Ranking the top 30 athletes under 30

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Ranking the top 30 athletes under 30

30. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks – 26 years old

Look, this isn’t about being a great human being who puts in 40 hours of community service on the weekends. We all know about Patrick Kane’s off-the-ice issues. The guy has gotten himself into a lot of trouble since joining the Chicago Blackhawks, but he has somehow kept it from affecting his play.

He won the Calder Memorial Trophy (Rookie of the Year) at 19 years old in the 2007-08 season with 21 goals and 51 assists.

In his third year, Kane exploded for 30 goals and 58 assists during the regular season before serving as a vital piece of a Blackhawks team that won its first Stanley Cup since the 1960-61 season.

Since then, yes Kane has hung around the party scene too much, but he’s remained a beast on the ice. He compiled 205 goals in his first eight seasons and matched that with 352 assists during that time. More importantly, he’s helped lead the Blackhawks to two more Stanley Cups. In case you lost track, that’s three Stanley Cups in six years.

Kane is only 26 years old — mind boggling.

The only time Kane saw his points drop below 60 was when he totaled 55 points in the 2012-13 season – a year in which he only played in 47 regular season games because of an NHL lockout and one where he still notched 23 goals. And the Blackhawks still won it all that season.

If Chicago can keep Kane and Jonathan Toews together, the Blackhawks are going to continue to contend for championships. Toews came up with Kane, and it was hard to put one ahead of the other, but those are the breaks.

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

29. Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers – 24 years old

He’s the best middle linebacker in the entire NFL — point blank. Now that Patrick Willis, Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis are gone, there is no one who can compete with Luke Kuechly for that title.

Since the Carolina Panthers drafted him out of Boston College with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Kuechly has hounded ball carriers and haunted quarterbacks.

In his rookie year, Kuechly reached 103 tackles with 62 of them on assists. He added two interceptions, eight pass deflections and three fumble recoveries … as a rookie — can’t be stressed enough. He obviously was named the 2012 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Since then, he’s only gotten better. In fact, the very next year he was named the 2013 AP Defensive Player of the Year. He had 96 total tackles with 70 assists and two sacks. He picked off four passes and deflected eight more.

In those first three seasons, Kuechly totaled 306 tackles with 196 assists. It’s also worth noting that he didn’t miss a game during that stretch.

Now, this season has been less fortunate for Kuechly as he’s missed some time with a concussion. With him healthy, the Panthers’ defense is catapulted into the discussion of being among the best in the NFL.

If Kuechly can stay healthy, the Panthers will find a way to stay in the playoff hunt. They’re undefeated right now in spite of his injury. Having Kuechly leading the defense and Cam Newton leading the offense is never a bad starting point for a franchise.

(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

28. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs – 24 years old

He’s probably one of less than a handful of people in the National Basketball Association capable of guarding LeBron James. Can … can we just rise up and give Kawhi Leonard a standing ovation for that alone? That’s pretty remarkable.

Obviously, though, he’s done more than just that to land himself onto this list. Having Gregg Popovich as your head coach is kind of an unfair advantage, but we’ll allow Leonard to keep his status because, hey, he’s earned it.

His rookie season wasn’t anything to marvel at. He only averaged eight points, five rebounds and shot 49 percent from the field. The important thing is he continued to improve. Leonard has increased is points per game, rebounds per game and field goal percentage in the first three years he’s been in the league.

During the 2013-14 season, Leonard stepped up in the playoffs to help the Spurs get revenge against the Miami Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals. Leonard earned the Bill Russell Award as the NBA Finals’ Most Valuable Player.

Before that series began most people would have expected Tony Parker or Tim Duncan to take that honor if the Spurs won, but Leonard stole the show. After only scoring nine points in each of game one and game two during the series, Leonard surged for 29 points in game three. He followed that performance with another 20 points in game four and 22 points in game five.

With Duncan and Manu Ginobili nearing the ends of their careers, Leonard will clearly be the focal point of the Spurs moving forward. Parker and the newly acquired LaMarcus Aldridge will be there to help him out, but he’s becoming a star before our very eyes.

(AP Photo/Darren Abate)

27. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning – 25 years old

After taking a backseat to guys like Kane and Toews among the NHL’s best, young players, Steven Stamkos has illuminated himself as a star in the league.

In his rookie year, Stamkos put up 46 points with 23 goals and 23 assists. He finished ninth in the voting for Rookie of the Year. That very next year he led the league with 51 goals on 297 shots, and he tacked on 44 assists to go along with it. Oh, and let’s not forget that he led the league with 24 goals on power plays.

During the next two seasons, Stamkos tallied 188 points — remarkable. That included another league-leading number of goals with 60 in the 2011-12 season. Of those 60 goals, 48 of them were even strength — another category in which Stamkos led the NHL.

He’s a staple in the Lightning’s offensive attack and arguably the best center in the entire NHL. Tampa Bay reached the Stanley Cup Finals last season for the first time since it won the cup in 2004.

Unfortunately for the Lightning, the Chicago Blackhawks were ready and waiting to win the series in six games. Regardless it was still an incredible year for the Stamkos and the Bolts.

The lockout in 2012 threw a wrench into Stamkos’ groove, but it shouldn’t be doubted that he’ll return to the 90-point form he had when his career began. He’s only 25 years old. Stamkos is still getting better.

He is the real deal, ladies and gentlemen. And as long as he’s around, the Lightning will be a force to be reckoned with.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

26. Alex Morgan, Portland Thorns FC – 26 years old

What did you think this list was going to be all dudes? Nope, sorry, Alex Morgan is too good to be left off. Let’s talk about her club career before we dive into the good stuff: her time with the USWNT.

In 2011, Morgan was the first-overall pick in the WPS Draft by the Western New York Flash. Morgan helped the Flash win its first WPS title that year … as a rookie. She played 689 minutes in 13 games for the club and started six that year with four goals and three assists.

In 2013, she moved on to the Portland Thorns FC and played 1,525 minutes in 18 games, of which she started all of them. She was tied for third in the league with eight goals, and notched five assists as well. She led the NWSL with 82 shots and 44 shots on goal.

The next year she started 13 games despite missing time with an injury, and she scored six goals with four assists to help the Thorns to their second-consecutive appearance in the playoffs.

But the more impressive showings from Morgan have been with her country’s colors on her back. She was the youngest player on the U.S. National Team that finished second in the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Morgan became the first player to ever record a goal and an assist in a World Cup final .

Morgan’s popularity skyrocketed when she put away Canada with a game-winning goal in extra time of a semifinal match during the 2012 Olympics in London. She notched 28 goals in 20120 for team U.S.A., and 17 of those occurred in extra time. She was only the sixth U.S. player to score more than 20 goals in a season — and the youngest. She was named the 2012 Female Athlete of the Year by U.S. Soccer.

She was a vital part of the national team’s 5-2 win in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final. It was the third World Cup victory for the women’s national team.

Morgan has replaced Abby Wambach as the face of women’s soccer in the U.S.A., and she’s still improving.

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

25. Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs – 23 years old

The expectations for Kris Bryant in 2015 were basically as high as they could possibly be. After he hit 43 home runs in 2014 combined between his stints in AA and AAA, Bryant finally made it up to the big leagues with the Chicago Cubs in 2015.

He debuted on April 17, and did not disappoint at all. In 151 games in 2015, Bryant collected 559 at-bats and hit .275 with 26 home runs and 99 RBI. He tacked on 31 doubles and five triples along the way.

Bryant formed a very scary middle of the lineup for the Cubs with first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo narrowly missed making this list, and it was Bryant’s athletic ability and versatility that put him ahead of his teammate.

The majority of Bryant’s time this season has been at third base where he made 17 errors on the year, but if the Cubs end up holding onto Starlin Castro, the overcrowded infield could push Bryant toward a future of playing center field. He played 19 games in the outfield this season and didn’t make a single error — small sample size but productive.

He may have struck out 199 times, but he was No. 10 in the National League with 77 walks. If Bryant can develop a little more patience at the plate, he’ll be even deadlier than he is right now.

Bryant’s swing may be a little long, but he’s very effective. He was voted into the 2015 MLB All-Star Game and helped lead the Cubs to the 2015 NLCS.

This was only year one. Be afraid, pitchers of the MLB, be very afraid.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

24. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers – 29 years old

Clay Matthews barely qualified for this list because he’s 29, but it still counts.

While Luke Kuechly is currently the best middle linebacker in the National Football League, you’d be hard pressed to find a linebacker that has made bigger plays than Matthews has made in the seven years he’s spent with the Green Bay Packers.

He was the defensive anchor of the Packers when they won the Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2010-11 season.

While he doesn’t have the total tackles that Kuechly has in almost twice the time put in by the Carolina Panthers’ linebacker, Matthews has been a quarterback’s worst nightmare since 2009.

The Packers made Matthews the No. 26 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft out of USC, and he responded by posting 10 sacks as a rookie.

Since then he’s added 55.5 more sacks to bring his total to 65.5 — and counting. He’s picked off six passes so far and forced 12 fumbles.

But sometimes the numbers lie, because Matthews is so good that other teams try to move the ball away from him. They’re not always successful, but they certainly try. Matthews is usually the first thing offensive coordinators bring up when they’re getting ready to face the Packers.

He’s made the move to middle linebacker now, and he’s still adjusting to the position. It’s bigger change than one would imagine it to be, but Matthews has done well so far. The more comfortable he gets with playing in the middle, the scarier he’ll be.

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

23. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers – 26 years old

He went from being an electrifying, high-flying Oklahoma Sooner to the highly touted No. 1 overall pick by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2009 NBA Draft. After missing what should have been his rookie year with an injury, Blake Griffin did not disappoint when he played 82 games in the 2010-11 season.

He’s averaged more than 20 points in four of the five seasons he’s put in with the NBA. More importantly, he’s been a cornerstone of a revitalized Clippers franchise that went from laughing stock of the NBA to championship contender seemingly overnight.

Sure, adding Chris Paul and Doc Rivers as the head coach has certainly helped, but Griffin has also put in the work. Griffin’s young career has yielded an average of 21.5 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. His true shooting percentage has stayed above 50 percent each year, and his three-point percentage jumped from 27 percent to 40 percent last season.

DeAndre Jordan’s development has also helped, but Griffin was the first piece of what is now referred to as “Lob City.” And he certainly deserves all of the credit he gets — possibly more.

There aren’t many power forwards who can keep up with Griffin. He runs the floor like a gazelle and leaps like he has tiny rockets in his shoes. If he continues to develop his perimeter game, there won’t be anyone in the league capable of guarding Griffin. And that could be the key in the Clippers progressing from championship contender to champion.

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

22. Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals – 25 years old

There’s a reason why the Arizona Cardinals drafted Patrick Peterson with the fifth-overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, and it was a good reason at that.

Peterson racked up 104 solo tackles and seven interceptions in three years with the LSU Tigers, and he kept the hot streak going with the Cardinals as a rookie with 59 tackles and two interceptions.

He took his game to another level in 2012 though with seven interceptions and five fumble recoveries. He’s added eight more interceptions since then, and has evolved into a headache for offensive coordinators throughout the NFL.

Peterson, along with the help of head coach Bruce Arians, has spearheaded the transformation of the Cardinals into a well-oiled machine. Their defense is one of the best in the league, and Peterson was the first piece of the puzzle.

Maybe the most impressive stat of Peterson’s young career has to be his durability. Football is a tough game. It doesn’t matter who you are. The game can take its toll on you, and it’s very difficult to consistently make an appearance — let alone make an impact. Peterson has not missed a game since he entered the league. So, not only are you talking about an explosive monster in the Cardinals’ secondary, but he’s almost guaranteed to be there every Sunday. There’s a very small chance an opponent can look onto the list of injuries and hope to catch a break by seeing Peterson’s name. It hasn’t happened yet.

At 25, he’s arguably the game’s best cornerback, and it doesn’t appear as though he’s going anywhere.

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

21. Cam Netwon, Carolina Panthers – 26 years old

As good as Peterson is, there’s a reason why he wasn’t the No. 1 overall pick in that 2011 NFL Draft. Cameron Jerrell Newton is that reason — a monstrous 6-foot-6, 220-pound reason.

Somewhat similarly to Kane, Newton’s off-the-field issues were well documented. Completely different from Kane is how Newton has essentially turned into a model citizen in Charlotte.  Yes, we know about his time with the Florida Gators, yet no amount of stolen computers can erase what Newton has meant to the Carolina Panthers and their fans.

In his rookie season, Newton exploded onto the scene with 14 rushing touchdowns and 21 passing touchdowns to overshadow the 17 interceptions he threw. Can you name another man since Michael Vick who had the capability to rush for more than 700 yards and throw for more than 4,000 yards in the same season? Maybe Russell Wilson could, but Newton did that in year one.

The rushing numbers, specifically the touchdowns, have gone down each year he’s been in the league, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Newton’s only taken the Panthers to the playoffs twice, but the only other quarterback who’s done more with less is Tom Brady.

For a while, Newton’s biggest offensive weapon was Steve Smith Sr, and the Panthers chose not to bring him back for some inexplicable reason. The problem is that Newton is working with below-average wide receivers and Greg Olsen at tight end. It’s not ideal.

He deserves credit, though, because his career record is still 34-31-1.

(AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

20. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers – 27 years old

Antonio Brown is a grade-A, top-notch, prime example that high school football recruiting is seriously flawed.

Coming out of Miami, Fla., Brown did not receive a single star by Rivals.com out of high school, and he eventually committed to Central Michigan. The 5-foot-10 speedster has evolved into way more than just a home run threat.

After reeling in 16 catches for 167 yards and watching the Green Bay Packers steal the Super Bowl away as as rookie, Brown caught fire in 2011. The No. 195 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft burned the NFL for 1,108 yards on 69 catches in year two.

He’s become Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite target, and the departures of Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders has allowed him to blossom into an all-around threat.

Brown led the NFL with 129 catches and 1,698 receiving yards in 2014. Oh, and 13 of those catches ended up being for touchdowns.

He’s made three Pro Bowls in his young career and continues to give cornerbacks headaches.

It’s kind of funny because Brown went from being just a member of a talented trio of wide receivers to being the leader of a completely different trio of talented receivers. Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton continue to develop, and as they start to demand more attention from defenses, Brown will continue to get open. That’s probably his best quality: the ability to simply get open. Roethlisberger is known for extending plays once the pocket breaks, and Brown has become an expert at helping his quarterback out by finding space once his route breaks.

He’s one of the best in the business at it.

(AP Photo/Don Wright)

19. James Harden, Houston Rockets – 26 years old

On another kind of list, the 26-year-old James Harden would be much, much higher than No. 19. But he’s hindered by the inclusion of other sports. And if this list was about athletes with the most impressive displays of facial hair, it wouldn’t even be close to being a contest. He’d hold the top spot.

In fairness to Harden, he has put up some big numbers since being the third-overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft — two spots after Blake Griffin.

After helping the Oklahoma City Thunder reach the NBA Finals in the 2011-12 season as a sixth man, Harden was shipped off to the Houston Rockets. The Thunder feared they would not be able to afford to keep together a core of Harden, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.

Many argue that the Thunder should have traded away Ibaka, even though Ibaka has turned into a great player in his own right. Plus, no one could have predicted Harden’s 16 points per game off the bench for OKC would turn into an every-year bid for the Most Valuable Player Award.

Harden has averaged at least 25 points per game in the last three years and saw his assists bump up to seven per game last year. Many believed Harden should have won the MVP last year instead of Stephen Curry. It’s not that Harden didn’t deserve the award, but the Golden State Warriors had the best record in the league. It’s also hard to argue with what Curry did.

At 26, Harden will continue to keep the Houston Rockets in the playoff hunt and in the conversation for potential title contenders.

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

18. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons – 26 years old

Right after the Arizona Cardinals took Patrick Peterson in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons decided trade up in order to address the other side of the ball. Atlanta found a gem in Julio Jones with the sixth-overall pick, and he’s emerged into one of the game’s best wide receivers.

In his rookie season, Jones reeled in 54 catches for 959 receiving yards and eight touchdowns — pretty good for a rookie. Somehow he found a way to top that in his second year though. In 2012, Jones went off for 79 grabs for 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns.

His 2013 season was a little disappointing because he only played in five games due to injury, but Jones bounced right back last year with 104 receptions for 1,593 yards and six touchdowns.

Jones has quickly become the go-to target for quarterback Matt Ryan and continues to burn his way past cornerbacks every Sunday. When he entered the league, Jones was purely a nine-route guy. Atlanta would send him deep, and that was basically his only role: a deep threat.

Since then, Jones has molded into an all-around threat. He can go over the middle and gain yards after the catch. He can catch the ball behind the line of scrimmage and make plays. His route running has been finely tuned, and he’s a big reason why the Falcons are Super Bowl contenders in 2015.

It seems as though Ryan and Jones just understand each other. With first-year head coach Dan Quinn stabilizing the defense, Atlanta could be riding the Ryan-Jones connection deep into the playoffs.

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

17. Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins – 25 years old

For the first two years of his career, the 25-year-old slugger for the Miami Marlins went by another name. In the franchise’s last two years as the Florida Marlins, he was known as Mike Stanton. When the Marlins officially changed their name to the Miami Marlins, Mike Stanton evolved into Giancarlo Stanton.

A name change was the only difference for Stanton. He continued to mash baseballs on a regular basis for the Marlins. The 56 home runs he posted as “Mike” were followed up with 37 home runs in his first year as Giancarlo in 2012.

Injuries have been an issue for Stanton. He’s missed 264 games in his six years in the big leagues. Knowing that the Marlins gave him a 13-year mega deal worth $325 million means that he should probably be seeing the field more, but injuries are a part of the game. To be fair, in spite of the time he’s missed, Stanton has over-performed whenever he’s been on the field.

Stanton averages a home run for every 14 at-bats in his career. When you think about the fact that he’s missed that many games and still has 181 home runs, your jaw should drop. If Stanton had stayed even relatively more healthy than he’s been, he’d be well over 200 home runs by now. In fact, if he averaged 500 at-bats a year for those six years, he’d be at approximately 214 home runs.

That would land him at around 500 home runs by the time he’d be 32. And of course, it’s fun to think about whether or not he could keep up those numbers for another six years and get to 700.

But the “what if” game can be trouble. Regardless of what Stanton’s numbers should be, he’s still been one of the game’s best hitters and an athletic right fielder with a cannon attached to his shoulder.

He should win at least one MVP award by the time it’s all said and done.

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

16. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals – 27 years old

While we’ve already hit on a few of those top picks from the 2011 NFL Draft, here’s another gem from that draft class doing big things for his squad.

Julio Jones may be killing it for the Atlanta Falcons, but A.J. Green has continued to one-up him. Green was rated higher out of high school and committed to play for the Georgia Bulldogs while Jones joined the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Green was selected fourth overall by the Cincinnati Bengals while the Falcons snagged Jones two picks later. He’s continued to edge out Jones by even the smallest of margins at every single level, and it hasn’t really changed in the NFL.

Since his rookie year, Green has been a monster in the Bengals’ passing game. He and quarterback Andy Dalton came in together and immediately formed a connection that has produced 1,000-yard seasons for Green in his first four years.

It’s hard to believe a rookie can haul in 115 catches for seven touchdowns and 1,057 yards… and get better after that. Green is that type of player. He’s a physical freak at 6-foot-4, 205 lbs, and he has a pair of hands that will make you go looking for the crazy glue.

He’s made the Pro Bowl every year so far and caught 38 touchdowns during that time — hence the Pro Bowl selections.

Amazingly, he’s only missed four games during that time. If he stays healthy — assuming he produced no more or less than he is right now — Green will be looking at a potential of 175 receiving touchdowns. Sounds like a pretty good career, doesn’t it?

(AP Photo/AJ Mast)

15. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder – 26 years old

He has single handedly changed the point guard position in the NBA. Only a few other guys in the history of the game can say they’ve done the same. Since he left UCLA, Russell Westbrook has powered through the shadow of his teammate Kevin Durant and become a deadly weapon for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Thunder may wish they still had James Harden, but there’s no way the team would rather have traded Westbrook. At 6-foot-3, Westbrook has the length to guard some of the NBA’s bigger point guards. He has the speed and agility to guard the quicker guards. And his athleticism and ferocity is unmatched.

Westbrook is the new prototype for point guards everywhere.

He averaged 15 points and five assists with three turnovers as a rookie, but he has transformed into an MVP candidate. He’s seen his stats steadily climb until last season when he exploded for 28 points per game with about nine assists per game. His turnovers jumped to around four per game, but you have to take the good with the bad.

He and Durant have a solid connection on and off the court, which is more important than some people will acknowledge.

Westbrook is a legitimate triple-double threat every night and one of the more exciting players to watch in the NBA. He’s the type of player who can go for 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists on a Monday, but on Tuesday he’s going for 50 points. It’s insane how he can flip a switch and change it around.

He’s the most explosive player in the NBA right now.

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

14. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers – 23 years old

Ten years ago, anyone who claimed the running back position in football would be as desensitized as it is now would have garnered all of the weird looks.

The NFL was already a passing league then, but running backs have become a-dime-a-dozen position.

Le’Veon Bell is arguably the best running back in the league, and he was the No. 48 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Giovani Bernard was taken by the Cincinnati Bengals 11 picks sooner, and the Pittsburgh Steelers sure are glad the former Michigan State Spartan fell to them.

In his rookie year, Bell rushed for 860 yards in 13 games with eight touchdowns — not bad. In year two the touchdowns remained the same, but Bell increased his rushing yards by 58 percent. In 2014, Bell rushed for 1,361 yards on 290 carries.

What most did not expect was his quick evolution into an all-around running back. He went from 399 receiving yards as a rookie to 854 receiving yards in 2014. He caught three passes for touchdowns, too.

With Ben Roethlisberger out with a sprained MCL, Bell is taking on a bigger workload and hasn’t disappointed. After missing the first two weeks of the 2015 season due to suspension, Bell has rushed for 302 yards in his first three games.

As Roethlisberger ages, Bell will have to evolve into the bread and butter of the Steelers’ offense. But with Bell being 6-foot-2, 230 lbs, he should be able to help keep Roethlisberger’s jersey clean — whenever he’s not running a route himself.

(AP Photo/Don Wright)

13. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins – 28 years old

The No. 1 overall pick from the 2005 NHL Draft has definitely fallen victim to the astronomical expectations that were set before he even hit the ice for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sid “The Kid” Crosby was painted as a hockey God. He was the LeBron James to Wayne Gretzky’s Michael Jordan.

In his own right, Crosby has been really, really good. He just hasn’t been Gretzky good, and it’s a shame that whatever he does will be compared to someone who is most commonly known as “The Great One.”

Since he entered the league, Crosby has won two MVP awards and led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in the 2008-09 season. It would have been two-straight Stanley Cups for Pittsburgh, but the Penguins ran into a really good Detroit Red Wings team in the 2007-08 season. Detroit knocked off Pittsburgh 4-2 in the series.

In his first 10 seasons, Crosby tallied more than 100 points five times. His career-high 51 goals in the 2009-10 season led the league, but he’s also reached 50 assists six times. Crosby has become more than just a scorer. He’s an all-around threat offensively who is unselfish with the puck and will do anything to win.

The weird part is realizing he’s in his 11th year, and he’s only 28 years old. Gretzky played until he was 38 years old and finished with 894 goals — the most all-time. Gretzky hit 200 points in a season four times.

It’s unfair to examine Crosby’s numbers at the end of chis career because of the comparison that were made. Even if he played until he was 38 years old, too, Crosby would be way more than 200 goals away from that magical 894.

Regardless of all that, he’s still one of the best players in the NHL — probably the best. And we should appreciate his game.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

12. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots – 26 years old

There were a lot of great players drafted in the 2010 NFL Draft. Many of them will have stellar careers when it’s all said and done, and some may even enter the Hall of Fame one day.

But regardless of names like Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy — who also fell victim the multi-sport dimension of this list — it’s difficult to comprehend that 41 other players were drafted ahead of Rob Gronkowski.

The 6-foot-6, 265-pound former Arizona Wildcat has become the (unchallenged) best tight end in football. Moreover, he’s probably the game’s most deadly offensive threat. There is absolutely no one who can guard him — except King Kong, according to Rex Ryan.

Gronk had a “quiet” rookie season in 2010 with 42 catches for 10 touchdowns. We all know Tom Brady loves to spread the ball around, but when do you think it clicked in his head that he should be throwing to No. 87 more often?

Whenever it was, Brady definitely realized it before the 2011 season. Gronk went off for 17 touchdowns and 1,327 yards on 90 catches. Seven of Brady’s 39 touchdowns that year went to Aaron Hernandez, so you could say Gronk kind of missed out on those seven scores.

Unfortunately, Gronk missed 14 games over the next two seasons and tallied just 15 touchdowns and 1,382 yards on 94 receptions. Imagine if he had been healthy for those two years. He might have reached 70 receiving touchdowns by now instead of the 58 he’s sitting at.

No disrespect to Tony Gonzalez, but it’s hard to think Gronk won’t go down as the best tight end ever if he stays healthy. Gonzalez finished with 111 receiving touchdowns in 17 years, but he didn’t have a legitimate quarterback for most of that time.

Gronk has Brady. That should tell you all you need to know.

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

10. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals – 23 years old

Similar to Sidney Crosby, Bryce Harper’s expectations were higher than the crowd at a Snoop Dogg concert. All jokes aside, Harper’s reputation had reached a legendary status before he was even drafted.

Baseball fans across the country watched clips of him on YouTube hitting baseballs more than 500 feet, and their eyes teared up.

The most alluring attribute about Harper — aside from the raw power — was his hustle. It’s easy to be a gifted hitter and collapse into the superstar role. Harper, since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2010, has given everything he has on every play.

Whether it was diving for falling line drives in the outfield or stretching a single into a double, Harper has played the game the right way. And it’s beautiful that he does.

After hitting 55 home runs in his first three seasons, some wondered whether Harper was a bust or not. He squashed that idea in 2015 with a 42-homer outburst. He still struck out 131 times, but his walks jumped to 99. He’s been way more patient at the plate, and that’s changed everything.

Pitchers used to throw junk low and away in hitters’ counts, and Harper would swing and miss. This season, Harper has let those pitches go and simply taken the free base. That’s led to more pitches up in the zone in hitters’ counts, and he’s crushed them. He’s been the Rookie of the Year, and will likely win his first MVP award this season.

The sky really is the limit for No. 34.

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

9. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks – 26 years old

The Jacksonville Jaguars may have the quarterback of their future with Blake Bortles, and he’ll probably end up having a really good career — maybe. Bortles is good, but the jury is still out.

It still has to hurt Jaguars fans when they think about the fact their team took a punter five picks before the Seattle Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson at No. 75 overall. As good of a punter Bryan Anger is, we all know that was a mistake of the grandest kind.

Wilson’s measurables are not ideal. He’s 5-foot-11, and it’s preferred that quarterbacks have a little more size to throw over linemen and (more importantly) see the routes developing behind them.

The franchise quarterback for the Seahawks has proven the scouts wrong and dominated on the field.

Let’s talk about the fact he hasn’t missed a game and hasn’t seen his completion percentage drop below 63 percent since he entered the league. Or maybe we should talk about how he threw for 72 touchdowns and only 26 interceptions in his first three years.

He’s already won a Super Bowl and rushed for more than 2,000 yards, too. There is nothing Wilson cannot do. When he does take off with the ball, he’s smart with it. He knows when and how to slide in order to protect his body. He gets out of bounds at the right times and knows where the first down markers are at all times.

Maybe Wilson contends for an MVP award one day, but he’ll definitely lead his team back to a Super Bowl.

(AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

8. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors – 27 years old

He wasn’t highly recruited out of high school. He wasn’t throwing down 360 dunks and jumping from the free throw line. He didn’t win a national championship at Davidson — in spite of a phenomenal run in the NCAA Tournament. He wasn’t even graded as a point guard going into the 2009 NBA Draft.

All of that being said, he’s been Steph Curry with the shot, boy. In all seriousness, Stephen Curry had the season of a lifetime in 2014-15, and it appears as though it wasn’t a fluke. Just kidding, it definitely was not a fluke.

Curry led the NBA in three pointers made for the third consecutive year. He finished with 286 triples flushed on 646 attempted. For the non-math majors out there, that’s 44 percent from behind the tree-point line.

And for those who said he wasn’t a point guard, tell that to the 7.7 assists he averaged last season or the 8.5 dimes he averaged the year before that.

Curry isn’t just the best point guard under 30 years old. He’s the best point guard in the NBA, and he’s made that clear. He won the MVP last year and very easily could have been named the MVP of the 2015 NBA Finals — in spite of a slight drop off.

Think about this: he’s 1,782 threes behind Ray Allen’s all-time record of 2,973. If Curry averages 200 threes for the next nine years, he’ll reach 3,000 threes — breaking Allen’s record with ease.

It’s a lot to do, but Allen only broke the 200-threes mark five times in his 19-year career, and 269 was his career high for one season. Here is what Curry has done in the last three years: 286, 261, and 272.

He’ll probably go down as the best three-point shooter of all-time, and he was the No. 7 overall pick in 2009.

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

7. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans – 22 years old

Tim Duncan is widely known as the greatest power forward of all-time. When it’s all said and done with Anthony Davis, that statement may no longer be true.

Davis was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft for a reason.

In his rookie year, he averaged a “cute” 13.5 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game in 64 contests. But, in year two, Davis took his game to a new level. He averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds through 67 games. Davis also averaged 2.8 blocks and 1.3 steals per game.

What’s more impressive is the offensive evolution he’s undergone. In three years, Davis has completely fixed his jump shot. It’s hard enough to guard him in the paint, but being forced to step out 15 feed to 18 feet and guard his jumper is ridiculous.

At 6-foot-10, 220 lbs, he’ s a physical freak. Though the funny thing is his growth spurt didn’t come until his junior year of high school, so he was groomed to be a guard until life said, “Here, Anthony, be a giant for the rest of your days.”

He very easily could have been named the Defensive Player of the Year the last two seasons, though Kawhi Leonard and Joakim Noah were good choices, too.

If Davis’ career lasts half as long as his unibrow, he’ll give Duncan a run for his money. Of course, if Duncan never retires, that could be much more difficult than previously anticipated.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

6. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys – 26 years old

We’ve already been through three wide receivers and a tight end, but this list just wouldn’t be valid without No. 88.

Dez Bryant holding the title as the NFL’s best wide receiver is probably the least crazy thing that can be said right now.

Bryant is another one who entered the league with some off-the-field drama going on. The Dallas Cowboys strategically worded his contract to minimize his off-field incidents, and it has worked (supposedly). There’s been some drama with Bryant, but it hasn’t come to a head — yet.

As of late, the most controversial thing about Tony Romo’s favorite target was his catch that wasn’t a catch in the NFC Divisional Game against the Green Bay Packers. Dallas could have very easily been in the NFC Championship against the Seattle Seahawks, but… well, we all know the story by now.

Still, the No. 24 overall pick from the 2010 NFL Draft has the numbers to back up his claim for best pass catcher in the league. In his first two years, Bryant totaled 15 touchdowns, 1,489 receiving yards and 108 catches.

In his last three seasons he’s averaged: 14 touchdowns, 1,311 receiving yards and 91 receptions. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? In fact, he led the NFL with 16 touchdown receptions last year, so that helps his case as well.

Bryant may be missing part of the current season with a broken bone in his foot, but there is no doubt he’ll regain form when he eventually returns to the Cowboys’ starting lineup. He’s a 6-foot-2, 225-pound touchdown machine.

He’ll go down as one of the greats.

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

5. Ronda Rousey, UFC – 28 years old

Maybe none of you expected this — just like the Alex Morgan sighting earlier. But, if you did hope to see Ronda Rousey on this list, good for you.

The 28-year-old UFC fighter may be a total babe outside of the ring, but she’s legitimately deadly inside of it. Being 5-foot-7, 135 lbs doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but she fights bigger than she is.

Rousey’s rise to fame has been meteoric, but it’s been well deserved. And, not for nothing, she’s turned into quite the celebrity during that time. So, not only is she arguably the most dominate athlete on this list, but she’s one of the most liked ones, too.

(Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) celebrates a basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets in Oklahoma City, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

3. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans – 26 years old

The Jacksonville Jaguars were really kicking themselves for passing on Russell Wilson to take a punter. But they must have been crying themselves to sleep at night knowing they drafted quarterback Blaine Gabbert No. 10 overall — one pick before the Houston Texans selected J.J. Watt.

That’s the kind of pain that lasts for a lifetime, folks.

Now Watt’s story is interesting. He was only a two-star prospect out of high school and was recruited to Central Michigan to play tight end. He ended up transferring to Wisconsin and switching to the defensive line while with the Badgers, and it was a very, very smart move.

His 21 tackles for loss and seven sacks during his junior season helped him get a first-round grade, and the Texans have more than enjoyed their return on investment.

After just 5.5. sacks with 48 tackles in his rookie year, Watt went off the charts with 20.5 sacks in his second year. He forced four fumbles and had 69 tackles.

Watt had a “measly” 10.5 sacks in 2013 before going off for another 20.5 sacks last season. He won the AP Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2012 and 2014. And last season he made his case for the MVP award by catching three touchdowns as well — proving he really did used to play tight end.

Maybe he thought no one believed him.

With as good as Luke Kuechly, Patrick Peterson and Clay Matthews are, Watt is the unheralded best defensive player in the NFL right now. If he continues to catch touchdowns his case for best overall player will only be solidified.

(AP Photo/Gary Landers)

2. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts – 26 years old

Look, you just don’t get called the “greatest quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning” for no reason, okay? Andrew Luck is the complete package as far as quarterbacks go.

He’s 6-foot-3, 235 lbs and can run past linebackers. When he has time to sit in the pocket and let routes develop, he can pick apart opposing secondaries with ease. The problem is his offensive line giving him the time to do so. But even on the run, Luck is a tremendous off-balance passer and an overall playmaker.

As a rookie, Luck threw for 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions while totaling 4,374 passing yards — not bad. What was the next step in his evolution? How about trimming those interceptions down, huh, Andrew? Well, he threw another 23 touchdowns in 2013 with 3,822 passing yards — and only nine interceptions.

In year three, Luck took his game to new heights. He tossed the rock for 4,761 yards and 40 touchdowns. The Indianapolis Colts may have been flattened by a New England Patriots team that went on to win the Super Bowl, but Luck still showed out during the regular season.

Can you believe people once debated whether or not the Colts should draft Luck or Robert Griffin III with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft? It doesn’t seem like such a difficult decision now, but that’s why hindsight sees 20/20.

All signs point toward Luck winning at least one MVP award during his career. The touchdowns will continue to flow, and he may even find it within him to will his team to a Super Bowl win one day — maybe more.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

1. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 24 years old

He is the best player in baseball, and he’s only 24-years-old.

Bryce Harper may be challenging him for that title very soon, but as it stands right now, Mike Trout is king of the diamond. He was the No. 25 overall draft pick by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft, and it was the best move the Angels have ever made or will ever make.

Trout debuted at 19-years-old in 2011 and squeaked out 27 hits and five home runs in 123 at-bats. But that was just him dipping a toe into the pool to analyze the water.

In his rookie season in 2012, he set the league on fire. He jacked 30 home runs and led the league with 49 stolen bases. He won the Rookie of the Year award and finished second to Miguel Cabrera for the MVP. Cabrera was the reason Trout missed out on the MVP in 2013 as well.

Finally, in 2014, Trout received his first MVP award. All it took was 39 doubles, 36 home runs and a league-leading 111 RBI. This past season he went off for 41 home runs and 90 RBI, and led the league with a .991 OPS.

Trout is basically Ken Griffey Jr. reborn — even though Griffey is still alive. Trout does everything the way Griffey did. He hits for power, runs like a purebred horse and has a rocket launcher attached to him.

He has a 139 home runs in four full seasons in the big leagues. This may just be the eye of the storm we’re experiencing, too. When Trout really goes off, we’ll be talking category-five destruction to pitching staffs across the league.

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)


It really is an amazing time to be a sports fan right now.

On top of that, in general, we're baring witness to the evolution of new regimes in each sport. Youth is a wonderfully limited gift, and what's amazing is that it's prevalent in all four major leagues — and some sports not in the core four.

While athletes like Tim Duncan, Peyton Manning and Ichiro continue to find ways to produce in spite of the youth movement, we can't deny that younger athletes are taking over the games we love.

Most of the top athletes right now can't even rent a car or can remember what it was like to walk into a Blockbuster Video. Think about that for a second.

Out of all these young, talented athletes ... who are the best?

Well, look no further. We broke down the top-30 athletes under the age of 30 — arguably the most difficult rankings system ever.

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