The Top 25 Philadelphia Athletes: Indisputable 2023 Edition
The last time we did a top 25 Philly athletes list, Shayne Gostisbehere and Odubel Herrera made the cut. It’s been that long.
So we decided to do a 2023 version of this list, waiting for for the summer in order to clear Eagles free agency and the NBA playoffs. There are a lot of good choices thanks to the strength of this current Birds team and the talented Phillies who went to the World Series in 2022. No, the Phils are not off to the greatest start this season, but we tried to look back over the last calendar year when putting the list together and place recency bias on the side burner.
It’s hard to compare guys playing different sports, but we tried to keep it simple and look at how well each player does in their respective league. That inevitably leads to an argument about whether or not Union players should be included, since MLS isn’t exactly the Premier League. We talked about that and landed on a compromise that included Andre Blake in the list. You’re gonna piss off somebody no matter what, so we settled on that decision.
Here’s what we came up with as of June 5th, 2023:
25. Alec Bohm
Bohm turned a corner in 2022 and had a decent postseason while flashing some (previously-unseen) defensive ability at third base. He was one of the only Phillies hitting the ball to start the 2023 season and his numbers are projecting out to be a slight improvement across the board in pretty much every meaningful statistical category.
24. Travis Konecny
One of just two Flyers to make the list, TK tied a career-high with 61 points this past season, but did it in six fewer games. He crossed the 30-goal threshold for the first time and was a bright spot during an otherwise miserable Flyers campaign. He’s still in his mid-20s and has plenty left to give as the rebuild continues with John Tortorella, Keith Jones, and Danny Briere.
23. Bryson Stott
Still just 25 years old, Stott came onto the scene last season and was a nice surprise on a Phils team that went to the World Series. He enjoyed a torrid start to the 2023 season, and while he slowed down in mid-May, he’s started to pick it up again. He’ll quite easily clear the numbers that he posted in 2022.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
22. Carter Hart
As bad as the Flyers have been, it’s not because of the goaltending. Carter Hart is the highest-rated Flyer on this top 25 list.
For what it’s worth, the last time we did this in 2018, there were five Flyers on the list – Ghost, Provy, Coots, Voracek, and Giroux. If Couturier wasn’t injured, he likely would have logged a season worthy of being in the top 15, but going back over the list from five years ago makes you realize just how down the Flyers currently are.
21. Aaron Nola
At his very best, Nola is a top 10 player. At his worst, he’s off the list entirely. When he’s on, he’s really on, and when he’s off, he’s really off.
So it seems fair that he lands at 21. Nola hasn’t been amazing this season, but finished last year with a 3.25 ERA over 205 innings. He had a career-low BB/9 number and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting, clipping Zac Gallen and Carlos Rodon in the process. Nola didn’t have a great World Series, but his first two postseason performances were key in getting the Phils to the NLCS and Fall Classic.
20. James Bradberry
In any other year, putting a Pro Bowl alternate Eagles cornerback at #20 would seem sacrilegious, but that speaks to the strength of the Birds’ roster and the current Philly sports scene. Bradberry was excellent all season long and got burned on a tough call in the Super Bowl’s dying moments. Howie Roseman taking advantage of the Giants’ cap mismanagement to bring in Bradberry on a one-year deal, then sign him to a new contract, is one of the better moves he’s made.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
19. Kyle Schwarber
The first version of this list did not have Kyle Schwarber. We completely forgot to add him, probably because he was playing terrible baseball at the time and couldn’t put the ball in Lake Nockamixon if he was hitting off a tee in the parking lot.
But Schwarber was quality in the postseason and we’ve flipped the calendar to June, so he’s easily top 20 on this list.
18. Nick Castellanos
Rebound year for Castellanos, who couldn’t hit anything during his first year with the Phillies. Now the curse of Ben Simmons’ house has been exorcised, which has Castellanos slashing .316/.360/.498 and leading the Phillies in OPS. He has 34 RBI, seven homers, 20 extra-base hits, and only needs 12 more walks to tie his 2022 total.
17. Darius Slay
Another Pro Bowl season for Slay, who was better in the first half than the second half. Still, alongside James Bradberry, he comprises one half of the best Eagles CB duo since Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown. You feel very good about the Birds’ back end as long as Slay is covering the opposing team’s WR1.
16. Tyrese Maxey
He could play himself into the top 10 with another step forward. Tyrese was excellent this season, averaging 20.3 points per game and shooting 43.4% from three. His emergence as a legit NBA combo guard has been one of the few positive developmental/youth storylines for the Sixers, and if James Harden decides to walk, you may be looking at the next primary ball handler for the foreseeable future.
15. Jordan Mailata
Speaking of development, the Eagles using a 7th round draft pick on a rugby player and converting him into a stud left tackle will go down as one of the best player personnel jobs in Philly sports history. The Jordan Mailata move worked out so well that the Eagles ended up leaving a first round draft pick on the bench, but it was the right call. Mailata’s play justified sitting Andre Dillard.
Eric Hartline – USA Today Sports
14. Dallas Goedert
Sneakily a top-five NFL tight end, maybe top three depending on how you’d order Mark Andrews, T.J. Hockenson, and George Kittle. Goedert missed a few games in 2022, but if he had played a full season the extrapolation would have lifted him to career highs across the board. Instead, he’ll settle for 12 games, 55 receptions, 702 yards, three touchdowns, and a 79.7% catch rate. He did all of that with A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith claiming 135+ targets each.
13. Zack Wheeler
The best pitcher in the Phillies’ rotation, a recent Cy Young runner up who was at the center of Rob Thomson’s most controversial decision in the World Series. Game six will be one of the greatest “what if?” moments in Phillies history, and maybe Philadelphia sports history at large.
12. Andre Blake
The best goalkeeper in Major League Soccer, Blake has won GK of the Year three times, is a four-time All Star, and made the MLS Best XI on three separate occasions. That alone should be enough to put him in the top 12, but his case is solidified by his status as Jamaica captain and more than 60 international appearances. That was where we found common ground for inclusion, the national team stuff, though the honest truth is that Dre is good enough to play in almost any league in the world.
11. J.T. Realmuto
Still the best catcher in baseball. His hitting numbers are down this season, but you could say that about most of the Phillies. Realmuto remains a top-12 Philly athlete and top-three breakfast chef:
10. James Harden
We talked about whether or not Harden should even be on the list, since he has a player option and quite possibly has played his last Sixers game. Ultimately we left him on and put him at 10, because while he had some clunkers in the Boston series, he singlehandedly won game one and hit the big shots to win game four. He averaged 10 assists in the regular season and no matter how annoyed with him you are, you can’t put him outside the top ten.
9. Trea Turner
No, he’s not playing like a top 10 guy right now. Turner ended up here though on the strength of his recent resume, WBC performance, and the potential for what he can be if he figures it out. Anthony argued for top-ten Turner placement, so we capitulated.
8. DeVonta Smith
It’s funny looking back now at the concerns about his weight. They were fair questions, but Smith’s frame ended up being a non-issue. In two seasons with the Eagles, one with A.J. Brown and one without, DeVonta has 159 catches for 2,112 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Heisman Trophy winner didn’t skip a beat in his NFL transition. He’s been phenomenal.
7. Lane Johnson
Johnson remains, probably, the best right tackle in football. He’s also a top eight or top ten overall tackle if you included guys on the left. Lane has had some injuries in the past but never seems to skip a beat and is still playing the highest-level football, even at age 33. A consistent and steady dawg on the offensive line.
6. Jason Kelce
Kelce is difficult to rank. You always get a lot of people who think he’s too low on the list, and that’s probably because he’s a veteran fan favorite who strikes every non-quantifiable chord. He’s a leader and a motivator and always says the right things in public. If intangibles were the lone criteria for this list, Kelce would easily be #1, but we feel pretty comfortable having him here instead.
From the Eagles’ preseason hype video
5. Haason Reddick
Reddick goes above Kelce and Johnson because he’s coming off a career year in which he not only logged 16 sacks, but knocked a starting quarterback out of the NFC title game. That hit on Brock Purdy was the key moment that more or less solidified the Eagles’ spot in the Super Bowl, and if the NFL didn’t have clowns doing the field in Arizona, one big play on Patrick Mahomes, likely from Reddick, could have been the difference.
4. A.J. Brown
The best receiver to play in Philadelphia since Terrell Owens. Brown has it all – size, strength, route running, agility, blah blah. Lob the ball and he’ll go up and get it. He’s one of the surest bets the Eagles have had in more than 15 years. This was Howie Roseman’s best trade of all time.
3. Joel Embiid
We didn’t want to push Embiid down the list because of the shitty Boston series. He’s still the reigning MVP and went into the conference semifinals with an injury. If the Sixers were still playing, or even if they had gone out in the conference finals, Embiid would have been good enough to go up to #2 on this list, or even #1 depending on the series outcome. You just can’t make any kind of legitimate case to push him out of the top three or top five.
2. Jalen Hurts
The original list had Hurts at #1 and Harper at #2. It’s pretty damn close. Hurts took his team to the Super Bowl, played well enough to win it, and finished second in the MVP race. He’s already elite and on the cusp of whatever comes next, whether it’s “really elite” or “uber elite,” but the bottom line is that Harper has been doing for much longer what Hurts is currently doing.
1. Bryce Harper
Not much to say about Harper that hasn’t already been said. The guy embodies everything Philly sports is all about. He’s got toughness and resilience and is just a plain old dawg, a player who wants to win above all else. He was superb in the 2022 playoffs and until Hurts or Embiid take the next step, Harper remains the top player in Philly sports. Someone has to come and take the throne from him.
honorable mentions: Brandon Marsh (finished 26th), Jose Alvarado, Josh Sweat, Avonte Maddox, Jake Elliott, Landon Dickerson, Tobias Harris, Ivan Provorov, Jakob Glesnes, Kai Wagner, Jose Martinez, Mitch Jones (yes, really, look at the numbers he put up for the Wings)