The Next Generation: Five Young Athletes to Watch for in the New Year
2008 was a wild year for sports. Now that 2009 is finally upon us we can reflect on what happened and also look forward to another exciting year. In this past year, we've had breakout athletes, shocking wins, and record setting performances. Eli Manning and the New York Giants upset the perfect Patriots in Super Bowl 42, Michael Phelps set a record by winning eight gold medals in the Olympics, and Stephen Curry made his presence known in the NCAA tournament.
And you think you've seen it all?
In 2009, there's a chance that we might be introduced to even more household names.
Eddie Royal: Age 22
Eddie Royal had a very successful rookie year for the Denver Broncos, though you may not know his name. Royal emerged as his quarterback's No. 1 target in '08, as he managed to fall short of a 1,000-yard receiving season by only 20. Eddie Royal is also the kind of guy that you want in your locker room. He seems to fit in perfectly with the Broncos and has found a chemistry with his quarterback on and off the field. In 2009, I expect Eddie to take a massive step forward and possibly make his first Pro Bowl.
Robinson Cano: Age 26
Robinson Cano entered Major League Baseball as a defensive upgrade at second base for the New York Yankees on May 3, 2005. Oddly enough, after he's spent four years in the Bronx, we've realized it's his offense that has kept him in the majors. Cano had an uncharacteristic .271 batting average last year, but I expect him to bounce back in a big way this year. Last season was the only year in his professional career that he hit below .300. His high-water mark, in case you were wondering, was .342 in 2006.
Rodney Stuckey: Age 22
For his entire professional career, Rodney Stuckey has been coming off the bench for the Detroit Pistons. He has been an effective scorer off the bench for the Pistons, but never really an accountable force. This year he's been given the opportunity to show what he can do, and he's shown everyone that he can be a star in the NBA. His high-water mark for points in a game this year has been 40, which came against the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 23. Stuckey has shown the ability to be able to drive in the paint, draw a foul, and finish on a regular basis. For the remainder of 2009, every NBA fan should keep their eye on Detroit's flashy point guard.
Blake Griffin: Age 19
2008 was the first time Blake Griffin had played in the national spotlight. You may not know him too well because you've been too busy watching Stephen Curry jack up shot after shot. Blake Griffin most likely will end up being the No. 1 overall pick in this season's NBA draft. When you watch Blake Griffin play, you can sort of see a resemblance in style to a professional player, dare I say, LeBron James. If you watch this man play, you would immediately see why. He buys into playing hard defense, he can shoot very well, and he's a major presence in the painted area.
Granted this is just a style comparison. No one can play like LeBron. In 2009 and into 2010, Blake Griffin, if he enters the NBA draft, will win the Rookie of the Year award in a landslide. But if he stays in college, he will only further prove that he's the No. 1 player coming out of the NCAA. Griffin is going to be a household name before his career is over.
Matt Ryan: Age 23
If you're a football fan, and you don't live under a rock, then you obviously know what Matt Ryan did in the NFL his rookie year—16 Touchdowns, 11 interceptions, a playoff berth, and Rookie of the Year. Not to mention, he helped bring a falling franchise back into the national spotlight. But here's a question for you: How's Matt Ryan going to do this year? After accomplishing all of that, he can't possibly do better, can he? Maybe he will hit a sophomore slump and struggle? Not likely, in my opinion. Next season, I expect Matt Ryan to follow up his rookie year with another playoff berth and a ticket to the NFC Championship Game. Hey, why not? he's got a good defense and an explosive running back.