Forget about wanting to be No. 1. This week, it's all about the No. 99.
I'm talking about an indicator that a player is at the peak of their powers on the football field: earning a 99 rating in Madden.
Over the past week, we've learned the five NFL players who have received that rating in Madden NFL 24, signifying that they are among the most dominant forces in the game:
Like I did last year, I wanted to assemble my own version of the 99 Club. And, luckily, there are nine players I'd include. Without further ado, let's dig into my Schein Nine 99:
There's nobody better -- and Mahomes' 2022 season may have been his best work yet, which speaks volumes about the magical start to his career. Despite losing his top wide receiver, Tyreek Hill, in a trade last offseason, Mahomes easily paced the NFL in passing yards (5,250; he was the only player to top 5,000) and touchdown passes (41). He also finished second in passer rating (105.2) and yards per pass (8.1). And then he gutted through a high ankle sprain in the playoffs, holding off the Jaguars and Bengals before making his third career appearance in the Super Bowl -- where he played brilliant ball.
Here's how my math works out on this one:
5 AFC title games + 2 Super Bowl wins + 2 MVP awards in 5 seasons as a starter = a no-doubt 99 rating.
No matter what, Donald will go down as a player for the ages. Last season did not measure up to his usual standards, but that does nothing to curb my enthusiasm for this all-timer.
Don't be distracted by Donald's talk of potential retirement last offseason (which was followed by a pay bump). Don't be thrown by the Rams' losing ways in a dud of a follow-up to their Super Bowl-winning 2021 campaign. Donald was among the players negatively impacted by injury in Los Angeles in 2022; he suffered an ankle injury in Week 12 and did not play again, finishing with the fewest appearances (11 games) and lowest sack total (five) of his nine-season career.
Even at age 32, Donald is still the best defensive player on the planet in my eyes. He is still the best non-quarterback in the NFL. He says he's healthy and ready to go. It's appropriate that the three-time Defensive Player of the Year wears the No. 99 -- he is the definition of a 99-rated player in my book.
There is no doubt Bosa deserved to be named Defensive Player of the Year last season. Check out these downright gaudy stats: 18.5 sacks (first in the NFL), 48 quarterback hits (also first), two forced fumbles and 51 tackles. He also led the league with 73 quarterback pressures, per Next Gen Stats, finishing third in pressure rate (15.9%) among players with at least 400 pass-rush snaps. He is an exceptional and opportunistic pass rusher, a matchup nightmare who changes games for this 49ers juggernaut. He's the best player on the most loaded roster in football.
The NFL is currently awash in great receivers -- and Jefferson has become the best of the best. Name an important trait for the position, and Jefferson checks the box. Hands? Check. Size? Check. Route running? Check. Yards-after-the-catch dominance? Check; Jefferson ranked fourth in the NFL and first among receivers with 643 YAC in 2022, per Next Gen Stats. Overall statistical dominance? Check; his career receiving-yards-per-game mark of 96.5 stands as the best in NFL history so far. I feel as confident as ever in my bold prediction that the reigning Offensive Player of the Year will become the first player to break the threshold of 2,000 receiving yards in a single season.
Jefferson's spectacular, video-game-esque, one-handed grab against Buffalo last season captures, in one play, the essence of a 99 rating: In a seemingly impossible situation, Jefferson made magic. His inclusion in the actual 99 Club for the first time in Madden NFL 24 is not a surprise.
Kelce is the best tight end in football, and it's not really close.
Kelce's 1,416 receiving yards in 2020 stand as the most ever by a tight end in a single season; he also owns two more of the top five efforts at the position (1,338 in 2022, which ranks fourth, and 1,336 in 2018, which ranks fifth). Since his first full pro season in 2014, he's recorded more catches (814) than anyone at any position; he ranks fourth overall in targets (1,146) and receiving yards (10,344) in that span.
He has become the best and most reliable pass-catcher for the best quarterback in the game. Coach Andy Reid puts Kelce in position to be dominant, and Kelce takes full advantage. He's a true beast who will surely end up in Canton after his playing days are done.
Williams will turn 35 before the season begins, but he remains the best left tackle in the business, bar none. The 10-time Pro Bowler also earned first-team All-Pro nods in each of the past two seasons.
There are many reasons that the 49ers have been able to succeed no matter who is at quarterback, but the protection of Williams -- who has allowed a grand total of six sacks and 12 QB hits since joining the Niners in 2020 -- is a big factor. To me, it would not be outlandishly early to start carving his bust.
I don't want you to tell me Tucker's field-goal percentage (86% in 2022) dropped below 89% for the first time since the 2015 season. I don't want to hear about someone else (the Raiders' Daniel Carlson) claiming the first-team All-Pro kicker spot in 2022. I just want you to answer one, simple question:
If you have a chance to win a game on a field goal with one second left in regulation, who do you want making that kick?
You know the answer is Tucker, the best kicker in NFL history. And to me, that's what the 99 rating is all about.
Here's what a "down year" from Adams looks like these days:
2022 season: 180 targets, 100 catches, 1,516 receiving yards, 14 receiving TDs.
Adams' yards-per-game mark (89.2) slipped from his averages in 2020 (98.1) and 2021 (97.1), but it was still the fifth-best figure in the NFL last season. He also earned his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl nod and was a first-team All-Pro for a third straight season. The second-best receiver in the game is an absolute superstar.
A debate over who counts as the No. 2 quarterback in the NFL behind Mahomes right now would be a pretty strong and healthy one, given the abundance of signal-calling talent in the league. To me, though, Burrow possesses every single tangible and intangible characteristic of stardom at the position.
Over the past two seasons, Burrow ranks first in the NFL in passer rating (104.2), fourth in passing yards (9,086) and third in passing touchdowns (69). And he's been a postseason force, completing more passes (169) for more yards (1,826) than anyone over the past two playoffs.
But forget the numbers for a second; Burrow might qualify for a 99 based on charisma alone. He exudes the kind of swaggering confidence that screams franchise quarterback. A massive contract extension appears to be on the horizon. He'll be worth every penny he gets -- and then some.