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July 14, 2016

#PhillyRank (Top 10): Ranking the current best 25 athletes in Philadelphia sports

Rankings Sports
051416_GirouxGhost_AP Matt Slocum/AP

Looks like somebody told them they made the #PhillyRank Top 10.

Below you'll find the #PhillyRank Top 10, but in case you're just joining us -- or perhaps have already taken great offense to numbers 11-25 -- here's a reminder of our collective thought process in making this list:

The criteria is both fairly simple and also highly subjective: 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? There isn’t a lifetime achievement element to this. What type of form are you currently in?

2. What can we realistically expect from you next season? If you’re a promising rookie, it’s not a potential award either. Still, it’s safe to say that age and past performance play a factor here. In the case of the Eagles offensive tackles, the 26-year-old is definitely getting the nod over the 34-year-old. When it comes to a certain Flyers forward entering his prime, the track record is good enough to largely ignore a down year in 2015-16. 

The one rule is that to be eligible for the list, you need to have already suited up for a regular-season game in Philly. That means the likes of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Carson Wentz, Rodney McLeod, and J.P. Crawford can’t join the party yet. Our hope is to re-rank the players every six months or so, and it should be fun to include some of these names as we go.

We also asked our friends for some help, so make sure to complain to them as well (or thank them depending on how you feel about our rankings... 

•    Eagles: Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski)
•    Phillies: Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21)
•    Union: Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead)
•    Flyers: Kurt and Charlie from Broad Street Hockey

And before we go on, here's a quick look back at Nos. 25-11... 

25. Robert Covington
24. Michal Neuvirth
23. Vinny Curry
22. Vince Velasquez
21. Jerad Eickhoff
20. Jordan Hicks
19. Andre Blake
18. Jason Peters
17. Jahlil Okafor
16. Aaron Nola
15. Nerlens Noel
14. Steve Mason
13. Jordan Matthews
12. Zach Ertz
11. Brayden Schenn
Now for the final 10 spots in our inaugural #PhillyRank list...

Was Jason Peters a better offensive tackle than Johnson last season? Yes, when he was healthy. But we think these two are like ships passing in the night, and by the time the season rolls around, Johnson will be the best tackle on the team. Furthermore, the 26-year-old is poised to take over for Peters at some point and spend the foreseeable future protecting the blindside of the team's most important player, Carson Wentz. For now, it appears he'll be in good hands.

The MLB All-Star break didn’t come at a great time for the red-hot Franco. After struggling the first three months of the 2016 season, the 23-year-old has been on an absolute tear the past few weeks to get back within shouting distance of his 2014 numbers. Franco is only 20th in WAR among all qualified third basemen, but if he continues to show at least some of the improved plate discipline that has been on display in July, he has the chance to be a #PhillyRank fixture for a long time, even if his defense could eventually dictate a move to first base.

For a guy with such a small sample size (see: Hicks, Jordan and Vince, Velasquez) you might be surprised to see Gostisbehere so high on the list. But there's an argument to be made that he was the Flyers' most valuable player last season; it was pretty obvious to anyone who followed them last season that they were a different team after his arrival. The upside with Ghost is huge as well. All he did in his 64 games as a rookie was lead all Flyers defensemen in scoring (and finish fifth on the team overall) and finish second in Calder voting. Oh, wait. That isn't all. He also had a 15-game point streak, the longest for a Flyers rookie in team history -- and tied for the longest by any NHL defenseman in over two decades.

As soon as Alexander Ovechkin laid the lumber on Couturier in Game 1 of the Flyers-Capitals playoff series a few months ago, the Orange and Black’s season was effectively over. Already dealing with a tall task, they simply couldn’t afford to lose their promising two-way center. The knock on Couturier had previously come on the offensive end, and there were some eyebrows raised when Ron Hextall inked the 23-year-old to a six-year extension last summer. Fast forward a year, and the contract looks like a stroke of genius. Couturier dealt with injuries in 2015-16, but he managed to stay on a 50-point pace while continuing his usual yeoman's work on the other end of the ice. The Flyers appear to have a legitimate second-line center locked up at an extremely reasonable price through his 20s. Good times.

Playing alongside the Flyers' most-skilled players, we think Simmonds deserves recognition for the work he does in front of the net. He netter 32 goals this past season, and it's hard to remember more than a handful that weren't of the hard-fought variety. Plus, as you can see by his team-high 147 penalty minutes, he isn't afraid to mix it up. If the Flyers fans want to hold on to any last visage of the Bullies, Simmonds is the guy. And for someone who feels like he's been a key player on the Flyers for some time now, it's crazy to think that he might be only entering the prime of his career.

Jenkins’ understanding of coverage schemes and ability to anticipate throws is undeniably special, even if it’s maddening when he drops far too many makeable interceptions (especially because he’s very good when he gets the ball in his hands!). Still, we’re talking about an excellent player who graded out 25th in the entire NFL by Pro Football Focus. The Eagles rewarded Jenkins, who is also excellent in the community, with a five-year deal back in February. Jenkins focused in the offseason on holding on to more of those interception chances, and if he succeeds, watch out.

Almost right from the start of 2016, Herrera wanted to prove he belonged in our Top 5. And by Memorial Day, the centerfielder was sporting an average hovering around .330, an on-base percentage that was flirting with .450, and was walking nearly as often as he was striking out (33 BB, 35 SO). In the month and a half since, however, El Torito is slashing just .262/.309/.394 and is striking out three times as often as he's walking (11 BB, 34 SO). 

Herrera is fun to watch. There's no argument to be made there. And after making his first All-Star Game this season, the pressure on this former Rule-5 pick will certainly ratchet up, especially if his average continues to drop.

This is where a bit of common sense overrules our general #PhillyRank guidelines, because Voracek isn’t coming off a season that you would expect from the No. 3 ranked player. He got off to a poor start, picked up his play for a few months, and then was slowed down by a foot injury down the stretch and into the playoffs. Voracek signed a massive eight-year deal last summer, and he admitted that the pressure associated with all of that money may have gotten to him a little bit.

Still, Voracek is a powerful possession driver on the right wing who puts up plenty of points when healthy. And entering his 27-year-old season, we expect him to look much more like the player that tallied 81 points two years ago. 

Giroux isn't the best goal-scorer in the league. He isn't the best passer. He doesn't have the hardest shot. But's he very-good-to-great in nearly every category. And that's what makes him so good -- something about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Still, he's the captain and unquestioned leader of the only team in this city to make the playoffs since the Eagles in Chip Kelly's first year. 

In fact, Giroux (and to a lesser extent Voracek) is responsible for several others being on this list. Simmonds, Schenn and Gostisbehere all benefited from Voracek's team-high 45 assists (and 67 points total, also a team high). And that was in what many would call a down year for the captain. Oh, did we mention that he's still just 28 years old?

This has been quite an offseason for Cox, who received $60 million guaranteed last month. Obviously more importantly, the 25-year-old from Yazoo City, Mississippi now takes home the inaugural #PhillyRank crown. Very impressively, Cox put up All-Pro numbers last season despite playing in a two-gap system that is simply not designed for interior defensive linemen to make plays. He found a way to be a rock star while being tasked with the work of a roadie.

Now that Cox is moving over to a natural three-technique that should allow him to get up the field quite a bit more in a 4-3 scheme, the sky is the limit. Playing under Jim Schwartz, we think that Cox is the best player in Philadelphia at the moment. He better continue to play at a high level, though, because there are players both on and off this list that are coming for the top spot.


Disagree with the rankings?

If 140 characters aren't enough, you can 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