MVPs. All-Stars. Gold Medalists. Champions. The highest levels of the sports world are being dominated by young athletes as much as any time in history. With most athletes still sidelined by current events, we thought it was a good time to take a step back and appreciate the best emerging talents the sports world has to offer. Yahoo Sports staff voted on a basic question: “Which under-25 athletes are we most excited to see once sports come back?” There are countless ways to answer that question. Some will heavily weigh an athlete’s current resume, while others will look more at future potential. Star power comes in many forms, and this is how our staff saw it shaking out.
See the rest of our rankings:
Honorable mentions - Before we get to the top 5, here are the athletes — in no particular order — who just missed out on the 25 under 25:
5. Luka Doncic
Luka Doncic didn’t play college basketball in the United States. Many here knew very little about him upon his arrival to the league last year.
Yet in just a season and a half, Doncic has more than transformed himself into a household name — and is well on his way to being a true superstar in the NBA.
Doncic didn’t miss a beat when entering the league, earning the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award just one season after claiming the EuroLeague MVP honors and winning a championship with Real Madrid at just 19. He’s only improved on that inaugural season, too, and was averaging 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists before the NBA suspended play due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 21-year-old notched the 22nd triple-double of his career in March, setting a Mavericks franchise record in just 122 games. Doncic has 14 this season alone, too, the most in the league. Very few teams can ever find an answer for him on the floor, and are constantly falling victim to the magic he brings to the game each night.
He, along with fellow European star Kristaps Porzingis, were well on their way to leading the Mavericks back to the postseason for the first time in four years — the perfect replacement for Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has the perfect piece to build the future of the franchise at his disposal, and should have no issue getting Dallas back atop the basketball world. And if things keep trending the way they are, Cuban could very easily have the future face of the NBA on his hands, too.
Doncic has already proven he’s that good. - Ryan Young
In terms of electricity, who provides more than Zion? His debut was delayed and the sample size is small, but the confidence in his ability to deliver is second to none — or maybe second to Patrick Mahomes once we realized Zion’s early games were no fluke.
It’s been just 19 games but seeing him feels like an event, as if we’re watching the Loch Ness monster come to life. He inspires imagination in anticipation of his next feat, whether he propels himself over a defender to the rim or volleyball spikes a shot into the second row. His second leaps are quicker and more thunderous than his first, possessing an uncanny ability to get to the ball before opposing players can get their paws near it.
He’s such an anomaly, in a game that’s trending farther away from the basket, Williamson is a magnet to the rim and he’s challenging basketball’s perimeter-oriented conventional.
Remember when he was a small-school prospect, performing feats over no-star high schoolers and inspired as much doubt as awe? He’s resoundingly answered every question about his ability, and now he knows how to entertain. He can survey a crowd, understanding it expects him to put on a show, and provide that singular moment.
He brings it, which means he has the makings of an NBA ambassador to carry the league’s flag into the next decade. Who knows if his career is built for the long run or if he’ll be a supernova designed to capture us for just a short period?
But however long it is, it’ll be memorable and unforgettable. - Vincent Goodwill
3. Lamar Jackson
“Not bad for a running back.”
With those now-famous words following a Week 1 evisceration of the Miami Dolphins, Lamar Jackson sent a message to the football world: He remembers.
All of those concerns about his arm. All of those suggestions he should consider another position. All of those people who failed to see how one of the most dynamic athletes in college football history could possibly succeed at the pro level. It was all fuel for a man about to take the NFL by storm.
With the benefit of hindsight, the story of Lamar Jackson is clear. He is a football prodigy, just not the kind we’re used to seeing at quarterback.
At 21, Jackson was one of the youngest starting quarterbacks in NFL history during his rookie year. Despite playing in an offense previously designed for Joe Flacco, Jackson was quietly efficient as a passer while his legs captured headlines. He was raw, but no 21-year-old NFL quarterback has never not been raw. Jackson just had it held it against him more than others, for whatever reason.
With only one more year of seasoning and an offense built around his talents, Jackson took the field last year and ended up leading the NFL in passing touchdowns while leading the Ravens to a 14-2 record. Oh, and blowing away Michael Vick’s QB rushing record too.
Every week, Jackson posted a new highlight, topped by the “He broke his ankles!” spin move that set NFL Twitter ablaze. It all ended in the second unanimous MVP award in NFL history.
Jackson still has to show he can get over the playoff hump, but it’s hard to not be excited about an MVP who may just be getting started. - Jack Baer
2. Simone Biles
Imagine being 23 years old and considered the best in the history of your sport. The sport is gymnastics, where anything past 19 is usually considered old, but Simone Biles has sewn up the GOAT title at an age when most of us are still trying to figure out what we’re great at. Or at least what we’re good at.
It’s incredible to think there’s so much power in such a small (4-foot-8) frame, and that it’s possible to do some of the things that Biles does. But what makes her exceptional is that she can do those things with such grace. She possesses fearlessness and willingness to push gymnastics to new levels — she has four skills named after her, meaning she was the first to successfully complete them in a major competition, and are so complicated others haven’t yet been able to do them at a meet.
Biles became a gymnast by chance, after her day care took a field trip to a local gym and the owner took notice of her natural ability. It would have been impossible to predict what she’d become, however: she became a member of the senior national team at age 16 and after last fall’s performance at the World Championships she now has 25 medals at the event, more than any gymnast in history.
Since her tour de force at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Biles has become an endorsement and social media darling, propelled by her success and huge smile. - Shalise Manza Young
1. Patrick Mahomes
We didn’t know a lot about Patrick Mahomes when he was drafted in 2017. He was raw, in a pass-friendly offense at Texas Tech. He went 10th in the draft, the second quarterback selected — the Chicago Bears will never live down picking Mitchell Trubisky second overall — and one pick after receiver John Ross went to the Cincinnati Bengals. Mahomes clearly had potential, but nobody knew he’d be a superstar.
Three years later, he’s the biggest athlete in American sports under 25 years old.
Mahomes checks every “face of the league” box. He’s cool yet able to laugh at himself, whether it’s his Kermit the Frog voice or putting ketchup on everything. He’s wise beyond his years thanks to growing up as the son of a major league pitcher. He’s instantly recognizable in a sport that hides its stars in helmets. Oh, and he’s a joy to watch, with his cannon arm and no-look passes.
He’s off to the best three-year start for a career in NFL history, and he didn’t even start his first season. Mahomes already has a 5,000-yard, 50-touchdown season, a regular-season MVP and a Super Bowl MVP after he ended the Kansas City Chiefs’ 50-year Super Bowl drought. There’s no reason to believe he can’t win many more MVPs, lead the Chiefs to more Super Bowls and end up as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.
Mahomes is set up to own America’s most popular sport for the next decade or longer, as the rare athlete that is practically impossible to dislike. He’s the perfect player to take the torch after the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning-Drew Brees era and lead the NFL into a new age. - Frank Schwab