Some things are certain in sports. LeBron James, Alexander Ovechkin, Mike Trout, and Aaron are among the best in their respective leagues and will likely continue to dominate as long as they are healthy. But so much of pro sports is far from certain.
Sure, top draft picks and highly-paid players are more likely to be among the best, but other athletes who have spent seasons in the minor leagues, undrafted or unwanted, can suddenly become elite player.
There’s no set formula for athletes suddenly changing their fortunes. Some players fit better into certain coaching schemes. Others may benefit from good chemistry with a teammate. Some players may have just needed a change of scenery.
Maybe it’s a new training regimen, good luck charm, or any combination of other factors that boost a player’s stats. Some have recovered from a nagging injury that had prevented them from performing at their top skill level.
Some professional athletes shine right away, even though they weren’t highly touted coming out of college or high school. Each year, teams hope to be one of the lucky few to find diamonds in the rough who can make an immediate impact in the pros. Some of the players on this list were drafted in later rounds — or went undrafted — and yet play like top-10 picks.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin never put up big numbers during his four-year tenure as a Buffalo Bill. But once he made it to San Francisco, his whole career turned around. Goodwin has 897 yards and 51 catches so far in 2017, more than in his previous four seasons combined.
For other players, a team change is not always necessary — things can just take a while to click. Cincinnati Reds shortstop Zack Cozart never hit above .260 in his first five full seasons. But in 2017, he hit .297 and tallied a career high 24 home runs. That production earned him a three-year, $38 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels.
New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge was not exactly an unknown, but he was also far from the team’s most talked-about young player heading into the 2017 season. However, as a rookie, Judge set the major league record for most home runs by a rookie and is now a central part of the Yankees hopes for the future and one of the most recognizable names in baseball.
The 25 players on this list are athletes in one of the four most-watched leagues in the United States — the NHL, the NBA, the MLB, and the NFL. The players who made this list meaningfully outperformed their previous professional seasons, or, if they are rookies, meaningfully outperformed their draft positions.