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February 09, 2017

#PhillyRank 2.0 (Top 10): The 25 best pro athletes in Philadelphia sports ... right now

Welcome to the Top 10 of our second edition of #PhillyRank. But before we get to that, a quick reminder about the criteria we're using to rank the best professional athletes in Philadelphia.

Our basic guideline was this: Generally, how good are you at your sport right now? 

In our eyes, this means a couple of things:

1. How did you perform last (or this) season? What have you done for me lately? We try our best to avoid any lifetime achievement element in the rankings, such as Kobe Bryant starting in last season’s all-star game.

2. What can we realistically expect from you next season? If a certain player flashes promise as a rookie, it’s not a potential award. Still, age definitely plays a factor here. In the case of the Eagles offensive tackles, the 26-year-old is still getting the nod over the 35-year-old even if he’s clearly worse at not taking banned substances. Track record matters, too. Last time, a Flyers forward entering his prime was ranked highly despite a down year and that proved to be one of our better decisions.  

Remember, to be eligible for the list, you need to have already suited up for a regular-season game in Philly. That means no Ben Simmons or J.P. Crawford.

And thanks again to the following guys for helping us rank the players on the team they each cover:

•    Eagles: Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski)

•    Phillies: Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21)

•    Union: Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead)

•    Flyers: Charlie O’Connor (@BSH_Charlie)

In case you forgot, here's a reminder of Nos. 11-25:

25. Darren Sproles
24. Rodney McLeod
23. Andre Blake
22. Cesar Hernandez
21. Travis Konecny
20. Zach Ertz
19. Jerad Eickhoff
18. Jason Peters
17. Nerlens Noel
16. Robert Covington
15. Sean Couturier
14. Shayne Gostisbehere
13. Maikel Franco
12. Lane Johnson
11. Carson Wentz

And now...

•  THE TOP 10  •

Of the Flyers’ young blueliners both on the big club and in the pipeline (we see you, Philippe Myers), Provorov probably has the best chance to be the rare shutdown defenseman. The 20-year-old Russian has 4 goals and 18 assists while in a tough position playing heavy minutes next to MacDonald. Provorov is one of six Flyers to play in all 54 games, and the flashes of his advanced feel for the game were apparent as a teenager. He’s going to be a good one.

If any one player who was left our initial #PhillyRank list deserved a spot this time, it was Brandon Graham. Once considered by many to be a draft bust, Graham showed marked improvement playing in Jim Schwartz's 4-3 system. He opened the eyes of many Eagles fans as he recorded 5.5 sacks and seemed to be constantly pressuring opposing quarterbacks. It may have taken some time for Graham to hit his stride, but if he keeps this up, it will have been worth it.

Now about unblocking me on Twitter... 

If we were ranking strictly on bat-flips, El Torito would be No. 1 without a doubt. Unfortunately, that's not part of the criteria -- or at least not a large enough percentage of it. 

Herrera wasn't quite as good after making his first MLB All-Star Game, but for a guy in his second full season in the bigs, it was quite a showing. His drop on this list, while certainly impacted by his less-than-spectacular second half, had just as much to do with the rise of some of the players around him. After all, he finished with the sixth-highest WAR among all MLB centerfielders in 2016. He's likely not going anywhere soon.

MVP! MVP! MVP! A fan favorite from the moment he was traded here from Los Angeles, it was great to see Simmer make his first all-star appearance count. Third on the Flyers with 38 points, the 28-year-old winger is always reliable setting up shop right in front of opposing goaltenders on the Flyers top power-play unit. In another nice development, Simmonds has also proven to a be a valuable penalty killer. Listen to P.K. and DON’T fight this guy.

The young middle linebacker, like teammate Brandon Graham, greatly benefitted from a new defensive scheme in 2016. Hicks, who was worthy of Pro Bowl consideration, is quickly making a case for himself as the Eagles best defensive player. When we last ranked Hicks at 20, we said a strong second season could mean big things after a stellar rookie season was cut short by injury. Well, Hicks delivered on his end, so we've rewarded him for his efforts.

Jenkins didn't have his best season in 2016. But like we said in our introduction, we're willing to forgive a player for one down year, provided he has a body of work to suggest that the downward trend isn't going to continue into the future. Add to that Jenkins' two return touchdowns, the value he provides as a leader on the field and in the locker room, and the versatility he provides Jim Schwartz with his ability to play slot corner as well as safety, and it becomes more and more apparent that the veteran has earned his spot on the list.  

The captain, who is second on the Orange and Black with 41 points, falls a couple of spots from last time primarily because his offensive production at 5v5 simply hasn’t been very good this year. There is also the constant worry that Giroux, who certainly isn’t the biggest guy in the NHL, could possibly wear down as his career continues. His work on the power play is both elite and important, but if those trends continue, G could continue to slide.

Cox is lucky to have fallen just two spots based on how Eagles fans were talking during the middle portion of a season in which the veteran tackle was barely seen getting to opposing quarterbacks and actually costing the team points with dumb penalties. After signing a big extension in the offseason, many expected Cox to thrive in Jim Schwartz's wide-nine scheme. And while he made the Pro Bowl, that system seemed to work out better for guys like Brandon Graham, and less for Cox and Vinny Curry, who fell completely off the list after coming in at 23 the first time around. 

We ranked Voracek third last time mostly based on his track record, and he has bounced back nicely. The 27-year-old Czech winger leads the Flyers with 45 points and he has been the team’s most productive player at 5v5. After battling an injury-plagued season, Voracek followed Bruce Springsteen around this summer and bounced back nicely. Woo!

And while he doesn’t tweet all that much, Voracek is pretty funny both on social media and as an interview in person. Speaking of that...

Well, Paul Millsap  isn’t going to get in his way here.

When it comes to these rankings, rookies have to earn their place. Just because you have the potential to become a great player doesn’t mean you’re going to get one of the top spots. Remember, it’s “How good are you now?”

The thing is, nobody on this list has stepped up and made the type of current impact that Embiid has in just 31 games. His presence alone turns the Sixers from the equivalent of the 8th-best team in the NBA (Boston) to the worst team in the league by a mile. And this guy just sat out two and a half years!

Embiid is 7-foot-2, protects the rim better than anyone in the NBA, and shoots 37 percent from behind the arc on a bunch attempts... all of this while consistently making everyone laugh. Unicorn! The main reason we have Embiid ranked at the top is that he doesn’t really even know what he’s doing yet (for example, look at his turnover numbers). Imagine what happens when he does and Trust The Process.

The injury history and lack of games are reasons to be skeptical of Embiid’s prospects moving forward, and we’ll move him down accordingly if those issues continue to linger. But man, if this guy can stay healthy, the Philadelphia 76ers have at least one superstar.


Disagree with the rankings?

If 140 characters aren't enough, leave you feedback in the comments section below or email your complaints to Rich and Matt. We'll compile the best ones and share them in a future post so you can see just how wrong we are.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann   |  Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin