10 Sports Stars Who Are About to Have Huge Years

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2017

10 Sports Stars Who Are About to Have Huge Years

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    For some, 2017 will be huge.

    A look at the past says this well enough. Last year, LeBron James owned 2016 by getting his Cleveland Cavaliers a title. Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset with a Lombardi Trophy. Mike Conley, representing those who won via financial means, cashed in on a $153 million contract, the largest in NBA history.

    Examples of winners from last year go on and on. It's more fun, though, to turn an eye toward the future and start looking at athletes sure to have gigantic 2017 campaigns.

    It's a stacked year, to say the least. There are more titles to hand out, individual honors, comeback stories, rookie debuts and plenty of cash sure to make the rounds.

    Within, let's take a look at major names about to have huge years.

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

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    Samantha Baker/Associated Press

    One could argue LSU running back Leonard Fournette is the face of the upcoming NFL draft.

    With a so-so quarterback class on the way and an overarching class headlined by talent on the defensive line such as Jonathan Allen and Myles Garrett, Fournette steps into the fray as the top offensive player.

    It's hard to find a problem with this, not after Fournette rushed for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2015 before going for another 1,034 and 10 on 113 fewer carries in 2016.

    Fournette likely won't be the first player off the board by any means, but rest assured teams won't soon forget what Ezekiel Elliott just did for the Dallas Cowboys.

    Provided he stays healthy, Fournette looks like one of the top selections in the upcoming draft and a player talented enough (at a position with a simple transition to the pro game) to make a huge impact right out of the gates.

Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The next calendar year, if not a whole lot more, belongs to Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid, otherwise known as The Process.

    NBA fans have waited anxiously for Embiid to make an impact at the pro level since he arrived via the No. 3 pick in 2014. He only just took the floor this season, though—and the wait was totally worth it.

    Embiid averages 19.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game this year on all of 25.1 minutes per game.

    The crazy part? Embiid has only had his minutes cap increased in the last month or so. Over two January outings, he has posted 23 and 25-point performances.

    The 76ers keep slowly unleashing Embiid and it's nothing but a good thing for fans. The 76ers won't make the playoffs this year, but 2017 is absolutely huge for both Embiid and the franchise. It'll be looked back on as a turning point for both parties.

Sam Darnold, QB, USC

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Sam Darnold is already a major name in the state of California.

    The rest of the globe needs to catch up when it comes to the new USC quarterback.

    Darnold came out of nowhere as a freshman to put on a show, taking over a team that started the season in miserable fashion. All he did was complete 67.2 percent of his passes with 3,086 yards and 31 touchdowns with only nine interceptions while leading the Trojans to the Rose Bowl.

    There, Darnold looked like the elite USC signal-callers of old, throwing for 453 yards and five touchdowns in a 52-49 victory against Penn State.

    Now locked and loaded for a major 2017, it is Darnold leading the charge that is USC's long-awaited return to prominence.

Stephen Curry, G, Golden State Warriors

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    It's a new year, which in theory, should help Stephen Curry put the unfortunate end suffered by the Golden State Warriors well behind him.

    A fat new contract should certainly help in this endeavor.

    Look, on the court, Curry is still Curry—he's averaging 24.6 points and shooting 46.9 percent from the floor and 39.9 percent from deep. By most accounts, he's meshing well with new arrival Kevin Durant and the Warriors have only lost six games.

    But a huge 2017 has more to do with guaranteed factors like Curry cashing in on a major extension, preventing him from hitting unrestricted free agency.

    Major, as in $209 million major.

    So yeah, Curry might win a title and score some revenge on LeBron and the Cavaliers. But either way, 2017 looks pretty good for the Baby Faced Assassin.

Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    You like that?

    Kirk Cousins does. The Washington Redskins quarterback threw a boneheaded interception to finish his season and sink the team's playoff hopes.

    That won't stop Cousins from cashing in this offseason.

    Cousins banked more than $19 million on a franchise tag in 2016 as he completed 67 percent of his passes for 4,917 yards and 25 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.

    The man hasn't been shy about cashing in this offseason, according to Chris Lingebach of CBS DC.: “Secondly, there’s other quarterbacks that come after you and it would be almost a selfish move to hurt future quarterbacks who get in a position to have a contract.”

    Sure Kirk, sure.

    Cousins will absolutely get market value. He's 28 and a capable starter and the last thing Washington wants to do is start over with a different player. From at least the financial side of things, Cousins is about to have quite the 2017.

Joey Bosa, DE, San Diego Chargers

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The NFL really isn't ready for an experienced Joey Bosa to play a full 16-game slate.

    A contractual spat and spotty injuries kept the No. 3 pick of the 2016 NFL draft off the field until Week 5. He went on to wreak havoc on offensive lines everywhere, drumming up 10.5 sacks over 12 games and making the San Diego Chargers look rather foolish for the monetary standoff.

    Bosa finished the year as one of the highest-graded rookies at Pro Football Focus, with Sam Monson providing notable praise:

    Finally getting on the field in Week 5, Joey Bosa has looked like a dominant force for the Chargers. He has 54 total QB pressures on the season, playing a mixture of defensive end and outside linebacker for the Chargers—that’s a comparable pressure total to Jason Pierre-Paul, but on almost 300 fewer snaps. Bosa has looked like a star from day one, and even if he doesn’t get any better, he has been a ready-made Pro-Bowl caliber player for San Diego.

    Bosa hits 2017 ready to go at a full 16 games and put his name up there with J.J. Watt and others in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.

    Sorry offensive lines everywhere, Bosa won't suffer the fabled sophomore slump.

Isaiah Thomas, G, Boston Celtics

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Say hello to the next face of the Boston Celtics.

    This is the year Isaiah Thomas becomes a household name around the globe, a guy with enough talent to put an entire franchise on his back and have fans wondering who the Celtics will bring on board to join his team.

    Thomas entered the league in the second round with the Sacramento Kings back in 2011. It was the purgatory it sounds like and led to a brief 46-game stint with the Phoenix Suns before the former Washington Huskies star landed in Boston.

    This year, Thomas has career-high averages of 27.7 points and 6.3 assists while shooting 45.2 percent from the floor and 36.7 percent from deep. His production and stardom has not only outshined the arrival of Al Horford, but the drafting of rookie Jaylen Brown and has the Celtics third in the Eastern Conference and only a few games out of second place.

    The Celtics, while clutching plenty of future assets and upside, seem ahead of schedule thanks to Thomas. He has the team on a playoff march and perhaps a whole lot more, if not title contention, then at least another major free-agency gain.

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

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    Alan Diaz/Associated Press

    Those who expect 2017 to be the year of Tom Brady's downfall are sorely mistaken.

    Brady isn't like Manning or recent retired legends from other sports such as Tim Duncan or Kobe Bryant. The man turns 40 years old next August, yet his play hasn't taken a hit at all.

    Despite missing the first four games of the season, Brady has thrown for 3,554 yards and 28 touchdowns with only two interceptions, on par with his usual stellar production dating back to every season since 2009, the year after he missed 15 games with an injury.

    Brady isn't suddenly falling off a cliff. If anything, his play indicates he has another strong three or more years in the game after this one.

    Stick to the present, though, because 2017 looks like it could be a Super Bowl win for Brady at best. If not, his strong form will surely transfer to the next season.

Tiger Woods, PGA

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    He's back.

    Tiger Woods made his long-anticipated return early last December at the Hero World Challenge and tied for 17th while finishing even.

    Not a bad day on the course when one remembers the hobbled, back-aching Woods who missed the cut outright at the PGA Championship, The Open Championship and U.S. Open during the 2015 season.

    In other words, Woods looks back to competitive form after taking a lengthy hiatus to get right. He's in for a huge year and keeps committing to tournaments in early 2017.

    This means golf will have a huge year as well—like it or not, fans tune in when Woods plays. Ratings for the Hero World Challenge compared to the year prior went up 190 percent on Thursday and 200 percent on Friday as Woods looked competitive.

*Bonus Round: The Next Head Coach of the Denver Broncos

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    Gary McCullough/Associated Press

    The Denver Broncos haven't decided on a new head coach just yet after Gary Kubiak's sudden stepping away from the job.

    No matter who it is, though, the man is a big winner moving forward.

    Said new coach inherits a recent Super Bowl winner tasked with upgrading an offensive line and one veteran quarterback away from contending for another Lombardi Trophy.

    The Denver defense still has Von Miller and others and only allowed 18.6 points per game this year. No matter who the quarterback is, the rest of the offense looks good thanks to a stable of running backs and targets such as Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

    NFL.com's coaching tracker floats names such as Vance Joseph and Kyle Shanahan for the job, though most coaching searches in the league right now remain in the infancy stages.

    This isn't any normal coaching vacancy where a franchise looks to hit the reset button, grab some upside and build for the future. It's an arrive, plug a few holes and sail to the promised land if done well.

    The big name general manager John Elway brings on board will easily be one of the year's biggest winners.