes everyone around him better. Since entering the league as the No. 13 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Donald has racked up 85.5 sacks and 166 tackles for loss -- both NFL highs in this time span. Need I remind you that the guy is an interior defensive lineman? How he wreaks such havoc in the trenches at 6-foot-1, 280 pounds is beyond me. Obviously, his quickness, strength, leverage and hand skills are extraordinary. I could go on, but I'm just telling you what you already know.

Donald sporting his iconic No. 99 on the cover -- with another 99 rating in the game -- would be perfect.

Derrick Henry
Tennessee Titans · RB

Fresh off the eighth 2,000-yard rushing season in NFL history, the reigning Offensive Player of the Year is a bona fide star. His fantasy football popularity only helps. As does his beastly, stiff-arming style, which makes a league full of physical marvels look feeble by comparison. When the 6-3, 247-pounder takes off into the open field, it's a sight to behold.

And now, with Julio Jones joining A.J. Brown to comprise the NFL's best 1-2 punch at receiver, opposing defenses won't be able to stuff the box. What do you think that's going to do for Henry's production? Shoot, I could see him becoming the NFL's first two-time 2,000-yard rusher.

Tom Brady
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · QB

Well, the Madden 22 cover tease did feature a pair of real, live goats. So, yeah, if you're looking to predict who'll actually be revealed in the featured spot on Thursday morning, you can't go wrong with the G.O.A.T. himself. Who could argue that selection?

I still don't think we fully appreciate the absurdity of what we just witnessed. After winning six Lombardi Trophies in New England, Brady changed teams in a pandemic-restricted offseason, promptly ended the Buccaneers' 12-year playoff drought and then beat Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes in successive postseason games to win the whole damn thing. He's 43 years old. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?! He's the greatest of all time, that's how.

Alvin Kamara
New Orleans Saints · RB

This cat plays like a video game character come to life. His movement defies physics. His prolific pass-catching defies the RB position. And his efficient inside running defies his size. The man is simply electric with the ball in his hands, no matter how it gets there.

But it is what Kamara represents when you factor in his alluring personality that earns him a spot on this list. He's a great guy. Everyone of all ages loves him. My kids are obsessed with his game and charisma. Fellow players gravitate to him with "game recognize game" respect. And in the wake of Drew Brees' retirement, Kamara is now the face of the Saints. Which means he is the face of a football-crazed region and will be treated like the icon he is.

Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills · QB

Allen set the NFL on fire in Year 3, guiding the Bills to their first AFC East title in 25 years and first conference championship game in 27 years -- and finishing second in the MVP race in the process. Remember when critics bemoaned his lack of accuracy? Allen completed 69.2 percent of his passes last season. So that Nolan Ryan howitzer of an arm suddenly features Greg Maddux precision? And he has 25 rushing touchdowns in three seasons? Basically, he's Paul Bunyan. And he's only going to get better in Year 4.

The Bills' offense is about to explode. Allen and Stefon Diggs formed a spectacular bond in 2020 without the benefit of a real offseason. Just think of how simpatico they'll be this fall. Cole Beasley's one of the best slot receivers in the NFL, while Gabriel Davis is poised to build off a fine rookie campaign. And now Emmanuel Sanders joins the fray as another weapon in the arsenal. Just wait until the Bills are able to feed off their fantastic fans again this season.

T.J. Watt
Pittsburgh Steelers · OLB

J.J. Watt is one of the best to ever do it, as evidenced by his three Defensive Player of the Year awards and five first-team All-Pro nods, but he's never been the Madden man. And while I'm excited to see what he adds to the Cardinals, J.J.'s cover-guy days appear behind him. Not the case with T.J., who's just hitting his prime at age 26, having led the NFL with 15 sacks last season. It'd be pretty awesome for the Watt family if T.J. landed one of the few individual honors that's evaded J.J.

Last season was no fluke, either. T.J.'s sack production over his first three NFL campaigns: 7, 13, 14.5. See a trend developing? The younger Watt's an edge-rushing star, improving with each passing year. Not to mention, he plays for an iconic franchise, with an amazing and rabid fan base. This would be a buzzworthy selection, no doubt about it.

DeAndre Hopkins
Arizona Cardinals · WR

With all due respect to everyone else at the power-loaded position, Hopkins still has a case to be considered the pound-for-pound best receiver in the NFL. It's a strong case, too. I'd make it. Typically, receivers see some drop-off in Year 1 after switching teams. Not Nuk. He caught 115 balls for 1,407 yards during his debut season with the Cardinals.

In the 2021 campaign, following a real offseason to build chemistry with Kyler Murray, Hopkins is going to be a human highlight film. And from a marketability standpoint, he has the game, the look, the style and the social media presence.

Jalen Ramsey
Los Angeles Rams · CB

I love Jalen Ramsey. I love his play. I love his tenacity and swagger. I love the way he shuts down top receivers. Ramsey is a swashbuckling, take-no-prisoners, kick-butt-and-take-names type of football player. And he's in the second-biggest sports market in America.

Another thing: The Rams are going to be my Super Bowl pick in the NFC this year. With Matthew Stafford running Sean McVay's offense and the Donald/Ramsey combo headlining the defense, this team's ready to emerge from the hyper-competitive NFC West and take care of business in January. The uniforms and colors are gorgeous. Oh, and Ramsey switching to No. 5 is dreamy, too.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter.

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