It’s simply the greatest highlight video in all of sports—the 25th annual ESPY Awards will commence July 12 at 8 p.m. ET, and will be hosted by five-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning. The ESPYs are a culmination of dramatic moments, epic performances and inspirational memories that encapsulated the year in sports. Here are the nominees and predictions for the top categories.
Best Championship Performance
Tom Brady, Super Bowl
Shay Knighten, WCWS
Kevin Durant, NBA Finals
Deshaun Watson, CFB National Championship
This is an absolutely stacked group—all gave phenomenal efforts in their respective championships. Knighten led the Sooners to back-to-back titles, Watson led one of the most incredible drives to take down the Tide with one second remaining and Durant finally defeated Lebron and marked his place in history with a ring and Finals MVP, raising eyebrows and circulating talk that we may now be in the era in which Durant is the best player in the world. But when all is said and done, none shall top the performance that Tom Terrific had in the Super Bowl to capture his fifth ring—this one won’t even be close.
Prediction: Tom Brady
Best Breakthrough Athlete
Giannis Antetokoumpo, NBA
Laurie Hernandez, Gymnastics
Aaron Judge, MLB
Dak Prescott, NFL
Christian Pulisic, Soccer
If you tuned in for the Home Run Derby, you’d have gotten a good glimpse of the type of rookie season Judge is having, blasting home runs left and right not only in the Derby but in the regular season as well. He leads the league with 30 home runs and stands second and third in the AL in RBIs and batting average, respectively. The other candidates on this list present viable options and had fantastic seasons, and had we been in the midst of another sporting season such as basketball or football, we may see Antetokoumpo or Prescott walking away with this award, but in prime baseball season, Judge has taken the league by storm.
Prediction: Aaron Judge
Clemson over Alabama in CFB National Championship
Denis Istomin over Novak Djokovic in Australian Open
Mississippi State over UCONN in Women’s Final Four
While Alabama was certainly the favorite in the National Championship, many believed that the Tigers would emerge victorious. Which leaves us with two true “upsets”. Istomin over the Djoker was nothing short of a stunning match—Djokovic had won the Australian Open in six of his 13 appearances and had never lost to anyone ranked lower than 68th—Istomin rolled in at 117th. But while the upset was jaw-dropping, it pales in comparison to the Final Four match that ended the UConn women’s 111 game win streak.
Prediction: Mississippi State over UCONN
Cubs vs. Indians, Game 7 WS
Falcons vs. Patriots, Super Bowl
Federer vs. Nadal, Australian Open Final
It’s tough to compete with the greatest Super Bowl of all time—Game 7 of the World Series was nothing short of a gift from above, with the Cubs coming back from a 3-1 deficit to win their first title in 108 years, and the ninth Grand Slam meeting between Federer and Nadal was one for the ages, where Federer grabbed the title in five sets. But Super Bowl 51 was not just the best game of this year—it is up there with the best games of all time.
Prediction: Falcons vs. Patriots
Best Comeback Athlete
Jordy Nelson, NFL
Matt Bush, MLB
Roger Federer, Tennis
Candace Parker, WNBA
Many had pegged this season as the beginning of the end for Jordy Nelson. Coming off a torn ACL, climbing in age and the emergence of Davante Adams were all substantial evidence for Nelson’s decline. He responded to the doubters by posting 97 receptions, 1,257 yards, and leading the league in touchdowns with 14. You just can’t come back much better than that.
Prediction: Jordy Nelson
Julian Edelman Super Bowl Catch
Morgan William Buzzer Beater against UCONN
Aaron Rodgers to Jared Cook
Northwestern Buzzer Beater
The Northwestern buzzer beater all but secured them a spot in the NCAA tournament, and was certainly a historic moment in Wildcat history. Morgan William’s last-second heave was historic, and a great tribute to her late father, but she will likely win in the Best Upset category. Partially biased here, but Rodgers to Cook in the divisional round was one of the great throws ever, and, with the leg of Mason Crosby, sent the Packers to the NFC Championship. But if Julian Edelman does not get his hands under Brady’s pass, we’d likely be talking about the Falcons as champions and half of these nominations would be void.
Prediction: Julian Edelman Super Bowl Catch
Chicago Cubs, MLB
Clemson Tigers, CFB
Golden State Warriors, NBA
Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL
New England Patriots, NFL
South Carolina Gamecocks, Women’s College Basketball
US Women’s Gymnastics
So many good teams on this list—each team on this list walked away with a championship, so they can hang their hat on that even if they don’t win “Best Team” (and I think they’ll be just fine if they don’t win). But while some of these nominees hashed it out in close contests all season, one team left no doubt as to who the best in the league was, and that was the Golden State Warriors. Winning 67 games during the regular season and nearly achieving perfection in the playoffs at 16-1, there was never any question as to who would win the NBA title.
Prediction: Golden State Warriors
Best Male Athlete
Kris Bryant, MLB
Sidney Crosby, Stanley Cup Finals
Michael Phelps, Swimming
Russell Westbrook, NBA
Swimming is not the most popular sport of the bunch here, but we can predict Phelps as the winner by process of elimination. Bryant had a very respectable season and his team won the title, but didn’t stand out enough to be truly considered for this award. The Penguins also won the championship, but a hockey player has never won this award, and may struggle to pull fan votes. That leaves Phelps and Westbrook, and while Westbrook certainly had a terrific season breaking the all-time triple doubles record, Phelps continues to build on his record of medals on the world stage in an individual sport.
Prediction: Michael Phelps
Best Female Athlete
Simone Biles, Gymnastics
Katie Ledecky, Swimming
Candace Parker, WNBA
Serena Williams, Tennis
This award comes down to Biles and Williams—Ledecky had an incredible 2016 Olympics, bringing home four Gold medals and one Silver medal. After the death of Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt, Parker won her first Finals and Finals MVP, but unfortunately the WNBA does not generate enough buzz to be recognized for this award. Williams is still a dominate tennis force at age 35, even winning the Australian Open while pregnant, but what Simone Biles did in Rio last year was a balance beam-stumble away from perfection, taking home four Golds and a Bronze.
Prediction: Simone Biles