The 30 Best Athletes Of 2018

30. Jalen Brunson — Villanova

Brunson wasn’t a flashy college player who drew a lot of attention to himself – unless we’re talking about opposing defenders. But the point guard was the heart and soul of the Wildcats for three seasons. The two-time National Champion averaged 18.9 points, 4.6 assists and 3.1 assists – all career highs – in his final season and swept the major player of the year awards.

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29. Zion Williamson — Duke

Williamson’s college basketball career is just a few months old, but no player on this level has generated as much buzz and praise in quite some time. Through the first 20 games of what should be his only season at Duke, the 6-foot-7, 285-pound Williamson averaged 21.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.8 blocks. He drops windmill dunks during games and draws fear in the eyes of defenders. If there’s a reason the “One-and-Done” rule should be abolished, it’s Williamson.

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28. Shohei Ohtani — Los Angeles Angels

The most talked-about Japanese import since Ichiro, Ohtani wasn’t superhuman during his rookie season of 2018, but definitely more than serviceable. He earned AL Rookie of the Year honors after batting .285 with 22 homers and 61 RBIs, while also going 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 10 starts. Though Tommy John surgery is expected to keep Ohtani off the mound in 2019, he still should be a force at the plate next summer.

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27. Arike Ogunbowale — Notre Dame

It’s not fair to say two shots will define Ogunbowale’s career, considering she’s one of the more complete players in the nation. The ACC’s Female Athlete of the Year for 2018, Ogunbowale sent the Irish to the National Championship game with a deep jumper with 1 second left against Connecticut. Ogunbowale proceeded to drain a 3-pointer at the buzzer versus Mississippi State to win Notre Dame the title. Talk about clutch.

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26. Mohamed Salah — Liverpool/Egypt

The Premier League Golden Boot winner for 2017-18, Salah set the league record with 32 goals. From Jan 1-Dec. 11, Salah scored 36 times in 48 matches over all competitions. That included two at the 2018 World Cup for Egypt, despite dealing with an injury that forced him to miss the first game of the tournament.

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25. Ariya Jutanugarn — LPGA Tour

A breakout season in 2018 lifted the Thai-born Jutanugarn to the world’s No. 1 ranking. The 23-year-old won three times, highlighted by a U.S. Open triumph. She also finished tied for fourth at both the ANA Inspiration and the Women’s British Open. When it was all said and done this season, Jutanugarn earned more than $2.7 million. She set single-season records with 57 rounds in the 60s and 470 birdies to become the LPGA Player of the Year for the second time in three years.

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24. Drew Brees — New Orleans Saints

Brees, who turns 40 in January, is still at the top of his game. Brees led the Saints to the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and is in the discussion for MVP. This season, Brees also passed Peyton Manning as the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards and threw his 500th TD pass.

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23. Kyler Murray — Oklahoma

His professional career might be as a baseball player, but Murray’s success on the gridiron this season with the Sooners has many believing that will change. A late-season surge helped Murray follow in former teammate Baker Mayfield’s steps as a Heisman Trophy winner. Murray still must decide whether he will play for the Oakland A’s, or try his luck in the NFL.

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22. Tiger Woods — PGA Tour

He’s back! And professional golf might be better for it. Sure, there is plenty of young talent on the PGA Tour, but Tiger’s resurgence in 2018 has brought interest back to the game. Before struggling mightily at the Ryder Cup, Woods re-announced his presence by leading in the final round of the Open Championship en route to finishing tied for sixth. He then placed second at the PGA Championship and was eighth on the Tour’s Money List ($5,443,841). Tiger’s victory at THE TOUR Championship was his first title in five years.

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21. Roger Federer — ATP

Federer opened 2018 an impressive 17-0 and successfully defended his title at the Australian Open for his 20th Grand Slam crown. Federer also won at Rotterdam, Stuttgart and the Swiss Indoors. He went 4-3 in finals matches and at the age of 37 finished No. 3 in the world rankings.

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20. Aaron Donald — Los Angeles Rams

The year began with Donald being named The Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year. As the 2018 season nears an end, he very well could be down for a repeat. Donald led the NFL with 20 ½ sacks and also forced four fumbles for a Rams team that has a Super Bowl title in its sights.

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19. Yuzuru Hanyu — Japanese Olympic Figure Skater

With his victory in men’s singles at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Hanyu became the first men’s figure skater to win back-to-back gold medals since the legendary Dick Button in 1948 and ’52. Perhaps more impressive, was that Hanyu claimed his Olympic gold earlier this year while dealing with a serious ankle injury.

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18. Christian Yelich — Milwaukee Brewers

One of the more under-the-radar trades prior to the season was Yelich going to Milwaukee from Miami for a host of prospects. It might end up being the greatest acquisition in the history of the Brewers’ franchise. All Yelich did was lead the NL in batting (.326), slugging (.598) and tied for second in RBIs (110) and third in homers (36). He’s the fifth major leaguer ever to hit for the cycle twice in a season and was named NL MVP — leading the Brewers one win away from a World Series berth.

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17. Kevin Durant — Golden State Warriors

Though Durant failed to play at least 70 games for a second consecutive season in 2017-18, he came through when the Warriors needed him most. Durant averaged 29.0 points during the playoffs, and scored 43 while pulling down 13 boards against Cleveland in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. That overall postseason effort earned Durant Finals MVP honors for a second-straight season.

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16. Patrick Mahomes — Kansas City Chiefs

In his second NFL season and first as a starter, Mahomes appears to be the front-runner for NFL MVP. It’s been quite remarkable how well the 10th overall pick in 2017 has played. Mahomes led the NFL in touchdown passes (50) for the 13-3 Chiefs. He’s thrown at least four TD passes in a game seven times and six twice in ’18.

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15. Breanna Stewart — Seattle Storm

Following her stellar career at Connecticut, Stewart is becoming a dominant force in the WNBA. Should we be surprised? In her third pro season in 2018, Stewart averaged career highs of 21.8 points and 52.9 percent shooting to go along with 8.4 rebounds per contest en route to claiming WNBA MVP honors. She also helped the Storm when the WNBA title, and was named Finals MVP in the process.

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14. Simona Halep — WTA

The frustration from near misses finally ended for Halep when she claimed her first Grand Slam title by coming back from a first-set loss to beat Sloane Stephens in the French Open final. This came after Halep lost in the final of the Australian Open earlier in 2018. With the pressure off, Halep finished the season with a 46-8 record, three titles and the world’s No. 1 ranking.

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13. Francesco Molinari — European Tour Golfer

It was a breakout season for the Italian. He claimed his first major victory at the Open Championship then fared well with a tie for sixth at the PGA Championship. However, it was at the Ryder Cup in France where Molinari solidified himself as one of the world’s best by becoming the first European to go 5-0-0 at the event.

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12. James Harden — Houston Rockets

Harden’s MVP season was truly something special from an offensive standpoint. He averaged 30.4 points and shot 36.7 percent while averaging 10.0 3-point attempts per game. Though the Rockets struggled early this season, Harden is once again leading the league in scoring.

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11. Lewis Hamilton — Formula One

For the fifth time and second in as many years, the British-born Hamilton won the Formula One World Championship. He posted 11 victories during the year — tied for second-most in his career — and also won the pole 11 times this season. Since 2014, Hamilton has won 51 Formula One races while posting double-digit victories in four of those seasons.

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10. Brooks Koepka — PGA Tour

Koepka proved his impressive 2017 campaign was no fluke by performing even better this year. He won three times in 2018, two of which were of the major variety. In June, Koepka successfully defended his U.S. Open title and in August, did not allow a resurgent Tiger Woods to keep him from winning the PGA Championship. Though Koepka, like most of his U.S. teammates, struggled at the Ryder Cup, he was named both PGA and PGA Tour Player of the Year.

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9. Ester Ledecka — Czech Olympic Snowboarder/Skier

The new queen of Olympic versatility, perhaps. Ledecka impressed folks at the 2018 Winter Games by winning gold in both snowboarding’s parallel giant slalom and alpine skiing’s Super-G. With those accomplishments, Ledecka became the first female Olympian to win gold in two different disciplines at the same Winter Games.

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8. Tua Tagovailoa — Alabama

Eight days into 2018, Tagovailoa burst onto the scene by leading the Crimson Tide’s comeback charge past Georgia for the National Championship. This season, Tagovailoa was the Heisman frontrunner until Kyler Murray surpassed him in the end. Still, Tua, who has a 202.3 passer rating and didn’t throw his first interception until Nov. 3, led Alabama back to the CFP National Championship…where he lost this time around.

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7. Chloe Kim — U.S. Olympic Snowboarder

While most teenagers are texting with friends and whining about their parents, the then-17-year-old Kim was busy winning gold in Pyeongchang. In her first Olympic games, Kim became the youngest female competitor to take home a gold medal in the halfpipe, thanks to a pair of successful 1080s.

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6. Novak Djokovic — ATP

Following an injury-plagued 2017 and elbow surgery in January, Djokovic returned to elite form the rest of the year by winning both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. It was the third time he’s won both tournaments in the same year. Despite losing in the final of the ATP Finals, Djokovic finished the season ranked No. 1 to earn ATP Player of the Year for the fifth time, and first since 2015.

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5. Luka Modric — Real Madrid/Croatia

Modric didn’t need a World Cup title to enjoy a stellar 2018, but he and his Croatian teammates came close. Talented, but still underdogs, Croatia reached the final before losing to an absurdly stacked French squad. The veteran midfielder was the engine of the Croatian machine and earned the Golden Ball award as the World Cup’s top performer. Modric, who also helped Real Madrid win a third-straight Champions League crown, was named UEFA Player of the Year and became the first footballer since 2007 not named Messi or Ronaldo to win the Ballon d’Or.

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4. Mookie Betts — Boston Red Sox

The AL MVP led the majors with a .346 batting average and .640 slugging percentage. He clubbed 32 homers and struck out just 91 times while also establishing himself as one of the top defensive outfielders in the game with a .996 fielding percentage for the World Series champions.

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3. Justify — Thoroughbred

The argument won’t end: Are racehorses athletes? Sure, these horses are trained to race and be great, but athleticism plays a part – especially when listening to those associated with the sport. Justify is the 13th Triple Crown winner and only the second to accomplish the feat while going undefeated. The Bob Baffert-trained horse endured his toughest challenge of the three prized races at the Preakness, which he won by one-half length. He also generated almost $3 million for his owners over those three races.

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2. Alex Ovechkin — Washington Capitals

It only took 13 seasons in the NHL, but Ovechkin finally won a Stanley Cup. After once again leading the NHL in goals (49), Ovechkin enjoyed his most successful postseason — 15 goals and 12 assists — while helping the Capitals end upstart Vegas’ improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals with a five-game victory. In addition to his Cup triumph, Ovechkin scored his 600th goal in March and played his 1,000th NHL regular season game in April.

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1. Simone Biles — U.S. Gymnast

The casual sports fan might not realize just how special a season Biles had in 2018. After stepping away from the sport in 2017, Biles returned to take first in the all-around at the U.S. Classic in July – her first event of the season. However, it was her performance at the World Championships in October that cemented Biles’ case as the year’s top athlete. Despite being diagnosed with kidney stones, Biles earned a record fourth women’s all-around world title. She also took first in the vault and floor exercise, giving her a record 14 – male or female – world gold medals.

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