Can Madden Ratings Forecast Fantasy Performances?

Show of hands: how many of you have done fantasy drafts in Madden? I know I can’t be the only one. So the other day I was thinking about how great it feels to draft the best possible team, sit back and marvel at the juggernaut I’ve built. I rarely ever play the actual games; usually, I just simulate the season. If the team isn’t any good, I can always restart the season until it works out.1

Fantasy football scratches the same itch except that when I’m playing real fantasy football – by which I mean real fantasy football, not video game football2 – I can’t restart when things don’t go my way. Which sucks. To avoid that misery, my fellow fantasy players and I go to great lengths to build strong teams.3 All of which begs the question: can these two types of team building be combined? Can Madden ratings provide insight into future fantasy success?

We looked into it and actually….yes, yes they can. At least, more than we thought.

We took a look at the initial ratings for the 2016 and 2017 editions of Madden4 and then measured the 2015 and 2016 fantasy production of every “fantasy relevant” player.5


Surprisingly, the highest rated Madden players actually put up the best fantasy figures in both 2015 and 2016. Sure, there are some instances of fluctuating data, but the level of consistency between Madden ratings and fantasy performance is higher than we imagined going into this. So we decided to dig a little deeper.

Breaking our data down position by position helps to give a little more insight into the ability to forecast fantasy output using Madden ratings. Let’s take a look at quarterbacks:

There’s a clear downward trend from the top rated QBs to the lower rated QBs. Although there are certainly anomalies,6 the Madden ratings were useful for offering general insight into future fantasy productivity.

We looked into WRs too, and they have a comparable downward trend from high to low.

There was one hiccup to these ratings: Madden ratings proved to be the least reliable for running backs, already a highly volatile position. There’s a reason new draft strategies have evolved to avoid drafting RBs early. Look at 2015, for example, where the greatest fantasy production came from RBs rated from 21-30 in the game. This data echoes the whole idea of RB output being so incredibly difficult to predict. Consider guys like Devonta Freeman in 2015 and David Johnson in 2016 or Eddie Lacy and Demarco Murray from 2015. What’s the commonality here? The complete divergence between their output and their ranking.

Sure, it’s absurd to think there’s a direct correlation between Madden ratings and fantasy performance, and you should by no means use Madden as your sole tool for drafting the perfect fantasy football team, but based on the charts above, it’s clear that these ratings are at least somewhat indicative of actual fantasy output. Basically, those people behind the curtains at Madden know their shit. At least sometimes. Next time we’ll take a look at anomalies and how a single good season can completely distort expectations. Stay tuned.

  1. Oops, the system mysteriously shut off…how’d that happen?
  2. Yes, I’m getting loose with my definition of “real” here.
  3. Including reading, or in some cases launching, fantasy football websites…
  4. Madden dates its games a year ahead, so the 2016 version was released in August of 2015. Madden ratings are also updated through the year these days but our study focuses exclusively on the initial ratings at release since these are the only ratings that’ll be available before you draft your fantasy team.
  5. I considered all players that played more than 8 games and averaged more than 8 PPG to be “fantasy relevant.”
  6. Peyton Manning, Dak Prescott, Tyrod Taylor, etc.

Mike Bergsman is a contributor and the lead data analyst at The Read Option.

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