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.
We’ll be unveiling five athletes each day this week until we crown the best of the best on Friday.
Averaging 26.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists, Towns could be one of the 25 best players in the game if he never got a lick better.
Towns sent a tingle down the collective consciousness of the NBA in his rookie season, emerging as the first of the unicorns: big men with perimeter skills who could keep up with the pace of the modern NBA. While his peers have worked to keep up, Towns has leaned in, shooting 7.9 threes per game at a 41 percent clip this season. He’s also one of the most efficient and versatile post players in the NBA, with a slippery first step, moves on moves on the block and an ability to finish with both hands.
It feels like Towns has spent his career at a crossroads: talented enough to fill the stat sheet but gun-shy about really getting into the muck of the game, namely on defense.
He’s seen as passive, sometimes soft, a label he’s literally started to fight.
At 24 years old, he’s right around the age when players begin to realize the little things need to be taken seriously. Throw in a few years of lag time for playing in an organization with as much turmoil and turnover as the Minnesota Timberwolves.
His footwork and dexterity, ever apparent on offense, should transfer when he’s chasing guards down in the paint. He sees the game well enough for the Wolves to expect more awareness. The good news is he is indeed doing the hard things more, but the issue is consistency. Towns dominates in fits and sparks.
Operating in cruise control, he’s a talented black hole. At the height of his powers, he could be transcendent. - Seerat Sohi
24. Joey Bosa
The only argument against Joey Bosa on the list is that his brother Nick, already a star with the San Francisco 49ers, might be even better. Time will tell. But Joey was first into the NFL and made an instant splash, winning NFL defensive rookie of the year despite a rare rookie holdout. It was apparent right away why the Chargers made him the third overall pick in the 2016 draft.
Bosa is a phenomenal athlete and has a motor most coaches dream of. He had 10.5 sacks in just 12 games as a rookie, making a huge impact for a franchise that hasn’t had many defensive stars since Junior Seau was a Charger.
With Philip Rivers moving on this offseason, Bosa is set up to be the Los Angeles Chargers’ biggest star as they move into a new plush Inglewood stadium. Bosa has 40 sacks through four NFL seasons, is likely to soon join the elite group of defensive players with a $100 million contract and is the most marketable star the Chargers have as they try to get a foothold in Los Angeles.
If Bosa continues on his career trajectory, the former Ohio State star will be one of the top athletes in the second-biggest market in the United States for a long time. His biggest challenge might be staying a step ahead of his brother. Nick Bosa also won an NFL defensive rookie of the year award, and the fact that two of the NFL’s best defensive ends came from the same family is part of Bosa’s unique star appeal. - Frank Schwab
23. Bianca Andreescu
In June 2019 it was “We the North” that rang out through Canada after the Toronto Raptors captured their first NBA championship. Three months later the nation shifted to “She the North,” throwing support behind 19-year-old tennis star Bianca Andreescu at the U.S. Open.
She delivered, taking down GOAT Serena Williams to cap a meteoric rise from outside the top 100 to start the year to now sixth in the world. She failed to qualify for the 2018 U.S. Open at No. 243, but became the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam at the 2019 event. Hence that rally in her hometown of Mississauga.
Her record last year was 37-7 and she reached a career-high world ranking of fourth. Between February and September, she didn’t lose a match she competed in (she retired due to injuries a few times) and earned titles at Indian Wells and Toronto.
Andreescu’s year was shortened due to a knee injury during the WTA Finals in October and she had yet to return to the court in 2020. The hiatus has given her additional time to rest it as she attempts to add to her Grand Slam titles.
Reaching No. 1 in the world is obviously the young star’s goal, and she hasn’t shied away from saying it. Andreescu is one of the many up-and-coming talents — eight of the past 12 Grand Slam winners were first-time titleholders — and Williams is still a force to reckon with, making it a tough and intriguing adventure for the Canadian.
Her rise to stardom was so quick that there were few eyes on her during the early rounds of big tournaments. Now it will be must-watch matches against the fellow young stars as she looks to best her second-round finishes at the other Grand Slam tournaments. - Cassandra Negley
22. Joe Burrow
The author of perhaps the greatest season by a quarterback in college football history, Burrow is often referred to as a comet who descended magically from the sky early in LSU’s championship-winning campaign in 2019.
But that’s not exactly true. The former Ohio State transfer — who left for LSU only after losing the spring battle against Dwayne Haskins — didn’t even know most of his offensive teammates’ names when he arrived in Baton Rouge two summers ago. He was essentially given three weeks to win the Tigers’ starting QB job — the first major mission Burrow accomplished.
The 2018 season started slowly for him and the offense. The Tigers were 7-2 through nine games, averaging 27 points per game to that point, but the offense was humbled in losses to Florida and Alabama and Burrow was completing a mere 53.5 percent of his passes with a 6-4 TD-INT ratio.
In the final four games of 2018, however, the transformation began in earnest. Burrow rode a wave down the stretch, completing 66.9 percent of his passes and amassing a 10-1 TD-INT ratio in a 4-0 finish. Even so, that was just the touchstone of the greatness to come.
Burrow’s incredible 2019 — winning the Heisman Trophy and leading LSU to an unbeaten championship season — transformed his legacy from try-hard QB to the most devastating passer in program history. He never had so much as a bad game last season, and even longer if you include the end of 2018.
The Cincinnati Bengals believed enough in his breakthrough to make Burrow the first pick in the NFL draft in 2020. Can he bring his magic to the NFL? A downtrodden franchise has turned its lonely eyes to him to do just that. - Eric Edholm
21. Ronald Acuña Jr.
The greats always make the impossible look easy.
Steph Curry shooting a jumper. Patrick Mahomes flicking a touchdown pass. And Ronald Acuña Jr. doing … well, pretty much anything on a baseball field.
When the Braves come to town, make sure you’re in your seat for the first pitch. Because it’s coming to Acuña, and there’s a decent chance it’s headed for the seats. Acuña, still just 22, is fast becoming the kind of must-watch player baseball needs, a brilliant, quick prodigy with a swing far more powerful than you’d expect.
The Braves signed Acuña when he was 16. They watched as he blossomed into the top-ranked player in the minors, and then carried through on that promise. How high are the Braves on Acuña? They signed him to a $100 million deal in 2019 with less than a full year of major-league service.
He responded by playing well enough to make the starting lineup of last year’s All-Star team, and he joined the 30-30 club by early August, the second-youngest player (after Mike Trout) to do so. He was three stolen bases short of the 40-40 club when the postseason-bound Braves sat him for the end of the regular season with a nagging injury, knowing he wouldn’t be able to resist gunning for those last three sacks. This is a player on the leading edge of a very steep trajectory upward.
The only thing Acuña lacks right now? A decent nickname. He’s been termed “El Abusador,” but since that means “The Abuser,” you can see why it hasn’t stuck. Before long, though, Acuña will snag himself a brand-worthy moniker. He’s done everything else right. - Jay Busbee