The 20 Most Clutch Sports Stars Right Now

Nick Dimengo@@itsnickdimengoFeatured ColumnistMay 8, 2014

The 20 Most Clutch Sports Stars Right Now

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    It may be one of the most cliche things in all of sports, but when an athlete is said to have the "it" factor, it's never a bad thing.

    Living up to the billing can be tough for some, but if a player can do it, they separate themselves from the rest of the pack and are feared by opponents.

    When a big play has to happen or the clock is running down, these are the guys who always seem to rise to the moment, because they're the most clutch players in sports right now.

Aaron Harrison

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    Go ahead and call me a homer because I'm a UK grad, but—although the sample size is small—there were few college hoops players more clutch than Wildcats freshman guard Aaron Harrison.

    Stepping up when it mattered the most, Harrison buried game-winners in back-to-back NCAA tourney games, securing a trip to the national title game for the young Cats.

    With Harrison and his twin, Andrew, returning to Lexington next year, it will be interesting to see if he can continue to build on his legacy.

Robin van Persie

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    Sang Tan/Associated Press

    It's tough to gauge a soccer player's individual clutch gene; however, after some serious research, some people were able to develop a formula.

    The verdict?

    Current Manchester United striker Robin van Persie is at the top of the list.

    When healthy, Persie is one of the most lethal goalscorers on the planet, so it's probably not too surprising to see him on the list.

Carlos Beltran

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Do Carlos Beltran's career stats make him a worthy Hall of Fame candidate when he decides to hang it up? Is he on the fringe? Only time will tell.

    One thing I personally do know, though, is that the current New York Yankees outfielder is one heck of a postseason performer.

    Look no further than his 16 career postseason dingers—good enough for ninth on the all-time leaders list, ahead of the likes of Babe Ruth.

    Beltran may not have a World Series title to his credit, but if he makes the postseason, he personally delivers in the clutch.

Jameis Winston

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    Say what you want about the guy following a few run-ins with the law, but Florida State's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Jameis Winston, shows he's one tough cookie when his team needs him most.

    No more did Winston prove that than in the national title game, as he marched his Seminoles down the field for a game- and championship-winning drive with just 13 seconds left to beat Auburn this past season.

    It may have only been Winston's first year starting, but he showed the moxie of a veteran all season.

Johnny Manziel

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    He's cocky. He's improvisational. He doesn't take what the defense gives him—and we love Johnny Manziel because of it.

    A good leader shows similar traits, and make no mistake, Manziel is just that.

    Who knows how Johnny Football will turn out in the pros? At the very least, the memories he gave us fans from his college days while at Texas A&M are ones that we should all be thankful for, because the dude was about as clutch as they come.

Shabazz Napier

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    Was UConn Husky guard Shabazz Napier the cloned version of Kemba Walker from a few years ago during this year's NCAA tournament?

    If he wasn't, than he may have been his long-lost twin.

    After averaging 18 points per game during the regular season, Shabazz took things to another level in March, upping his scoring to 21 points per game and, like Walker, leading his Huskies to a national title.

    Who knows which guy's run was better, but they definitely proved to both be clutch performers.


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    Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

    He may still be young, but FC Barcelona and Brazil international forward Neymar has shown to have an extra level when the stakes get high.

    While he led his Brazilian team to the Confederations Cup title last summer, his true test will be the upcoming World Cup on his home soil, with the added pressure of showing the globe that he is the next great Brazilian star—if he should take Selecao deep in the tourney.

Damian Lillard

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    Maybe I'm still just on a high from the game-winning, series-clinching buzzer-beater that All-Star Damian Lillard hit against the Houston Rockets last week?

    Or maybe it's just the fact that the Portland Trail Blazers guard really does have a clutch gene?

    Seeing how Lillard's M.O. since entering the league just last season has been knocking down big shots, I'd say I'm not crazy for putting him so high on this list.

Sidney Crosby

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    Arguably the best hockey player on the planet, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby might catch flak from fans because he's just a bit of a whiner, but boy, does he back it up on the ice.

    Whether it's for his Pens during the playoffs—where Sid has already led them to one Stanley Cup title in his career—or during international play for his native Canadians, some believe Crosby has developed a new level of clutch in hockey.

Bubba Watson

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    Is Bubba Watson too high on this list?


    But after securing his second Masters victory in three years—and doing so by keeping his cool while in a head-to-head battle with Jordan Spieth—I'd say Bubba has earned it.

    Of course, the miraculous shot he had from the trees in the 2012 Masters is what really got him recognition as a prime-time player.

Stephen Curry

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    Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry might believe he's the most clutch player the NBA has ever seen not named Michael Jordan, but he still has some rings to earn before I'm ready to give him such praise.

    Still, that doesn't discount how scary this kid is with the ball in his hands and the game in the balance.

    Just take a look at some of the theatrics he has shown since coming into the league in 2009 and it's easy to see why so many consider him to be the best shooter in the game right now—especially when the clock runs down.

Patrick Kane

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    The first overall selection in the 2007 NHL draft, Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane has already shown to be the right choice back then.

    That's because Kane has won two Stanley Cup titles and last season's Conn Smythe Trophy as the best player in the postseason.

    Still just 25 years old, Kane has already created quite the legacy for himself with his play in the clutch.

Dirk Nowitzki

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    I don't care who you are or what team you cheer for, Dallas Mavericks future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki most definitely has your respect.

    Quite frankly, Dirk is a bad, bad dude.

    A 16-year vet, Dirk has maintained his spot amongst the game's elite since the early 2000s, leading his Mavs to a few NBA Finals and elevating his game enough to secure the playoff MVP during his team's 2011 championship season.

Tom Brady

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    Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    If I had written this article, say, I don't know, eight years ago, New England Patriots All-World quarterback Tom Brady would have been No. 1.

    But after setting the standard so high for himself early in his career by winning three Super Bowls, Brady actually takes a hit because he hasn't relived the same glory.

    Still, there are few signal-callers more potent than Tom Terrific on the football field, and, after asking his peers, he's still the most feared man on the field when the game is on the line—which is the ultimate sign of respect.

Derek Jeter

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    How clutch is Derek Jeter?

    Missing out on the postseason just twice in his immaculate career, the New York Yankees captain couldn't get named "Mr. October" because Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson already had it, so Jeter went out and stole the nickname "Mr. November" instead.

    Holding a number of different playoff records—including most postseason hits—Jeter is on a whole different level when the games matter most.

Eli Manning

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    While his older brother Peyton might have more individual hardware and personal records, it's Eli Manning who can brag about the most jewelry.

    Sure, what Eli does on the football field isn't always pretty to watch. But every sports fan has to admire how he grinds out games to somehow pull them out—unless you're a fan of either the Jets or another NFC East squad.

    Saving his best for last, Eli has made himself a Super Bowl legend by connecting on two of the more famous plays in the title game over the past decade or so.

Adam Vinatieri

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    Yep, I'm giving love to a kicker—sue me.

    But current Indianapolis Colts ball striker Adam Vinatieri isn't just the normal, run-of-the-mill guy, because he has won four Super Bowls in his career, personally hitting two game-winners in the waning moments.

    If that doesn't scream clutch, I don't know what does—even if he is a lowly kicker.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.

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    Eric Jamison/Associated Press

    When a guy holds an undefeated record over the course of his career, it's only natural that he has a certain gear other athletes don't.

    For that reason alone, I just couldn't leave Floyd Mayweather Jr. off of this list.

    While Money doesn't have a ton of knockouts in his bouts, seeing how he continues to hold onto the flawless record makes him someone who performs on the biggest stage.

LeBron James

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    From his rookie season in 2003 to his first season with the Miami Heat in 2010, the biggest knock on LeBron James' game was that he wilted when games mattered the most.

    Um, I'd say he grew out of that phase of his basketball life, though.

    After personally taking over in the 2012 NBA Finals to win his first career title, James had one of the most memorable playoff moments ever last year, turning into some kind of mutant once his headband came off and becoming absolutely unstoppable.

David Ortiz

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    It's funny to think back to David Ortiz's early years as a Minnesota Twin and see what he has turned into since joining the Boston Red Sox in 2003.

    For lack of a better word—and no pun intended—he has turned into a monster.

    More than just his 17 postseason homers—which places him tied for seventh all-time—it's the timing of Ortiz's hits that make him the most clutch player in sports right now.

    With three World Series titles already and some of the most memorable moments in playoff history to his credit, Ortiz should go down as one of the best ever when the game's tension is highest.