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COHN: The top 5 pro athletes in the Bay Area

Quarterbacks aren’t supposed to be the best athlete on a team or in a geographical region. The 49ers' Colin Kaepernick is the exception.

KENT PORTER / Press Democrat
Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 6:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 6:14 p.m.

Who are the five best professional athletes in the Bay Area?

It is a hypothetical question attached to an arbitrary number, and it’s certainly fun to ponder over a morning cup of Joe. So here goes:

The best athlete of the people who play pro sports around here is Colin Kaepernick. Can anyone dispute this? He has an athlete’s body. You might say a God-given body. With his shirt off, he looks like a tight end or the heavyweight champion of the world.

He throws a football hard and accurately — Delanie Walker called his passes little heaters. He runs like a quarter-miler, although they call it the 400 meters these days — long strides, high knee lift, quick turnover of the legs. And he’s a quarterback. Quarterbacks aren’t supposed to be the best athlete on the team or in the geographical region. Kaepernick is.

The next four great athletes I list in no particular order. They come from different sports and, you know, it’s hard to compare apples and oranges.

Patrick Willis: He is another man with an incredible body. He looks like someone sculpted the perfect man and then blew life into it. He is fast. He is quick side to side. He is strong. And he is relentless and mean on the field — a good thing when you are a linebacker.

Yoenis Cespedes: Wow, was I wrong about this guy. I thought he would be a bust, a Billy Beane experiment that failed. He is what they call a five-tool player. He hits for average. He hits with power. He runs fast and steals bases. He throws darts from the outfield. He fields.

And he is exciting. Call that an intangible. You just want to watch him. You want to watch him slow tossing before the inning starts. You want to watch him in the on-deck circle. You watch.

He is the most exciting baseball player in the Bay Area. Not the best. That player’s name comes a little later.

Harrison Barnes: You know this rookie belongs on the list. He is the best athlete on the Warriors, better than Stephen Curry and David Lee. And you know he will be a star in the NBA.

He is fast. He has moves. He can jump out of the arena. And he’s ball-smart. When the Warriors seem lost on offense — not often these days — he crashes the lane with an unexpected layup, or grabs a rebound and stuffs it through the hoop. He is polite and sophisticated, but there is an aggressor in him. Wonderful draft pick by Bob Myers.

Buster Posey: He is the unexpected name on this list. You probably don’t think of him as a great athlete — just a great baseball player. He is the best baseball player in the Bay Area, and he surely is the best at what he does of all the men on this list.

He also is a great athlete, despite lacking speed — partly because of his ankle disaster. He played shortstop at Florida State. He can throw. He hits for average. He hits with power. He is an exceptional catcher in every respect — at the catching and throwing and blocking-balls stuff, and at calling a game. He is the one batter in the Giants’ lineup the opposition must think about and worry about and plan for the entire game. He has taken over the Barry Bonds role in that regard.

Here are some honorable mentions who just couldn’t crack this top-five august group:

Vernon Davis. He’s a marvelous athlete. Fast. Strong. Determined. He may be the best tight end in the NFL. He doesn’t make the list because — I’m being picky here — his hands are not elite. He sometimes drops passes he should catch. If I ran the Niners, I wouldn’t trade him, ever.

Terrelle Pryor: He is an exceptional athlete. Let me amend that. I believe he is an exceptional athlete. We haven’t seen enough of him to really know. Don’t you get the feeling he has every attribute an athlete requires and might be the Raiders’ version of Kaepernick? Wouldn’t you like to find out? Don’t you want the Raiders to play him more?

Tim Lincecum: He is a world-class athlete. Again, I’m being picky. It just seems he’s fallen off a little. He loses and gains weight, an odd trait for an athlete. You wonder what that does to his body. He gets enormous credit for going to the bullpen in the postseason and embracing the role. Any pitching staff would salivate for this guy.

OK, that’s one writer’s list. What’s yours?

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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