Now that the DC sports scene has hit a little bit of a lull – the Redskins and Nationals are in the offseason, the Wizards and Capitals are still a few months away from the playoffs – now seems like a good time to look at the city as a whole, and break down the top 10 DC athletes right now. We’re talking current guys, who are playing well right now. So while Sonny Jurgensen is an all-time great Redskin, he doesn’t apply here. Neither does Ryan Zimmerman, who might be the best National to date, but we’ve seen his numbers dip over the last several seasons (history does count for something though).
Let’s get into it. (Honorable mentions go out to Braden Holtby, Nicklas Backstrom, Bradley Beal, and Ryan Kerrigan).
Jordan Reed is a favorite target of Cousins, and for good reason. He is one of the few elite, game-changing tight ends in the NFL. He has the size of a power forward, the shiftiness of running back, and the hands of a top-flight receiver, which all combines to equal a dominant force on the football field. Even battling through injuries the last two seasons, it is clear what type of talent he is. The Redskins have already recognized that, signing Reed to a deal through 2021.
Josh Norman is on this list for a different reason than the rest of the players. Most of the other guys have been in DC for awhile, or at the very least dominated in their short time spent here. And while Norman did have a very good 2016 campaign, it wasn’t other-worldly. But what Norman does do is bring some cache and some culture to this franchise. Redskins fans have been scarred by the countless free agent decisions that have gone awry in the past, so it was natural to wonder if bringing in Norman on a big contract was the right move. But whether it was because of GM Scot McCloughan, or because it seemed like Norman genuinely wanted to win more than anything else, this signing felt a little different. And it worked. Norman plays with a tenacity and a toughness not often seen by recent Redskins defenders. Hopefully, there are more players like Norman walking into that locker room this season, which should have a carry-over effect onto the field.
Daniel Murphy has also only spent one season in DC, but boy was it a good one. He carried the Nationals to the postseason, batting .347/.390/.595 with 25 homers and 104 RBIs. He finished with a .995 OPS, good for 22nd all-time among second baseman, and third among second baseman since World War II (Murphy finished behind 2000 Jeff Kent and 1976 Joe Morgan). Those are actually historic numbers. Even though he turns 32 at the start of the season, Murphy figures to be a key part of this Nationals team in 2017 and beyond.
Through all the good and the bad the Redskins have endured (and there have been plenty of both), Trent Williams has been the rock on the left side of the line. He is a modern-day Hog, and has received the deserved recognition (he is going to his fifth Pro Bowl this season). Last month, star linebacker Von Miller wrote for the Players’ Tribune, and called Williams the toughest left tackle in the game. “The Classic Beast. Trent has all the physical tools. But what separates him is that he’s also the most mentally tough guy I’ve ever seen.” Pro Football Focus also rated him as the best left tackle in football this year.
Stephen Strasburg has always been a bit of an enigma. He has battled through injuries, pressure, and naysayers throughout his career with the Nationals, but he has always pitched extremely well no matter the circumstances. I touched on Strasburg’s time in DC before the 2016 season, and then he went out and put up the best numbers of his career. That led to a long-term deal to stay with Washington, but then, as it always seems to, an injury popped up, effectively ending his season. Strasburg’s injuries prevent him from being even higher on the list, but he has been one of the bedrocks of this organization since he was taken first overall back in 2009. He has pitched like an ace, with or without the appreciation from the Nats’ faithful.
Kirk Cousins is the hot topic in DC sports right now. To sign, or not to sign, that is the question. Well, it shouldn’t be. Cousins has put up two of the best seasons by a Redskins quarterback in team history. How quickly we forget the previous twenty years of losing by the burgundy and gold. Two winning seasons and a postseason appearance is nothing to scoff at. Pay the man.
John Wall has been through a lot in his seven years in DC. He joined a hapless Wizards squad in 2010, which continued to struggle even as Wall put up nice numbers his first three seasons. But as Wall grew, and more talent slid in around him, Washington finally made the playoffs and quickly became one of the rising teams in the Eastern Conference. 2015-16 was a step back, and the total whiff in the Kevin Durant sweepstakes was embarrassing for the franchise, but all the while, Wall kept getting better and better. And after a slow start this year, Wall has the Wizards headed back towards the playoffs. DC basketball hasn’t had a ton of elite talent in the last two decades, but with Wall, fans can just sit back and enjoy the best Wizard we’ve ever seen.
This was a little trickier than I expected. It is always hard to evaluate Bryce Harper, because it’s about finding the line between youth and potential, and actual on-field performance. Even with his dominant 2015 MVP campaign, Harper’s play has yet to equal our out-sized expectations when he entered the league. But he has still been one of the best outfielders in baseball since 2012. He was a key catalyst to three postseason teams. And he has been a big part of baseball’s resurgence here in the nation’s capital. He might not be around for much longer (he is a free agent after the 2018 season), so make sure to appreciate him while you can.
Max Scherzer’s performance has jumped to a whole new level since trading in his Detroit digs for a Nationals uniform. Even though he won a Cy Young with the Tigers, he wasn’t yet on that top shelf of starters. Now he most certainly is. Scherzer is the unquestioned ace on a staff full of them, and he is one of two pitchers in baseball who could seemingly throw a no-hitter every time out. Since joining the Nats, he has tossed two no-no’s, matched the MLB record for strikeouts in a game (20), pitched in two All-Star games, and won his second Cy Young award. Scherzer now has the numbers (both old and new), the hardware, and the iconic moments. He is well on his way to Cooperstown.
This one is obvious. His career stats are through the roof, his durability is borderline insane (in Dan Steinberg’s latest column, he wrote that Alex Ovechkin is one of only six players to miss less than 10 games in any season over the past 11 years), and he is the stud athlete that jumps to mind when talking about DC sports. Ovechkin is already a surefire Hall of Famer. He could retire right now, and he’d still be a first-ballot guy. No one else in this town can say the same thing. He has yet to grab that elusive Stanley Cup, but he has turned DC into a hockey town, which might be an even greater achievement. In 2008, Ovi signed a 13-year, $124 million contract. Somehow, he has surpassed even that enormous billing.