Ultimate 'Madden NFL 17' preview: Best players, best teams and more

— -- Now that "Madden NFL 17" is officially released, let's run through everything you need to know about this year's version of the video game, including the top rookies, the fastest players, the best teams and more.


The 99 Club

Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
Luke Kuechly, LB, Panthers
Von Miller, OLB, Broncos
J.J. Watt, DE, Texans

Biggest takeaway:?No player on this list helped his Madden stock in a shorter time period than Miller. He disrupted just 1.9 percent of opposing quarterbacks' dropbacks in the regular season, the second-lowest rate of his career. But the playoffs were a different story (4.7 percent), catapulting Miller into Madden's 99 club.

Biggest surprise:?Steelers WR? Antonio Brown?has been the single most unstoppable offensive player of the past two seasons -- 132.5 catches, 1,766 receiving yards and 11.5 TDs on average. And yet, Brown landed a 97 Madden rating for the second consecutive year.

Best rookies

1. Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jaguars (82)
2. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys (80)
T-3. Robert Aguayo, K, Buccaneers (79)
T-3. Joey Bosa, DE, Chargers (79)
T-3. Ronnie Stanley, LT, Ravens (79)

Biggest takeaway: Elliott will get more opportunities than any rookie to exceed his rating, which is tied for 31st among all RBs. Running behind the NFL's best offensive line, Elliott has a real chance to finish in the top five in rushing.?

Biggest surprise: Texans speedy WR? Will Fuller?is getting rave reviews in training camp, but he didn't even crack the top-10 rookies. Houston's lack of a clear-cut No. 2 receiver could play in Fuller's favor as a rookie. ?

Best awareness rating

T-1. Tom Brady, QB, Patriots (99)
T-1. Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers (99)
T-3. Drew Brees, QB, Saints (98)
T-3. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals (98)
T-3. Luke Kuechly, LB, Panthers (98)

Biggest takeaway: Just two defenders (Kuechly and Derrick Johnson) had an awareness rating of 95 or higher, compared to 12 offensive players. Kuechly fits right in among this crew: He makes a habit of jumping routes and shooting gaps based on pre-snap reads.?

Biggest surprise: Aaron Rodgers'?91 awareness rating sounds high, but Brady, Brees, Carson Palmer (94) and Philip Rivers (94) ranked ahead of him among quarterbacks. Watch this video and tell me Rodgers doesn't deserve to be in that group.?

Best speed rating

T-1. Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints (96)
T-1. Phillip Dorsett, WR, Colts (96)
T-1. Jakeem Grant, WR, Dolphins (96)
T-1. Corey Grant, RB, Jaguars (96)
T-1. J.J. Nelson, WR, Cardinals (96)

Biggest takeaway: Pure speed doesn't always translate to on-field success. The average overall Madden rating of the five players above is 69.4, with Cooks (82) being the most established. The Saints WR had 1,138 yards and 9 TDs last season.

Biggest surprise: Panthers WR? Ted Ginn Jr.?ran past just about every secondary he played against last season, but mustered only a 92 speed rating in "Madden NFL 17." That sound you hear is Ginn challenging the 31 receivers rated faster than him to a foot race.

Best agility rating

T-1. Tavon Austin, WR, Rams (98)
T-1. Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers (98)
T-1. LeSean McCoy, RB, Bills (98)

Biggest takeaway:?McCoy was banged up last season, but when healthy, Shady is still as shifty as ever. Just check out how easily he shakes Bengals CB Dre Kirkpatrick on this play.

Biggest surprise: Jerick McKinnon and Denard Robinson?(96) both had a better agility rating than Steelers RB? Le'Veon Bell (95). Let's poll defenders and see who they think is more terrifying in the open field.

Best strength rating

T-1. Stephen Paea, DE, Redskins (98)
T-1. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Dolphins (98)
T-3. Russell Bodine, C, Bengals (97)
T-3. Mike Iupati, G, Cardinals (97)
T-3. Dontari Poe, DT, Chiefs (97)
T-3. Jared Veldheer, T, Cardinals (97)
T-3. J.J. Watt, DE, Texans (97)

Biggest takeaway:?Suh makes $3 million more annually? and?has a better strength rating?than Watt??How does J.J. sleep at night? (Answer: With his three Defensive Player of the Year awards snuggled close.) In all seriousness, how much would you pay to watch these two have a bench-pressing contest? Count me in for $20.

Biggest surprise: Aaron Donald?--?who?put up 35 reps on the bench press at the 2014 NFL combine and beasts through double-teams with regularity -- could muster only a 94 strength rating. That's tied for 18th overall. Something ain't right.


Best offenses

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (93)
T-2. Carolina Panthers (91)
T-2. Arizona Cardinals (91)

Biggest takeaway: Most NFL pundits would agree that the Steelers have the widest array of offensive weapons -- when at full strength. The problem? The lethal combination of QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown, RB Le'Veon Bell and WR Martavis Bryant has played just 13 percent of the Steelers' offensive snaps together the past two seasons. That number will be at 0 percent in 2016 with Bryant slated to miss the entire season because of another suspension.

Biggest surprise:?The Oakland Raiders -- the same team that ranked 23rd in points per games from Weeks 10-17 (18.3) -- are tied for fourth in Madden's offense ratings.?

Best defenses

1. Kansas City Chiefs (93)
T-2. Denver Broncos (91)
T-2. New England Patriots (91)

Biggest takeaway: The Chiefs' defense finished No. 2 in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric?last season -- and that was with OLB Justin Houston (97 overall rating) missing all or most of the final six games. So Kansas City showed enough to be one of the top-three defenses, but ...

Biggest surprise:?How didn't the Broncos finish with the best rating?!? When you hold Tom Brady and Cam Newton to a collective Total QBR of 18.9 in the two biggest games of the season, you should probably be the No. 1 defense the next season. Just sayin'.?

Best overall teams

T-1. Carolina Panthers (87)
T-1. New England Patriots (87)
T-3. Green Bay Packers (85)
T-3. Kansas City Chiefs (85)
T-3. Pittsburgh Steelers (85)
T-3. Seattle Seahawks (85)

Biggest takeaway:?Regression, what regression? Madden has high hopes for the Panthers after they went 15-1 in the 2015 regular season. If Carolina ends up getting the NFC's No. 1 seed again, you have to think QB Cam Newton's overall rating (94) will be on the rise in "Madden NFL 18."

Biggest surprise: The Dallas Cowboys -- who are banking on brittle QB Tony Romo staying healthy for 16 games -- have the same rating as the Arizona Cardinals (84). Yes, the same Cardinals who went 13-3 last season and made it to the NFC Championship Game.