⭐ Top 21 athletes of 2021: 21-17

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Throughout a busy 2021 schedule, athletes treated fans to remarkable and awe-inspiring performances. With the year winding down, theScore looked back at an exciting 12 months and voted on its top 21 sportspeople.

Here's the first installment, highlighting Nos. 21-17.

21-17 I 16-12 I 11-7 I 6-2 I No. 1 (Dec. 31)

21. Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun

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Jones' dominant play propelled the Connecticut Sun to a WNBA-leading 26-6 record. She averaged 19.4 points, 11.2 boards, 2.8 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.3 blocks en route to capturing league MVP honors in a near-unanimous vote. The 6-foot-6 forward is the only player in WNBA history to have won MVP, Sixth Women of the Year, and the Most Improved Player award in her career. Jones also earned her third rebounding crown, second WNBA All-Defensive first-team nod, and first All-WNBA first-team selection.

20. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays

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After years of hype, Guerrero finally broke out with a season to remember. The 22-year-old led the majors in homers, total bases, runs scored; paced the AL in OBP, slugging, OPS, OPS+, WAR, and made a legitimate triple crown run into late September. He also dazzled on the big stage, hitting a long home run at this year's Midsummer Classic to become the youngest All-Star Game MVP. Guerrero was the AL MVP runner-up due to some stiff and historic competition, but he left his mark on the diamond in a big way. He should be a staple of these annual lists going forward.

19. Kamaru Usman, UFC

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Usman was more active than any other UFC champion this year. He recorded three welterweight title defenses against Gilbert Burns, Jorge Masvidal, and Colby Covington, widening the ever-growing gap between him and the rest of the weight class. Those wins also culminated in his coronation as the sport's pound-for-pound king. In mixed martial arts, 2021 was the year of "The Nigerian Nightmare."

18. Bryce Young, University of Alabama

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It's become rinse and repeat for star quarterbacks at Alabama for Nick Saban. This season, Bryce Young took over as starter of the Crimson Tide and did something Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, Mac Jones, or any other quarterback in the history of the program failed to do - win the Heisman Trophy. The California product exploded onto the scene as a sophomore, leading the Crimson Tide to a 12-1 record, the SEC title, and the No. 1 spot in the upcoming College Football Playoff. He threw for 4,300 yards with an incredible 43 touchdowns against just four interceptions, making him a worthy winner of the award and deserving of a spot on this list.

17. Collin Morikawa, PGA

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Morikawa cemented his place in history in 2021. The 2020 PGA Championship winner was already a star heading into the new season, yet three wins and a dominating Ryder Cup performance elevated the 24-year-old to new heights. With a stunning performance at Royal St. George's in his first Open Championship, Morikawa became just the fifth player to win two majors before the age of 25. Two months later, he went undefeated in the Ryder Cup and sunk the clinching point for the American side in a record-breaking victory. As an encore, he became the first American player to win the DP World Tour's Race to Dubai in November. It was a banner year for the rising superstar.

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⭐ Top 21 athletes of 2021: 21-17
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