As we turn the page on 2015, we can't help but think of the athletes we can't wait to see back on the field or court in 2016. Whether they missed time due to injury or are expected to make a huge leap in their game, these six athletes are set to make a huge impression next year, and we'll be right there watching. Here's a primer on the guys you need to keep your eye on as we move into another phenomenal year of sports.
1. Eric Bledsoe
One of the best young players in the NBA doesn't have name recognition yet, in part because he plays in Phoenix where the games start late (for those of us in the Eastern time zone), and in part because turmoil surrounding the team and coaching staff have overshadowed the production of the sixth-year guard out of Kentucky. Through 31 games this season, Bledsoe averaged over 20 points a game for the Suns, the highest total of his career. He also shot 37 percent from deep, 3 points higher than his total last season. A backup to Chris Paul in Los Angeles for the first three years of his career, Bledsoe blossomed as the man in Phoneix, only to tear his left meniscus a few nights ago, ending his 2015-2016 campaign.
We can't wait to see Bledsoe, coming off rehab and newly motivated, continue to etch his name on the list of the best guards in the NBA next season.
2. Peyton Manning
Forget how poorly he played before going down with plantar fasciitis. Forget the mysterious HGH charges. Forget that he's almost 40 years old. Peyton Manning will not let his career end like this, and the 2016 season will give him the perfect opportunity to write the finale of his career the way he wants.
Granted, he doesn't have the arm strength he used to, but let's not forget that he is two years removed from throwing 55 touchdowns and one year removed from tossing 39. With a healthy foot and countless wide receiver options at his disposal in Denver, something tells us this will not be the last you hear of Manning. If we were to bet on it, we'd say he comes back in 2016 and has a dream season before calling it a career.
3. Francisco Lindor
When the Cleveland Indians finally called up their star shortstop prospect, Fransisco Lindor, after 63 games of the 2015 season, people weren't sure what to expect. Lindor was billed as a defensive wizard whose hitting needed time to develop. So much for that evaluation.
Lindor hit .313 in 99 games with the Tribe, and he showed surprising power for a guy weighing 190 pounds, jacking 11 home runs in a little over half a season. His glove performed as advertised, helping take the Indians defense from dead last in the MLB to middle of the pack, an impressive feat in itself.
We already can't wait to see what the 22-year-old Lindor does next year after going through an entire spring training with the team. He'll have the full MLB season to continue to hone his skills.
4. and 5. Jared Goff and Paxton Lynch
Both of these high-profile college quarterbacks will get a chance to showcase their skills as rookies in the NFL in 2016. Both men are expected to be selected high in the draft by a quarterback-needy team. In a league that has become thoroughly quarterback-reliant, which guy will flourish? Will it be Lynch, with his big arm and ability to escape pressure and run? Or will it be Goff, the protoypical pocket passer with excellent footwork and the ability to read defenses at the NFL level?
It's always fun to see members of a hyped-up quarterback class make their debut in the pro ranks—Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck in 2012 come to mind—and Goff and Lynch should make for another intriguing season of NFL football.
6. Kyrie Irving
If Kyrie Irving's performance against the Phoenix Suns on Dec. 28 didn't get you psyched to watch him play in 2016, we can't help you. Ever since he fractured his kneecap in the 2015 NBA Finals, fans of sick handles and silky jumpers have been foaming at the mouth waiting for the Cleveland Cavaliers point guard to make his official return to the court. When he did, against the Philadelphia 76ers a couple weeks ago, he wasn't the same Kyrie Irving we had come to know. He was hesistant, rusty and out of game shape, all things he admitted. Then, in successive games against the New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors, Irving was still shaking off cobwebs that had grown during his nearly seven months away from the court.
Against Phoenix last Monday night, the Kyrie Irving we know and love finally showed up. His spectacular dribbling ability, his deep 3-pointers, his clutch play—it was all back. After the game, Irving announced that he'd be sitting out the following night, a back-to-back against Denver, but that it would be the last game he would miss this season.
2016 will be the year Kyrie Irving returns with all of his powers to help the Cavs chase a championship—and we can't wait to watch it happen in real time.
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