Posted on December 29, 2015 by Ben Leibowitz
With the latest calendar year behind us, the team at PointAfter looked back and pegged the top 10 athletes of 2015.
In order to narrow 2015 down to a viable top 10, we focused solely on performances and accolades each athlete compiled throughout the campaign in their respective sport. We also aimed to represent a variety of sports while avoiding overlap.
Our team concluded that the following sports figures were the most dominant of 2015, primarily by measuring their accomplishments relative to their peers.
They needed to win prestigious awards, attain championships, Grand Slams or Super Bowl victories, as well as finish a cut above their opponents by the numbers. This crew is worthy of every sports fan’s respect, or, at the very least, acknowledgment.
Honorable Mention: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers won’t go undefeated this season after falling to the division rival Atlanta Falcons in Week 16, but quarterback Cam Newton is garnering legitimate MVP consideration anyway. The Auburn product led his team to a 14-0 start as a dual-threat in the midst of his best professional season.
Through 15 games played, Newton has thrown 33 TDs (a career best by a wide margin) while limiting himself to 10 interceptions (a career low). That’s resulted in a 97.0 quarterback rating, which is also the best mark of the 26-year-old’s career.
Carolina’s signal caller blossomed before the NFL community in 2015, and, by all accounts, he’s done so while being a genuinely kind human being off the field as well. We’re aiming to reward the best athletes of 2015 for their athletic achievements, but Newton’s off-field sincerity is worth mentioning. His celebratory antics undoubtedly rub some people the wrong way, but it’s hard to hate a guy who makes such a big difference in the community.
10. Carli Lloyd, Women’s Soccer
Lloyd became an American hero for her performance in the World Cup final against Japan. The inconsistent star scored three goals en route to a 5-2 victory. It was Team USA’s first World Cup trophy in 16 years – a feat accomplished largely due to Lloyd’s hat trick in a mere 16 minutes of action.
Her stellar performance on the world’s biggest stage thrust her into the national consciousness, and her clutch gene ensured a meaningful place in women’s soccer lore.
9. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
No athlete in sports was more polarizing than Tom Brady throughout 2015. After leading the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl victory (the fourth of Brady’s career), incessant Deflategate coverage dominated headlines and led to a four-game suspension for Touchdown Tom. (The suspension was ultimately overturned by federal judge Richard Berman.)
Love him or hate him, Brady was one of the most talked about athletes of the year — not just for the controversy’s ensuing media circus, but also for his his great play on the gridiron. That earns him a spot on our top 10.
8. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Even though the Washington Nationals crumbled down the stretch, missed the playoffs and saw manager Matt Williams (and the entire coaching staff) get fired at season’s end, Bryce Harper was a blinding bright spot through his electric play on the baseball diamond.
The 23-year-old took home National League MVP honors after batting .330/.460/.649 with 42 homers, 99 RBI and collecting a whopping 9.9 WAR. Among National Leaguers, he ranked No. 1 in WAR and OPS, tied for No. 1 in home runs with Nolan Arenado and No. 2 in batting average behind Dee Gordon.
Harper entered the league drowning in hype, and while he was always a solid contributor, he made a huge, MVP-quality leap in 2015.
7. Ronda Rousey/Holly Holm, UFC
Without question, the biggest name in UFC throughout 2015 was Ronda Rousey. Her profound dominance in the sport sparked hundreds if not thousands of think pieces asking whether the former women’s bantamweight champion was the best athlete on the planet. Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim wrote a piece pegging “Rowdy” Ronda as “the world’s most dominant athlete.”
Of course, there’s a reason why we now refer to Rousey as the former women’s bantamweight champion – Holly Holm.
Undefeated in her own UFC career, Holm should have been held in higher esteem than she was heading into her UFC 193 bout against the champ. Rousey even said of Holm in an interview with NBC’s Jimmy Fallon prior to the fight, “She’s undefeated and an amazing athlete and the biggest threat definitely to me, especially on paper and stylistically.”
So while ESPN labeled Holm’s win “one of the bigger upsets in sports history” – a take hot enough to melt plastic – this showdown was certainly not a David vs. Goliath scenario. Holm controlled the fight from start to finish and won the championship belt via a knockout kick to the head, serving Rousey some humble pie in the process. For those reasons, Holm gets our nod to join Rousey here among the top 10 athletes of 2015.
6. Jordan Spieth, PGA
Gone are the days when Tiger Woods would dominate the world of golf. In his place, 22-year-old youngster Jordan Spieth has taken the sport by storm.
Spieth collected $10 million by winning the FedEx Cup at season’s end and more than $22 million overall. Per an article by USA Today’s Chris Chase, Spieth earned $881,219 per event and $3,623 per shot throughout 2015. He also became the youngest player to win two majors in 93 years of the sport’s history.
Golf officially has a new phenom becoming the face of the sport – a development the PGA will certainly welcome.
5. Serena Williams, Women’s Tennis
Named Sports Illustrated’s 2015 Sportsperson of the Year, Serena Williams sat comfortably on her throne overlooking the world of women’s tennis throughout 2015. Despite having to battle illnesses and injuries, Williams went 53-3 and won three Grand Slams.
She nearly attained the elusive Golden Slam – winning all four Grand Slams in one calendar year – but ultimately fell in the semifinals of the U.S. Open to No. 43-ranked Roberta Vinci 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 in arguably the biggest sports upset of 2015.
With or without the letdown, though, Williams was tremendous yet again. Fans have to wonder how much she has left in the tank at 34 years old, with all the injuries she’s dealt with over the years. But for now, she’s still the undisputed queen of women’s tennis.
4. Novak Djokovic, Men’s Tennis
Men’s tennis has been a power struggle in recent years, with Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic vying for supremacy. In 2015, the latter continued to distance himself from the pack.
The Djoker ended his year with a sterling 82-6 record. He won 11 calendar titles and reached the finals in 15 out of 16 tournaments. He won the Australian Open, U.S. Open and Wimbledon to claim three majors on the year.
In the French Open, Djokovic ousted Nadal (who’s been nearly unbeatable on clay in his career) before knocking out Murray (who ended the year ranked No. 2 in the world behind Djokovic). The Serbian nearly won all four Grand Slams in the calendar year, but fell to Stan Wawrinka in four sets in the French Open finals. All told, it was a masterful year from a transcendent talent.
3. American Pharoah, Horse Racing
American Pharoah might be a horse, but horse racing fans across the Internet still complained when Serena Williams was named sportsperson of the year over the thoroughbred.
If we’re strictly discussing top “athletes” of 2015, however, Pharoah has to be in the fray without question. The three-year-old colt broke a 37-year racing drought by winning the Triple Crown. The last horse to accomplish that feat was Affirmed in 1978. After nearly four decades of waiting, which including a slew of “close, but no cigar”-type endings, American Pharoah made it into the record books.
2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Throughout the 2014-15 season, Stephen Curry guided the Golden State Warriors to the franchise’s first championship in 40 years. He won MVP honors in the process, hinting he’d hit his peak as a basketball player.
But instead of regressing or even playing at the same ludicrously high level, “Chef Curry” has enhanced his book of recipes in 2015-16. Somehow, the point guard from Davidson is performing even better than he did last season.
As of late December (through 29 games played), Curry is averaging a career-high 30.8 points (his previous career best was 24 points per game in 2013-14) in addition to a career-best 5.4 rebounds and 2.2 steals. He’s also shooting 51.3 percent from the field, 44.5 percent from beyond the arc and 90.5 percent from the free throw line – on pace to join the elusive 50-40-90 club.
You can’t take anything away from the Warriors as a unit, but Curry has been the best player in basketball throughout 2015.
1. Lionel Messi, Men’s Soccer
Messi continues to be viewed as the near-unanimous best football player alive. He was named the Globe Soccer Awards Best Player of the Year after leading his club team, FC Barcelona, to championship victories in La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa Del Rey. Barcelona became just the eighth team in history to win a “treble,” and is the only club to do so twice.
Barcelona teammate Luis Suarez, a former FWA Footballer of the Year himself, said of Messi, “None of the rest of us would say that we can be the best in the world because he is.” His skills on the pitch are truly mesmerizing. He’s a once in a generation talent the likes of which we may never see again.