By Ross Kelly
The talents of “New Jerseyans” has been on full display over the past few weeks in the sports world. Whether it be in MLB, the NBA, or in soccer; there are an abundance of athletes from New Jersey who are leaving their marks. The Garden State has a history of great athletes from Franco Harris to Shaq to Derek Jeter, but here we will just be looking at active athletes. Also, an honorable mention should be given to the likes of Kyrie Irving and Devin McCourty, among others, as even though they attended high school in New Jersey, they were born elsewhere. Thus, here is my list of the best active athletes from New Jersey:
10. Muhammad Wilkerson (Linden) – One of the famed “Sons of Anarchy” along the Jets’ D-line, Wilkerson is finally getting the recognition he deserves. He made Pro Football Focus’ All-Pro team for the second time and has been named one of the top 100 players in the league by his peers two years running. Wilkerson is entering his contract season with the Jets so he has every incentive to have a career season even without the tutelage of Rex Ryan.
9. David West (Teaneck) – West made a lot of noise this summer by doing something that’s virtually unheard in today’s age. He opted out of a $12.6 million option with the Pacers to sign for 1.4 million with the Spurs. He placed winning above money which is what many players talk about, but few actually do. But it’s not like his bank account is going dry anytime soon as the two-time All-Star has made over $87 million in his career. After 12 years in the NBA and zero NBA Finals appearances, West has proven he will do whatever it takes in search of a ring.
8. Jason Heyward (Ridgewood) – Though raised in Atlanta, Heyward is Jersey-born and is currently one of the best all-around players in MLB. He reached his first All-Star game as a 20-year-old in 2010 and has already pocketed two Gold Glove awards. He is widely considered to be the best defensive right fielder in the game today and in 2014 was named the Defensive Player of the Year by Wilson Sporting Goods.
7. Greg Olsen (Paterson) – Olsen has been one of the most productive, yet underrated tight ends in the NFL since joining Carolina. Over the past three seasons Olsen ranks third among TEs in receptions, second in receiving yards, and is just one of two players to start all 48 games (Witten). He was finally rewarded with his first Pro Bowl in 2014 and then inked a new three-year, $22.5 million extension after the season.
6. Mark Ingram (Hackensack) – Born in Jersey while his father was playing for the Giants, Ingram posted the best season of his young career in 2014. The former Alabama Heisman winner set a career high in rushing yards (964) despite missing three games due to injury. The Saints think he can do even more as they signed him to a new four-year deal this past offseason and will gear the offense more towards him.
5. Todd Frazier (Point Pleasant) – If you’re looking for a host to exceed expectations, give Frazier a call. The “Toddfather” served as the unofficial spokesperson for Cincinnati during All-Star week and he didn’t let his fans down. Frazier captured the Home Run Derby title in the first year of the event’s new format and is having the best season of his career. He is just five home runs away from setting a new career high and his 200 total bases leads MLB.
4. Carli Lloyd (Delran Township) – While Lloyd may not have made this list one month ago, her ensuing performance in the World Cup Final justifies her now being worthy of the top five. She netted a hat trick in the Final vs. Vancouver by the 16th minute becoming just the second person ever to do so (and first female). She also captured the Golden Ball (best player in WC Final) and the Silver Boot (second-highest goalscorer) awards for her performance vs. Japan.
3. Karl-Anthony Towns (Piscataway) – Number one in the draft, but number three on this list; KAT is considered the best prospect to hit the NBA since Anthony Davis. He has elite skill for a near seven-footer and his basketball IQ is off the charts. His talents were somewhat stifled playing in Kentucky’s platoon system but they should be on full display with the T-Wolves. Coincidentally, one of the players who Towns is often compared to is a young Kevin Garnett and he will play alongside KG this season. By the way, when Garnett made his NBA debut 20 years ago, Towns wasn’t even born yet.
2. Joe Flacco (Voorhees) – Along with Lloyd, Flacco is the only one on this list to have claimed their respective sport’s biggest prize. The Super Bowl XLVII champion, and MVP, had one of the greatest postseasons in NFL history with a playoff-record 11 touchdowns in 2012. Despite just being 30, Flacco already has the most career road playoff wins by a QB with seven. Playing in a city that reveres Iron Men, Flacco has never missed a game in his seven year career.
1. Mike Trout (Vineland) – Outside of DC, Trout is the unanimous best player in baseball. He just won his second All-Star Game MVP and could be headed to his second AL MVP. He is currently leading the American League in home runs, runs, and slugging percentage. He led the AL in runs in each of the past three seasons while also leading in SBs (2012), walks (2013), and RBIs (2014). To prove that Trout can do just about everything on a diamond, when he was at Millville Senior HS he played outfielder, shortstop, pitcher, and even threw a no-hitter.