More Sports:

December 28, 2023

The top 10 Philadelphia athletes of 2023

Who was the best athlete in Philadelphia in 2023? We rank the top 10.

Sixers NFL
Joel-Embiid-Sixers-MVP Eric Hartline/USA Today Sports

Joel Embiid became the first Sixer to win the NBA MVP Award in 22 years in 2023. He looks poised to repeat as the winner this season.

As 2023 inches to its close, it's worth looking back at Philadelphia sports calendar year that brought high highs that were ultimately out-matched by crushing lows. 

The Eagles held a 10-point halftime lead in the Super Bowl and lost. The Phillies were up 2-0 (and 3-2...) in the NLCS, looking destined to head back to the World Series and lost. The Sixers, naturally, blew a 3-2 lead against the hated Celtics, failing to reach the third round of the NBA playoffs for the 22nd straight season. The Flyers did Flyers stuff.

To get so close to glory though, there were big-time performances from stars across the city. I'll rank the top 10 athletes of 2023 in Philadelphia. This is not a ranking of their all-time greatness. My evaluation is solely based off the year 2023. That means for Eagles players, it includes last postseason and the 2023 season. For the Sixers, that's the second half of the 2023 campaign and the beginning of the 2024 one. You're smart. You get it.

Let's start with a great young wideout...

10. DeVonta Smith, Eagles WR

DeVonta Smith will casually hit the 1,100-yard receiving mark again in 2023. Given his skillset, you can basically pencil him in to do so the rest of his career in midnight green. Smith also had 100 receiving yards back in the Super Bowl against the Chiefs. 

9. Zack Wheeler, Phillies SP

Zack Wheeler finished sixth in National League Cy Young voting in 2023, but his numbers were down some from the pace he set during his first three excellent seasons in Philly. What gets Wheeler on this list is how he performed this postseason.

In 27.2 innings of work, Wheeler posted a 1.95 ERA, struck out 35 batters and allowed an opposing batting average of just .170. The Phils won three of the four playoff starts he made. 

8. Haason Reddick, Eagles EDGE

Haason Reddick has been very good in 2023 (11 sacks), though he hasn't quite been the dominant force he appeared to be last season. Luckily for Reddick, this list does include the Eagles' last postseason run, combining for 3.5 sacks in two home playoff games against New York and San Francisco.

The Eagles' pass rush is in a funk right now, but Reddick remains the best of the bunch. The Eagles will need him to carry that unit this winter. 

7. Jason Kelce, Eagles C

If we're talking about off-the-field hype, no athletes' star has risen more in 2023 than the Kelce brothers. While Jason may not be dating Taylor Swift, he continues to endear himself to Philadelphians as the NFL's best center. 

6. Tyrese Maxey, Sixers G

Tyrese Maxey is a part of the 2023 Sixers team that sheepishly fell to Boston in the postseason, but Maxey came into his role last season alongside James Harden. He topped 20 points per game with some incredible shooting from deep, making 43.4 percent of his threes on 6.2 attempts per game.

With Harden sent packing and Maxey firmly entrenched as the Sixers' unquestioned lead guard for the first time in his career, he's risen to the occasion. Maxey's been one of the best guards in all of basketball, averaging nearly 26 points per night while making huge strides as a playmaker. He's almost doubled his assists per game, too.

The Sixers could conceivably have two All-Star starters this season. 

5. Lane Johnson, Eagles OT

Lane Johnson continues to be the NFL's premier offensive tackle and is well on his way to yet another All-Pro nod. 

4. Jalen Hurts, Eagles QB

If this was a 2022 list, Hurts would stand on top of the mountain. 2023 has brought hiccups to the Eagles, however, in spite of their 11-4 record. Things just aren't as smooth as they were last regular season. That extends to Hurts, who has had some undoubtedly MVP-quality moments, but his turnover numbers have jumped while his yards per pass attempt fell from 8.0 in 2022 to 7.3 in 2023.

Still, this guy is at No. 4 for a reason. He broke the single-season QB rushing touchdown record this season with 15 (and counting...). He had an absolutely dominant Super Bowl passing performance, dropping dimes all over the field, but a costly first half fumble in that game that Kansas City returned for a touchdown will forever sting in this city. 

A winter that sees the Eagles returning to the Super Bowl and avenging this past February's loss is still a possibility even though it feels less likely now than it did a month ago.

3. A.J. Brown, Eagles WR

Perhaps it's surprising to have another Eagle ahead of Hurts, but that's just how good A.J. Brown has been during the 2023 season. He had an elite performance of his own back in the Super Bowl as well, totaling 96 yards on eight catches including a bonkers TD.

He's on pace to break the Eagles' single-season receiving yards record, a record he set himself last season (1,496). Brown needs just 103 yards over the final two games of the Birds' season to get there while currently averaging 92.2 per game. Expect him to do so.

2. Bryce Harper, Phillies 1B/DH

It's funny how much Philadelphia clamored over Mike Trout, the former 2012 Rookie of the Year and MVP who would come play in South Philadelphia and save the sagging Phillies. Everyone just had the wrong 2012 ROY in mind. Bryce Harper has been worth every penny from his enormous contract. 

In a DH role with time spent at first base this past season, Harper hit .293 with a .900 OPS in 126 while mashing 21 homers and 29 doubles. In 13 playoff games during Red October, Harper posted a bruising 1.097 OPS with five home runs and 14 runs scored. 

He did, however, go hitless in Games 6 and 7 of the NLCS at home in an embarrassing series defeat to the Diamondbacks. No one is immune to those critiques on this list!

1. Joel Embiid, Sixers C

Joel Embiid's postseason failures are rightfully under the microscope in Philadelphia, but in a year where no Philly squad won it all, that's basically a wash between everyone. Embiid won NBA MVP honors in 2023 after his second-straight scoring title, averaging 33.1 points per game. He lifted the Sixers to 54 wins, their highest total since 2001. 

He's been even better during the beginning of the 2023-24 season, too. Embiid is up to a league-leading 35.0 points per night, playing elite defense and is better as a passer than he's ever been before, averaging 6.0 assists per night. NBA voters are likely looking for a reason to not give him the MVP award again after the colossal second-round flameout the Sixers had and the way that Nikola Jokic won the NBA title this past summer, but if he keeps this tear up, it will be impossible to not give it to Embiid.

Follow Shamus & PhillyVoice on Twitter: @shamus_clancy | @thePhillyVoice

Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports

Add Shamus' RSS feed to your feed reader