April 14, 2020
A few years ago, we set off on a mission to rank the top professional athletes in the city of Philadelphia, regardless of sport, based on how good they are right now. The result was our first-ever edition of PhillyRank. A little over a year later, we followed up that list with a sequel reflecting the changes that had taken place in that time — and there were more than a few.
Now, with nearly all of the sports world in a total standstill as we remain in isolation and keep socially distant amid the COVID-19 outbreak, we figured it was as good a time as any to update PhillyRank. After all, it's been over three years — and an Eagles Super Bowl victory — since our last rankings, which came out in February of 2017. Hell, the last time we did this, Ben Simmons wasn't even eligible.
Before getting into the rankings and thousands of Philadelphians telling us we're wrong, we should first spell out our methodology and how we arrived at the below list, which we've increased from 25 athletes to 50, because well, there's not much else going on at the moment.
For starters, this list was limited to the five major pro sports teams in Philly: the Eagles, Phillies, Flyers, Sixers, and Union. Because we were keeping it limited to team sports, individual sport athletes like boxers, UFC fighters and golfers were not included.
Beyond that, the athlete must have appeared in a professional (read: big-league) game — but it doesn't necessarily have to be for a Philly team. That means that Phillies prospects like Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard were not included in the list, but recent Eagles acquisitions like Darius Slay and Javon Hargrave were. Similarly, if we had posted this after the Eagles draft, none of the Birds selections from this year would be eligible.
Then there's what the specific rankings are based on. In order to keep it consistent — since some leagues, like the NHL and NBA, hit the pause button mid-season while others, like MLB, never even got the chance to start — we're basing these rankings on not just what players did in their most recent season, but also what can realistically be expected from them in the coming season. Past performance (beyond the last season) and potential (beyond the upcoming season) won't really be factored in. After all, we're looking at who the best is at this very moment, not who has had — or is going to have — the best career.
Each of our four writers — Jimmy Kempski, Evan Macy, Matt Mullin and Kyle Neubeck — compiled a list of their top 50 players in the city and we averaged them out from there (with some help from Crossing Broad's Kevin Kinkead when it came down to where the Union players should be ranked). And then we took our individual rankings, averaged them out, and came up with final list you'll see below.
Now that we all know the rules, let's take a look at the 2020 edition of PhillyRank, starting with the first four players who came up just short of making out Top 50...
Victor Arano, Phillies — After a solid campaign in 2018 that saw him post a 2.73 ERA in 60 appearances, the 25-year-old reliever was one of the many members of the Phillies bullpen bitten by the injury bug in 2019. An elbow injury that eventually required arthroscopic surgery caused him to miss most of the season and, ultimately, fall off our rankings. If he can return to 2018 form whenever baseball picks back up, he can certainly find his way into the Top 50 next time.
Jack Elliott, Union — The 24-year-old center back was another close call on our list. He played every minute of every game for a talented Union team that finished third in the Eastern Conference in 2019. There are also rumors that the club could transfer him to Europe in the near future, with him being linked to the Scottish national team as well. If he sticks with the Union, there's a good chance he can make a move into the Top 50, which is saying something considering soccer is such a hard sport to stand out in, especially when you're a defender that doesn't put up the same kind of numbers as your teammates.
Joel Farabee, Flyers — The 20-year-old forward appeared in 52 games for the Flyers this season and notched 21 points (8 G, 13 A) in his first season with the Orange and Black. It's a safe bet that by the time we do this list again, Farabee is considerably higher. But since we're not projecting more than a year down the line, we'll keep Farabee just off the list for now.
Nolan Patrick, Flyers — We really wanted to put the young Flyers center on the list, but because we're ranking these players on what they did last season (Patrick didn't play as he continues to deal with migraines) and what we can expect next season (there's been no solid timetable given as to when he might be able to play again), we didn't really have much to go on. Still, we though he deserved a shoutout because, not only are the injuries not his fault, but he could return at 100% next season and play like the second-overall pick we've been expecting to see.
And now, onto the guys who actually made the list...
It was tough to imagine Jeffery would be this low on the list when the Eagles first signed the veteran wideout back in 2017, let alone when they inked him to a four-year, $52.25 million deal later that year. But here we are. The problem for Jeffery is two-fold. First, there's the massive contract — one that the Eagles seem intent on unloading even as recently as last October. There's also the fact that he's come nowhere close to living up to that contract and has looked like a far less player than he was during his five years in Chicago. Based on last year's struggles, which were compounded by multiple injuries that included a season-ending foot fracture, there was no other option than to drop Jeffery down the list. Add to that the fact that his status for the start of the upcoming season remains very much in doubt — and that we don't know what longterm effects the injury will have on his already declining abilities — and he's actually lucky he didn't fall off the list entirely.
Maddox was forced to make the transition to safety as a rookie before returning to a cornerback with the Eagles and has proven to be a versatile defender for Jim Schwartz' defense. But, after doing much of his work in the slot last season, this coming season might be his biggest test yet. With Jalen Mills moving to safety after the release of Malcolm Jenkins, Maddox is currently penciled in to start as an outside cornerback opposite newly-acquired Darius Slay — unless, of course, the Eagles add another CB before the season. A scary neck injury cost Maddox some time in 2019, but he's just 24 and should play a big role in a new-look defensive backfield this offseason.
Shake is one of the players that has a chance to rise quite a bit in future editions of PhillyRank. Milton burst on to the scene this past season for the Sixers while filling in for various injured starters — and did so in a big way. He may have only appeared in 32 games for Philly this season, but started in 16 of them, and was just beginning to find his footing in the NBA after spending much of his first two seasons in the G-League. Over his last seven games before the season came to a crashing halt, Milton was averaging 19.1 PPG on 59% shooting (61% from three) in just over 31 minutes per game with Ben Simmons sidelined with a back injury. He also had one of the best games of the season for any Sixers player back on March 1, when he posted 39 points in 14-20 FG (7-9 3PT) and kept his team close with the Clippers despite no Simmons or Joel Embiid. The kid can get buckets, plain and simple.
Monteiro is a versatile player who can be put in any spot across the Union midfield. And the team apparently likes him as they signed him permanently this past offseason for a highest transfer fee in team history. That came on the heals of a season in which he scored four goals and added nine assists for the Union in his first season of MLS play. He also started both postseason matches for Philly last year and seems to have picked up right where he left off last season, starting both of the Union's 2020 matches and picking up an assist in their final match before the season was suspended.
The veteran blue-liner was one of the Flyers' offseason acquisitions in 2019 when they traded Radko Gudas to the Capitals to acquire the 33-year-old defenseman. And in 68 games for the Flyers this season, he's remained consistent and has actually been able to improve slightly on his numbers in Washington on a team that is among the best in defensive scoring. His 0.49 PPG is his third best scoring average of his career and his veteran presence is nice on a unit full of young talent. They say availability is the best ability, and Niskanen has played in at least 68 games in every full NHL season but one (2010-11) since entering the league in 2007. He'll likely play in his 1,000th NHL game next season — most of them for Flyers rivals — but the fact that he's still playing at a high level at this point in his career is a testament to his consistency.
This season is going to be a big one for Mills. Not only is he making the transition from cornerback to safety, but he's also going to be taking over arguably the most important role on Schwartz' defense, the one previously occupied by Pro Bowler Malcolm Jenkins. Mills has had his ups and downs at corner, but has kept that finger wagging through it all. Last season, he had just one interception — in his first game back from an injury that caused him to miss half the season — but that was it. How he adjusts to his new role will be the biggest factor in determining where Mills is the next time we update out list. And the uncertainty with how he handles that role might be part of the reason he's not higher on this list.
When the Eagles first drafted Seumalo, many thought he was the heir apparent to Jason Kelce, but it's a good thing the guy they initially tapped for that job was a versatile lineman. With Kelce still playing, and doing so at an extremely high level, Seumalo has been forced to get his snaps at left guard, where he did a pretty solid job in 2019. Next season, however, he'll lose his partner on the left side of the line with Jason Peters expected to sign elsewhere in free agency. Will he be exposed without the Bodyguard? Or will he now help cover for new left tackle Andre Dillard? While it's hard to compare stats for offensive linemen, there's something to be said for a guy who played 100% of the snaps on one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.
The good news for Zach Eflin is that his ERA has gotten lower each of the last thee seasons. The bad news? His career best, which came in 2019, is still over four (4.13). That being said, he hit a career high in innings last season (163.1) and recorded his first two complete games since his rookie year. Still, there were higher hopes for Eflin when the Phillies first acquired him in the Jimmy Rollins trade. He's still under team control through 2023 but is eligible for arbitration next offseason. Eflin's the first Phillies player to appear on the list, and one of three starting pitchers to crack the Top 50. With a new coaching staff in place, could he finally have a breakout year in 2020?
The Phillies made big news when the signed Kingery to a six-year, $24 million deal back in 2018 before the prospect had even appeared in a major league game. And, at least so far, it doesn't seem like that was the wrong move. Not only will that value look better and better with each passing year as contracts continue to skyrocket, but Kingery has proven to be an incredibly valuable player for the club, as he can fill in at basically any position. In 2018, Kingery played every position except catcher (and that includes pitching). Last year, he did the same thing once again (minus the pitching). There's a ton of value in that, and the best may be yet to come, as Kingery should get to settle in at has natural position of second base whenever the season starts up. Of course, he'll still be available to fill in at other positions for new manager Joe Girardi.
Pryzbylko, who made his debut for the Union last season, finished the 2019 season with more than double the amount of goals (15) as his next closes teammate (Marco Fabian, 7). His 15 goals last year, which included four game-winners, were tied for fifth in MLS and good for the second most by a player in a single season in Union history. The German forward also seemed to get better as the year progressed, scoring 9 of his 15 goals from July on, and showing that he's just as good of a finisher when the pressure picks up. Unfortunately for the Union, a foot injury late in the season cost him not only a chance to play in the regular season finale, but in the postseason as well.
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