DENVER — Donny Moore can be the most reviled man in NFL locker rooms.
He’s not a coach, a referee or a drug tester. He has never played or coached a game. Still, NFL players — and millions of fans — can’t wait to see what he has to say.
Moore is the “ratings czar” for “Madden NFL,” the man responsible for making sure the popular video game’s virtual avatars accurately reflect their real-life counterparts.
Moore uses all sorts of metrics and measurements to come up with ratings. Then, he tweaks the numbers weekly after watching all the games and pondering feedback from fans and even the players themselves.
Sometimes aging stars first recognize their careers are on the downslopes when the new Madden game arrives in August and their ratings have slipped.
They’ll let Moore know they disagree, often using Twitter or even sending him a YouTube video.
“It’s usually more tongue-in-cheek versus truly getting upset,” Moore said by phone from Orlando, Florida, where he works for EA Sports.
Only one time, Moore said, he felt he truly angered a player. Moore won’t name the player, but when an EA Sports film crew went to scan the face of the Arizona Cardinals player, he asked them to deliver an “F-bomb-filled” message to Moore.
Save for the select few superstars like Richard Sherman or Peyton Manning who earn 99s and 98s on Moore’s 1-to-100 scale, nobody ever seems to be happy with their ranking.
“My ratings haven’t been very good. So, based off of that, I guess I’m not a fan,” Bills running back Fred Jackson said with laugh. “But he has a hard job to do. There’s, I don’t know, 1,800 of us? And he’s not going to make all 1,800 of us happy.”
Moore, 36, uses a 1-to-100 rating scale for dozens of categories, including strength, catching, jumping, speed, awareness and toughness.
“Everybody thinks they’re a 100,” said Bills wide receiver Mike Williams. “No matter what you get, you’re not going to like it.”
Moore dives through data, comparing 40-yard dash times for speed, 10-yard split times to determine acceleration and 20-yard shuttles for agility.
“We’re trying base our real numbers in the real world,” he said.
To fine-tune his assessments, he goes to the video. After all, Jerry Rice ran the 40-yard dash in a relatively pokey 4.71 seconds, but you’d never know that by the way he played.
“So, really, for a receiver, for example, we’re trying to capture game speed with pads on, not how fast you run in a straight line on a short lawn in a T-shirt,” Moore said.
Sometimes video game players complain a player is too good. Or the game designers complain that Moore has guys rated so highly in certain categories that it throws the game off-kilter.
Among the guys he underestimated were Washington running back Alfred Morris and Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, both of whom started a season with mid-60s ratings and finished in the high 80s. It works the other way, too. Ray Rice started last season at 95 and finished at 82.
With the new Madden game out next week, Moore has been busy getting feedback from players hearing about their ratings.
Giants punter Steve Weatherford was upset over his 45 strength rating. Strength might not be important for a punter, but Weatherford isn’t a typical kicker.
“He’s on the cover of some sort of fitness magazine,” Moore said. “He looks like he should be in UFC. So, as a result of seeing that and reading some stories that he bench presses 400 pounds, I immediately boosted his strength rating up to 88.”
Moore got an earful after rating Ravens offensive lineman Marshall Yanda as the 26th-toughest player in Baltimore.
“All his teammates were basically upset about it. Everybody’s like, ‘There’s not 25 people in the world tougher than Marshall Yanda,”‘ Moore said. “So, that got my attention. And then there was a story written about him how he played on a broken leg. Same thing with a separated shoulder. So, I’m like, OK, yeah, this guy’s tough. I’ll move him up to a 98.”
Some positions are harder to grade than others. Offensive lineman don’t have many stats to study. Moore turns to sites that do advanced metrics such as Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders.
“You plug in data points wherever possible,” Moore said. “Obviously, a lot of it is subjective and that’s where the real art comes into it.”
Moore is known for correcting mistakes.
Titans receiver Justin Hunter’s was one of the country’s top high jumpers in college, so he was not happy with his rookie jumping rating.
“When Madden came out this year, they had my jumping at 95, so … they did it right,” Hunter said.
Moore started at Electronic Arts in 1999 as a game tester after winning a one-day tournament of the college football game, “NCAA 99.” He was eating lunch at the student union at the University of Central Florida — where he was studying political science with dreams of getting into law school — when he noticed a banner announcing the tourney and decided to skip class that afternoon.
He chatted up the game designers during the tourney, impressing them with minutiae, informing them their right-footed punter was actually left-footed in real life.
After he won, they offered him a summer job.
“And I’d get to test next year’s game and play it before anyone else? Heck yeah.”
A few months later, he was offered a full-time gig, so he put his schooling on hold. He took over Madden ratings in 2009.
Moore wasn’t much of an athlete as a kid, giving up football at 12.
“I just never really had the size-speed combo you need to play high school football,” Moore said. “But, my God, I had a passion for the NFL draft and that whole process for my whole life. As far back as I can remember, I would be doing mock drafts on a big yellow pad. I loved to compare things and I loved to read things.
“I loved to see who was the best at something. I just like to see how it’s ranked, how the numbers come out.”