A record-tying season that saw him record 22.5 sacks and ultimately win the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award could have Pittsburgh Steelers’ star linebacker T.J. Watt in line for a significant off-field opportunity, according to NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks.
Watt, while not one of the more marketable stars in the NFL due to his demeanor, could be in line for the cover of Madden ’23 as Brooks lists Watt as one of his top five choices for the popular video game. Along with Watt, whom Brooks ranked as his No. 2 choice, guys like the Rams’ Cooper Kupp, Buffalo’s Josh Allen, Dallas’s Trevon Diggs and Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady are all choices for Brooks.
“Having just tied Michael Strahan’s single-season record with 22.5 sacks in 2021, Watt clearly has solidified his standing among the NFL’s top QB hunters,” Brooks writes making the case for Watt on the cover. “In five seasons, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year has amassed 72 sacks, 80 tackles for loss, 22 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and four interceptions. With few defenders capable of rivaling his game-wrecking ability off the edge, Watt deserves cover consideration as the premier playmaker at his position.”
Brady just appeared on his second cover of Madden last season alongside Kansas City Chiefs’ star Patrick Mahomes. A defensive player of Diggs’ stature would be a significant stretch as just three others defensive players have appeared on the cover since the game’s inception in 1990. Those defensive players include Ray Lewis, Troy Polamalu and Richard Sherman. Diggs certainly isn’t on that level, so it’s unlikely he’d get a cover, even with him being a marketable star for the Dallas Cowboys.
Allen and Kupp certainly make sense, as Kupp is the reigning Super Bowl MVP after helping the Rams win Super Bowl LVI, 23-20, over the Cincinnati Bengals. Allen is arguably the game’s most marketable star at the quarterback position at the moment, which could have him in line for the cover as well.
As for Watt, were he to land the Madden cover, he’d be the third Steeler ever, and first since Antonio Brown in 2019. Of course, that 2019 season fell off the rails for AB, as he walked out on the team prior to the final game of the season, then demanded a trade, and then — leaning heavily into the game’s engine powered by Frostbite — got frostbite on his feet following a mishap inside a cryochamber. Talk about the Madden curse.
Watt, now the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player and arguably its best defender in the game, certainly deserves the cover based on his production on the field since entering the NFL in 2017. Currently, he sits just 8.5 sacks away from tying the Steelers’ all-time record previously set by James Harrison.
EA Sports, which creates the Madden game each year, is expected to announce the next cover at an event on June 16.