Lamar Jackson is dominating defenders in real life, and in the virtual world.
The Ravens quarterback is on his way to a likely MVP award, becoming just the second quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season (joining Michael Vick). But he hasn’t just been making defenders look silly with elite jukes; he’s been putting in work as a passer, leading the league in touchdown passes (28) while also having the fourth-best quarterback rating (109.2).
All of this success in real life has made Jackson a favorite for gamers on the “Madden NFL 20” franchise. Over the past two weeks, the Ravens have been the most used team in online head-to-head games, beating out the Cowboys (15 million games to 14.9 million), according to EA Sports. Last year the Falcons and Patriots were the most used teams online.
Players have been mostly using Jackson’s rushing ability. He leads lead all players — that includes actual running back — over the last two weeks with 86 rushing yards per game, beating out Ezekiel Elliott, who averaged 66 yards. And since the 2019 launch, Jackson has the most rushing yards in the game (over 704 million) and the most rushing touchdowns (over 6.3 million).
Clint Oldenburg, who works on gameplay design and player ratings for Madden, says he only expects those numbers to go up. Jackson has improved from 76 overall at launch to 90 overall with an X-Factor trait, which was given to the quarterback this week. Jackson was also recently made the fastest quarterback ever in Madden history with 96 speed, beating Vick’s 95 from the 2004 version of Madden.
“He’s getting close,” Oldenburg told Sporting News when asked if Jackson was becoming the most dominant Madden player ever. “Based on the way his ratings have elevated over the course of the season, if he’s not going to surpass Vick as the favorite video game quarterback of all time, I think he’s going to be very close.”
The hard part for Oldenburg and the rest of the Madden team is finding a way to make Jackson realistic while also not breaking the game. There are mechanics in place to help stop mobile quarterbacks — QB spy, QB contain, Spy crash, Zone Coverage crash — but sometimes, those aren’t good enough.
Kevin Johnson Jr., a pro gamer who plays as DaKingg_ in competitive Madden, has built his entire offense around running with Jackson. He uses the Heavy Panther playbook (built for Cam Newton) and repeatedly runs a play called QB Blast, which is a designed running play for the quarterback.
Many of Johnson’s opponents have complained about this style of offense because it’s “glitchy,” but as Oldenburg points out, Jackson is doing this ridiculous stuff in real life, too.
“Our No. 1 goal is making the most authentic NFL experience that we can, and to some level we’re okay with Lamar Jackson being, as a gamer would call ‘a glitch.’ We’re OK with that on some level because that’s what he’s doing on Sunday,” Oldenburg said. “And that’s what we’re trying to reflect. But we need to make sure there’s proper checks and balances in place so that the defense can do things to at least limit his productivity.”
Jackson has commented briefly about his Madden rating, but even though he’s improved a bunch, he’s still not pleased. After he was announced as the fastest quarterback ever in Madden, he said his rating “still is low” with a straight face.
Unfortunately for Jackson, Oldenburg doesn’t see the quarterback’s speed increasing any more.
“I would think unlikely, but certainly not impossible,” Oldenburg told Sporting News about a speed change. “And the only reason I say that is 96 speed is ungodly fast for a quarterback, and it starts to get into an area where he could unbalance the game, very similar to what we saw with Michael Vick in ‘04. There were things over the years after ‘04 that the gameplay team had to develop basically centered around balancing and countering Michael Vick to make the game fair. So if he gets up to 97, 98, 99 I think it’s a lot harder to do that.”
Speaking of Vick, the retired quarterback jokingly told the official Ravens website he’s upset about getting dethroned as the fastest virtual quarterback in history.
“The Madden rating is probably the only thing I’m a little bit hot about,” Vick said. “He’s about to break my (single-season QB rushing) record, and now he’s taking my Madden record, too? Man, can’t we both have the same speed?”
So how do the Madden developers try to combat the popular use of Jackson? For starters, they’ve introduced X-Factor this year, which gives players special abilities. An X-Factor player is someone who truly stands out from otherwise ordinary players on the field. Madden developers have used special X-Factors to entice users to play with more stationary quarterbacks such as Tom Brady and Drew Brees. But at the end of the day, players will choose what they like to play with the best.
“Typically our players enjoy playing with mobile quarterbacks more than pocket quarterbacks, and even this year we kind of made an effort to make X-Factor abilities a little more powerful for pocket quarterbacks to see if we can balance that out,” Oldenburg said. “And it has balanced out to some degree, but it’s just more fun to run around and make plays with a mobile quarterback and that’s why I think our players gravitate to that more.”