One year ago, we published our first annual list of the top five Philadelphia athletes under 25 years old. At that time, each of the local franchises all had a player in the top five. This time around though, that's not the case. The young Eagles basically dominated the list this year with three of the top five spots.
Of course, the Eagles will probably always be the favorite to have the most good young players because the NFL lends itself to that. The league brings in more young players ready to step in immediately than any other league. Of course it's also true that the Flyers hate draft picks, the nature of developing baseball players doesn't lead many of them to the majors at a very young age and the Sixers aren't a lottery team anymore. That said, the Eagles did pick a 26 year old in the first round this year, meaning he won't even make this list if he's a pro bowler as a rookie...
So without further ado, here's your top five Philadelphia athletes under the age of 25.
5. Jeremy Maclin - Eagles - Age 23 - I think DeSean Jackson's greater fame and knack for highlight reel plays makes people forget just how good Jeremy Maclin has been in his first two years in the NFL. In fact, Randy Moss is the only WR in NFL history with more regular season and playoff yards before his 22nd birthday than Maclin. Jeremy is also only the seventh player in NFL history to amass more than 750 receiving yards prior to his 22nd birthday. This past season he led the Eagles in TD receptions with 10, which was the fourth highest total in the NFL.
4. Jrue Holiday - 76ers - Age 21 - If there was one guy on last year's list that could claim to be snubbed, it was the man Liberty Ballers call "The Jruth." In fact, his exclusion from our top five drew some criticism from the Liberty Ballers community, who felt that he should have been in the top five specifically over Danny Mwanga. Turns out, they were right. The youngest player on our list, Holiday had a great sophomore campaign as the Sixers starting point guard. Playing over 35 minutes per game, Jrue saw rises in his scoring, assists, usage rate and PER, while seeing his turnovers drop.
If anything, Holiday's solid second year is overlooked a bit nationally because of the glut of quality point guards in the NBA right now. Still, given how well Holiday is playing at 21 years old, his upside is very high. It's hard to say whether he'll ever be in the discussion as far as the "elite" PGs go, but he could very well be in the discussion of the top 10 PGs next season, if he isn't already. Rotoworld recently named Holiday as the 8th best fantasy PG in the NBA for next season. Jrue also has a fan in Charles Barkely, who said during the NBA playoffs this year,
"I'm going to have to change my player rankings on my favorite player again. Joakim Noah, he is [still my favorite], but my second-favorite player is Jrue Holiday."
3. LeSean McCoy - Eagles - Age 22 - When the Eagles let Brian Westbrook leave and installed Shady McCoy as the starter, Eagles fans were hoping there wouldn't be a big dropoff in production. They probably didn't expect him to be ever better than his predecessor.
McCoy had a breakout season in 2011 amassing 1,672 yards from scrimmage, which was the fourth most in the NFL. He led all running backs in receptions with 78 and racked 28 runs of over ten yards. Even more impressive is how quickly McCoy has developed into this kind of player. It wasn't until his fifth year in the NFL that Brian Westbrook was putting up the kind of numbers that Shady did last season. His performance last year led NFL.com writer Pat Kirwan to rank McCoy as the eighth best back in the NFL.
2. Claude Giroux - Flyers - Age 23 - The Flyers forward took a big step in his third NHL season setting career highs in every single category. He led the Flyers in both points (11th in the NHL) and assists (8th) while his 25 goals were third best on the team. He also made his first NHL All Star game. The Score put together a great video recap of his 2011 season.
You might also say that Claude is somewhat of a social media star. Youtube is full of clips of his great passes, crazy stickwork and big goals. Plus, according to Facebook, he is the most "liked" player on the Flyers. Giroux came in at #2 on our list last year and here is at #2 again. At just 23 years old, he figures to be on this list next year as well... maybe at #1.
1. DeSean Jackson - Eagles - Age 24 - This is DeSean's final year of eligibility for our top 5 under 25 list and like last year, he comes in at #1. At just 24 years old, Jackson is a two time pro bowler and seen as one of the most dangerous offensive players in the NFL. You could also argue that nationally, he's one of the most famous Philly based athletes with high profile endorsements from Nike and appearances on late night TV shows like Jimmy Kimmel and George Lopez. However, his most nationally recognizable moment had to come on The View, when he surprised bullying victim Nadin Khoury on the show, making for one of the most touching moments on TV this year. That appearance not only made national headlines, but launched a new cause for DeSean, who has been speaking out against bullying ever since.
Plus, he was responsible for what just might be the play of the year in Philly sports last season.
Just missed the cut....
James van Riemsdyk made nice strides in his second NHL season, but really became an absolute beast in the playoffs. Had the Flyers run last a little longer, he just might have snuck his way into the top five. However, in the end I just couldn't justify putting in JVR above guys that were already producing at an elite or near elite level all season. Still, he showed in the posteason that he has the size and speed to be a dominant NHL player.
At only 22, if JVR picks up next season where he left off, there's almost no doubt that he'll be in the top five next year and could certainly be in contention for the top spot. He was that good in the playoffs.
Thaddeus Young (Age 22), is a guy people forget is still so young because he's now been in the NBA for four years. Young was a serious contender for the NBA's sixth man of the year award in 2010-2011. After a really solid rookie season, Young stagnated under coach Eddie Jordan. However, he flourished under Doug Collins last season, who seemed to really understand how to use and motivate Young. His scoring, rebounding and PER all saw notable jumps last season. Scouts Inc ranked him as the one of the most underrated young players in the NBA.
Young is one of the best bench players in the NBA and would be higher on this list if he played more.
Although he still hasn't developed a more consistent perimeter game, he has become one of the league's best finishers inside, ranks in the top five in steals per 48 minutes among all forwards and is a big part of Philly's resurgence. As underrated players go, he's high on the list.
Domonic Brown was on our list last year at #4 and entered Spring Training this season with a shot at winning the Phillies everyday right fielder job. However, he got off to a miserable start in Clearwater and then broke his hand... That robbed him of the rest of his spring and the first month of the season, however, when he healed he was sent back to AAA and started tearing it up just like he had last season when he was named the top prospect in baseball. So in late May, when Shane Victorino hit the DL, Dom was called up to the big leagues and has been here since.
He was red hot after his call up, but has cooled down recently. Still, it's been encouraging to see his strikeout rate fall dramatically from his last season call up last year. Charlie Manuel is still generally platooning him to protect him from lefties, which might be a little help to the Phils offense in the short term, but isn't really doing a lot of favors for Brown's development.
Evan Turner came in at #3 on our list last year before he'd ever even played a game for the Sixers. After a stellar college career and being the #2 pick in the NBA draft, we had high expectations for Turner's rookie season. That #3 ranking proved to be a bit premature however as Turner struggled to find a place in Doug Collins' team as a rookie. It's certainly not uncommon for rookies to play sparingly under Collins, but Turner certainly did seem overmatched at times and too often seemed to lack the aggressiveness he showed in college. Still, Turner did end his season on a high note with a strong series in the playoffs against the Miami Heat.
If the Sixers do indeed trade Andre Iguodala this offseason as many are speculating, it will likely open up significant minutes for Turner and he will be expected to play a much larger role next season.
Danny Mwanga grabbed the fifth spot in our ranks last year as he enjoyed a very solid rookie season with the Union after being the first overall pick in the MLS Superdraft. This year, he got off to a rough start as coach Peter Nowak preferred Carlos Ruiz as his top striker. This relegated Mwanga to mostly substitute duty. However, with Ruiz away at the Gold Cup, Mwanga has played better as a starter and now actually leads the Union in goals with four. When it comes down to it, Mwanga didn't drop off the list because he necessarily has regressed, it's more because other guys in town have progressed at a faster rate.