A Look at the 2011 "Madden" 49ers

If you're reading this, I'm assuming you're a fan of the 49ers. And since you are, odds are that you also play with them on "Madden." After all, the game wouldn't do billions of dollars in sales every year if a bunch of us weren't buying it, right? If you're anything like me – and for your sake I hope you're not – every year around this time you scratch your head and yell at the innocent computer.

After taking a gander at the Niners roster and the player ratings that Electronic Arts, the company that makes the Madden games, releases online in advance of the game's launch. Contrary to popular belief, the players themselves aren't the only ones who complain about the inadequacies of their virtual selves. I bitch probably more than all of them put together, certainly about the Niners at least. I simply don't understand how EA Sports, which used to be based in the Bay Area, can screw up the home team so badly year after year. Forgive me; I'm a sportswriter, so it's in my nature to complain about everything anyway.

I'll begin this year's Madden the rant the same way I do every year: The game's criminal indifference to long snappers. For some reason that escapes me, the folks in Tiburon, Florida, who work on the Madden game every year see no reason to include the 32 humble men whose jobs it is to snap the ball for field goals and punts, even though every team has a long snapping specialist on its roster. Donny Moore, the lead designer of the Madden game and the self-proclaimed "ratings czar," just doesn't think these gentlemen are important enough to be included, even though long snappers are part of the 45 active players for every team on NFL Sundays. They're certainly more vital than that ninth offensive lineman or sixth wideout – the guys who never play.

Forget about making the Pro Bowl or being elected team captain. For my money Brian Jennings will get his proper due when his likeness is the one snapping the ball to Joe Nedney on my PS3 instead of center Eric Heitmann.

The other odd thing that the Madden game's always done is to have a 55-man roster instead of the 53-man limit the NFL uses. As best as I can tell, it does so for three reasons. First, the game has this bizarre roster minimum rule where every position must have at least one backup, meaning that each team in the game must have at least 10 offensive linemen, even though real life NFL teams usually go with eight or nine guys, not including long snappers. So the Madden rosters you get in August will inevitably include a couple of guys who will either be cut or be placed on practice squads.

Second, injured reserve doesn't work the same way in the game that it does in real life. In the game, even if a guy's out for the season, he still counts toward the roster. You're not even allowed to release him, because you can't cut or trade injured players. In the real NFL if a player gets placed on injured reserve, he is no long a part of the 53-man roster and thus teams can sign other players.

Finally, because the game comes out in August and the roster files get put together in early July, Moore and his minions have to make a few educated guesses for what each squad's team will look like in September. By giving themselves a 55-man roster, they're compensating for two or three wrong guesses that are bound to happen with every team.

So what mistakes, besides Jennings being nowhere to be found were made on the 49ers roster? Let's take a look. http://espn.go.com/videogames/madden11?teamId=15

Quarterbacks: Alex Smith – 77, David Carr – 65, Nate Davis – 65.

Comments: I think they've done a good job with Smith, but it's petty insulting to Carr to have the same rating as Davis, a guy who's never played taken a snap in a regular season game. Sure, you can argue that Carr was a bust for a number one overall pick, but he did prove himself to be a pretty decent backup last year for the Giants and I'd have him at least in the low 70s, and both his speed (67) and awareness (66) ratings need a boost as well. As for Davis, his learning disability is well-documented, but a 40 for awareness is pretty insulting. The 76 for accuracy, meanwhile, flatters him somewhat. No way he's more accurate than Carr.

Running Backs: Frank Gore – 93, Moran Norris (FB) – 77, Glen Coffee – 71, Michael Robinson – 68, Anthony Dixon – 67.

Comments: The blocking attributes weren't listed on this site so it's hard to say how accurate Norris' rating is, but overall a 77 seems a bit high for him. I think an 87 for agility for Coffee is way too generous, while giving him a 55 catch rating is crazy. No way is he a worse receiver than Norris. The biggest problem I've got here is that FB Brit Miller wasn't included, when he's got a legitimate chance to make the club. He ended last season on the 53-man roster, so it doesn't make much sense to me for him to not be on here. I'd give him like a 68 rating.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: Vernon Davis (TE) – 96, Michael Crabtree – 83, Josh Morgan – 74, Brandon Jones – 71, Ted Ginn – 70, Jason Hill – 69, Delanie Walker (TE) – 66, Nate Byham (TE) – 63.

Comments: Where to begin with this list? Virtually everything is wrong, wrong, wrong. I like Davis, but a "96" is a bit much for a guy who's had one good season. Why don't we see if he does it again before we label him a superstar? Crabtree's rating is weighed down by a "60" in awareness, which seems preposterous to me considering how quickly he picked up the offense considering he joined the team in Week 6 last year with no training camp or anything. Now that he's been a participant in all the off-season practices, I can assure you he knows the playbook as well as any of the receivers. The guy's a smart player. Morgan's 74 seems a tad low for an NFL starter, and it's silly his strength rating (68) is six below Crabtree's when Morgan's easily the strongest receiver on the club. Also, his strong run blocking hasn't been factored. Brandon Jones is on the roster and that's a bit of a stretch. I highly doubt he'll make the team as a fifth or six receiver with a $3 million salary. Plus his injury rating is 84. How about 64? Rookie Kyle Williams isn't even in the game, which is crazy because not only am I sure he'll make the team, but the guy will probably wind up being the punt returner this season. He'd be about a 69 or 70 in the game. 66 is way too low for Walker, considering he's one of the best backup tight ends in the league. He should be a 75 or so. Again, the blocking ratings aren't shown here, but one would hope that Byham's are high, since that's why he was drafted. Finally, even though the game only has five wideouts on the Niners roster, if they do decide to keep a sixth, it'll be Dominique Zeigler, not Jones. Zeigler is cheaper, he plays special teams, and he's more of a team guy. His rating would be in the mid-60s.

Offensive Linemen: Joe Staley (LT) – 87, Eric Heitmann (C) – 84, Mike Iupati (LG) – 83, Adam Snyder (RG) – 81, Chilo Rachal (RG) – 79, David Baas (LG) – 78, Barry Sims (LT) – 76, Anthony Davis (RT) – 75, Cody Wallace (C) – 70, Alex Boone (RT) – 58.

Comments: No major complaints here. I think Heitmann is a bit more athletic in terms of speed and acceleration than Moore gives him credit for. Iupati is getting a lot of respect for a guy who's never played. It appears as though they think he'll be a future Pro Bowler. An 81 rating for Snyder is definitely too high, plus he's listed at the wrong position. He can play guard, but he's primarily a right tackle. Davis, the team's other first round pick, doesn't get nearly the respect that Iupati did, though I have no complaints with his ratings. Boone's rating is so low you wonder why they even bothered putting him in the game. 35 for awareness? Ouch, that's rough. And a 55 for swagger seems to me a judgment based on racial stereotypes more than actual knowledge. The kid's one of the cockiest guys on the team. The biggest beef I have here is no Tony Wragge, who should've been listed – with a rating of 66 or thereabouts –as the backup RG. EA had a lot of options here. They could've dumped Wallace and moved Baas to backup C and Wragge to backup LG, they could've not included Boone and put Snyder at backup RT, or they could've just gone with 11 linemen and put Boone as the third string LT.

Defensive Linemen: Aubrayo Franklin (DT) – 90, Justin Smith (RE) – 89, Isaac Sopoaga (LE) – 71, Ray McDonald (RE) – 71, Kentwan Balmer (LE) – 68, Ricky Jean-Francois (LE) – 66, Khalif Mitchell (DT) – 60.

Comments: Lots of mistakes here. Franklin definitely deserves more than a pair of 54s in speed and agility. He couldn't be the player he is if he was sluggish as those ratings reflect. Sopoaga is too good of a run stuffer to only be a 71 overall, and I think giving him a 52 in speed would make him the slowest starting end in the league. McDonald's pass rushing skills warrant a higher overall rating than 71, and definitely a bigger pursuit number than 60, plus he's a LE, not a RE. The biggest problem of all is that they put Mitchell, a guy who's a real long shot to make the team, on the roster just because every team needs at least two DTs, but really all they needed to do was put Jean-Francois at that position, since he's the guy who's been getting all the reps there during OTAs. And whatever happened to Demetric Evans? The veteran end will almost certainly make the team and he should be the backup RE, with a 69 rating.

Linebackers: Patrick Willis (MLB) – 99, Takeo Spikes (MLB) – 84, Manny Lawson (LOLB) – 79, Parys Haralson (ROLB) – 78, Ahmad Brooks (ROLB) – 75, Navorro Bowman (MLB) – 73, Matt Wilhelm (MLB) – 67, Scott McKillop (MLB) – 67, Travis LaBoy (LOLB) – 64.

Comments: No real disputes with the starters, though I would've boosted Lawson's tackling a bit. He's definitely better than Haralson there. Brooks' stuff is all wrong. First off, I'd bring his tackling (85) way down since he's primarily just a nickel rusher at this point, and I'd jack up his finesse rush (51) a lot higher. I think 67 is a bit low for a veteran like Wilhelm and his awareness should be higher. LaBoy needs more speed than 68, and a lower injury rating than 84. Finally, where's Diyral Briggs? He's another guy who was on the roster last year and might very well make the team over LaBoy. I'd have him as third string LOLB, at 67 overall.

Defensive Backs: Nate Clements (CB) – 84, Shawntae Spencer (CB) – 81, Dashon Goldson (FS) – 80, Michael Lewis (SS) – 80, Tarell Brown (CB) – 73, Will James (CB) – 72, Taylor Mays (SS) – 71, Karl Paymah (CB) – 64, Reggie Smith (SS) – 64, Curtis Taylor (FS) – 60.

Comments: The coverage ratings for these guys weren't given, so it's hard to gauge how accurate the ratings are. That being said, I think the tackling number is too low for the first three guys (70, 58, and 70, respectively). Goldson also should've also gotten more credit as a blitzer. Brown should be in the low 90s in speed, not just 87. Moore seems to think Mays will have no clue what's going on, at least as a rookie, but still, a 71 is a bit low for a guy with his tools, no? As a third and fourth corner in this league, I think 64 is a tad disrespectful for Paymah. The 68 range would've been more appropriate. The 44 in awareness makes no sense for Smith, he's been in the system for three years now. If anything, take his toughness and injury ratings down about 20 points each. Also, he definitely has better hands than a 61 catch rating. A 36 in awareness for Curtis Taylor comes off as insulting. They're not giving him any credit for having learned anything as a rookie.

Who Stays, Who Goes: The EA people only had 54 guys on the Niners roster, so we actually have a bit more room to work with. I would definitely add Miller at FB, Williams at WR, Wragge at RG, Evans at RE and Briggs at LOLB. So that means we've got to drop four guys. Well, WR Jones is easy enough of a call. To the free agent pile with him. DT Mitchell is my second cut, with Jean-Francois moving over to DT. I have to say good-bye to C Wallace, with Baas sliding over to backup Heitmann. And I suppose I gotta drop Balmer to make room for Briggs. There, that's 55. Now if they could only put Jennings in the game, then I'd really have to think hard about the last cut.

Taylor? Sims? Boone? How do the coaches do this with the actual players?

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