Crystal Ball Greatness: 10 Athletes Who Will Be Superstars by 2020
Not all sports superstars are equal.
Some athletes only become stars because of their successes in competitions. Others make headlines for their eccentric behavior before, during and after games. Then, there are the athletes who become stars largely because their employers have fans all over the country.
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid may be the next face of the NBA. Embiid is playing well that he is healthy, and he is quickly becoming one of the more entertaining figures in the league. Those of you who don't follow Embiid on Twitter are doing the internet incorrectly.
Mallory Pugh may prove herself to be the next USWNT superstar. Connor McDavid is the most exciting prospect to hit the NHL since Sidney Crosby. Derek Carr has the goods to become the best quarterback in the NFL.
All 10 athletes featured in this piece could become household names before 2020. All could also have faded from our memories three years from now. Who among them do you think will be the most successful before January 1, 2020, rolls around?
Earlier in January, Roy Cummings of FanRag Sports wrote about the overall improvement of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston.
The second-year pro worked to get into better physical shape following his rookie season, per Cummings, and doing so allowed Winston to become more mobile in and out of the pocket. According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, Winston grew his completion percentage from 58.3 percent in 2015 to 60.8 percent this past season. He also enjoyed career highs in other noteworthy offensive categories, per ESPN.
While the Florida State product struggled during portions of the last month of the 2016 campaign, it must be noted that injury woes plagued the Tampa Bay offense as the club chased a playoff berth. How Winston responds to losing two of the club's final three games will say plenty about his development heading into his third season.
Winson is comparable to Ben Roethlisberger in size, and the 23-year-old is already a proven on-field leader. He may become a sleeper candidate to win MVP in 2017 if the Bucs give him a couple of additional weapons during the offseason.
Talent and winning matches aren't everything in combat sports and the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Conor McGregor probably isn't a better pound-for-pound fighter than Demetrious Johnson. McGregor is the bigger star of the two, however, because the outspoken Irishman knows how to make headlines away from the cage. Whether he is cutting promos on potential opponents or throwing bottles during a press event, McGregor draws money better than any fighter in the business, as Dave Meltzer of MMA Fighting explained last September.
Mickey Gall appears to understand what it takes to become a big-money fighter in the UFC.
Gall was the beloved babyface passionate fight fans wanted to see defeat former professional wrestler CM Punk at UFC 203. As Damon Martin of Fox Sports explained, Gall showed last December he can also play the "bad guy" before and during a fight.
Gall is a perfect 3-0 in the UFC.
He still needs to improve as a fighter, but his win over Sage Northcutt in mid-December showed he is more than a sideshow picked to beat a former WWE personality who probably didn't belong in the UFC. The 24-year-old should be competing for, and maybe even defending, a title in 2020.
It's a safe bet that President Obama and the rest of us will know how to say Giannis Antetokounmpo's name by the start of 2020.
The Greek Freak, who features for the Milwaukee Bucks, is unlike any other player in the NBA at the moment. Antetokounmpo stands 6'11", but he has the ball-handling capabilities of a point guard. His size and his assortment of offensive skills allow him to play just about any position against any opponent.
You've probably seen highlights of Antetokounmpo finishing incredible dunks, seemingly with ease. But don't let those moments overshadow that he is becoming a complete player. As Brew Hoop's Brett Abramczyk wrote in December, the 22-year-old is already a stud in transition defense, as his size and quickness allow him to shut fast breaks down before they result in easy buckets.
Antetokounmpo is already entertaining to watch, and he's developing into a star who could be a cornerstone for a playoff team. He may be the most versatile player in the league three years from today.
Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor could be the face of Major League Baseball by the start of 2020.
Lindor often has a smile on his face at the plate and in the field. One could argue the 23-year-old is already the best defensive shortstop in the game, as he won the Gold Glove for the 2016 campaign. Both Mike Axisa of CBSSports.com and Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News praised Lindor's efforts this past fall as the Indians came to within one run of winning the World Series.
Lindor can do it all in the lineup. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Lindor blasted 27 home runs in his first 257 games with the Indians. He has a .306 career average, he is averaging 81 RBI per every 162 games and he finished ninth in the American League MVP voting for 2016.
Per Spotrac, the Indians hold Lindor's rights up through 2021, and the American League champs would do well to lock him up for the next decade. Don't be surprised if we're comparing Lindor to Derek Jeter three years from now.
Tottenham Hotspur have a recent history of growing and nurturing young superstars.
The club once featured both Luka Modric and Gareth Bale, a pair of talented players who left White Hart Lane for Real Madrid. Harry Kane has become one of the best forwards in the Premier League, and he is only 23 years old.
The 20-year-old attacking midfielder Dele Alli, however, may be the next breakout Tottenham star.
Alli, who was playing in League One as a member of MK Dons back at the start of the 2014-15 season, is believed to be coveted by clubs around the world, as Andy Warren of MailOnline recently explained. He reached 20 career Premier League goals quicker than David Beckham, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard achieved that feat, and he has done well to evolve as an attacking star under Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino.
Alli, theoretically, will be entering his physical prime at the start of 2020. The sky is the limit for the reigning PFA Young Player of the Year, so long as he keeps his cool and strives to become even better.
Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota will be one of the best offensive players in the NFL if he continues to progress as he did over his first two seasons in the NFL.
Unlike so many young QBs who enter the league and then start for lackluster or average teams, Mariota has limited costly turnovers and avoidable miscues. He threw 10 interceptions in his rookie season, 2015, and he tossed only nine picks during the 2016 campaign.
More impressive, as ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky explained, is Mariota's production in the red zone. The 23-year-old evolved into one of the top QBs in the league inside opponents' 20-yard lines, and he posted better red-zone numbers this past season than QBs such as Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford, Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger, per Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Mariota is still growing as a pro, and the Titans need to do better as it pertains to surrounding the face of the franchise with better talent. Tennessee is on the cusp of being the best team in the AFC South. Don't bet against Mariota leading the Titans to at least one playoff game 12 months from now.
Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid would possibly already be a well-known superstar if he played in a different market.
Granted, McDavid plays in the NHL, which casual American sports fans often ignore until the winter months. It also doesn't help his cause he plays in Edmonton, a city many readers out there couldn't locate on a map if they tried.
You may, thus, have missed McDavid becoming one of the top attacking players in hockey. Per the league's official website, McDavid leads the NHL in total points and assists as of January 17. He is a big reason why the Oilers are one of the best teams in the Pacific Division as of the middle of the first month of the year.
Perhaps most noteworthy of all, McDavid only turned 20 earlier in January.
There is no indication that the Oilers captain cannot handle the pressure of being the face of a famous franchise that hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1990. We hockey fans will enjoy watching McDavid evolve as a player and a person over the next three years.
The United States women's soccer team experienced a rough 2016.
The Americans were unceremoniously dismissed from the Summer Olympics in the quarterfinals. Goalkeeper Hope Solo, one of the team's top stars, was then booted from the squad after she lashed out at the Sweden side that eliminated the U.S. from the tournament, as Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated explained.
The future of the program nevertheless looks bright, largely because of young prospects such as Mallory Pugh.
Pugh, who turned 18 last spring, enjoyed a breakout year, as Tom Slater of Empire of Soccer pointed out in December. The forward scored in her official USWNT debut, and she started for the U.S. in the Olympics.
Pugh's athleticism makes her a nightmare for any back line, and she should only improve as she nears her physical prime. The next FIFA Women's World Cup occurs in 2019. Pugh may be a household name before that competition concludes.
Trust the process.
It's the mantra fans of the Philadelphia 76ers repeated again and again as the club suffered multiple losing seasons and accumulated high draft picks. Center Joel Embiid, selected by the 76ers in the first round of the 2014 draft, has embraced the nickname The Process after missing what should've been his first two seasons in the league because of injuries. And the 22-year-old hasn't disappointed on the court since October 2016.
ESPN's Marc Stein is among those to have pointed out that Embiid is seemingly running away with this season's Rookie of the Year award. The big man also clearly understands what it means to act like a star. He danced on the court with cheerleaders after one Philadelphia win, and he has used social media to attract attention from individuals such as WWE personality Triple H, as ESPN.com noted.
Embiid is a larger-than-life athlete, both physically speaking and in character. We hope his body doesn't betray him between now and 2020 because he has the goods to be one of the faces of the NBA for the next decade.
As strange as it may seem, suffering a broken fibula on Christmas Eve may have cemented Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr's status as a future NFL superstar.
The Raiders, a franchise both loved and hated for past achievements, looked like Super Bowl contenders with Carr in the lineup. The 25-year-old was an MVP candidate, as Jerry Sullivan of the Buffalo News wrote in early December. Without Carr, however, the Raiders became a team incapable of defeating the Houston Texans in a playoff game.
He is the real deal. Carr has improved in each of this three seasons in the NFL, his quick release is as good as you'll see among the young QBs in the NFL and his big arm and ability to stretch the field make him exciting to watch, even for those of us who aren't Oakland fans.
Carr may be an early favorite to win MVP for the 2017 NFL season, assuming he makes a full recovery from his injury. The Raiders, meanwhile, may be one solid offseason away from building the best overall roster in all the AFC.