As we wrap up the 2012 calendar year, it’s only appropriate to look back on the year that was in sports. Plenty of new faces came into the sports world and took it by storm, ranging from college players turned professional, professional players who broke through, international icons coming to America, and even a college basketball player who grew over half a foot, transforming from a point guard to a power forward.
With all of this in mind, here are the top 10 new faces that bursted onto the scene during 2012.
10. Yu Darvish
There was plenty of hype surrounding Yu Darvish’s arrival to America and the MLB, and he did not disappoint.
The 6’5″ starting pitcher from Japan was one of the key factors to the success of the Texas Rangers, as he posted a 16-9 record with a 3.90 ERA and an impressive 221 strikeouts.
The Rangers will be looking to Darvish for pitching stability for years to come. Hopefully, for the Rangers and their fans, he won’t turn out to be the next version of Daisuke Matsuzaka. For now, it looks like they’ve got a pretty special player.
9. Bryce Harper
It seems like the Washington Nationals have finally turned their team around, as they finally made the playoffs this season. Their strength was in their pitching, including their stud Stephen Strasburg, but the arrival of youngster Bryce Harper was huge for the franchise.
There has been plenty of talk and hype surrounding Harper since he was made the number one overall pick in the MLB draft.
His rookie season was certainly a good one, as the 20 year-old posted a .270 batting average, 22 homers, 59 RBIs, .340 OBP, 18 steals, and a WAR of 5.0.
2012 was just a preview of what we could be seeing from the Nationals in the future, and it looks bright with Bryce Harper helping lead the way.
8. Alfred Morris
With RGIII on the team, many people don’t realize that there is another Redskins rookie that is having a spectacular year.
After being selected in the 6th round by Washington and eventually winning the starting running back job, Morris has done nothing but impress. He has over 1400 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns, and has been one of the biggest waiver-wire pickups in fantasy football leagues nationwide.
There are few running backs in the league today that handle the rushing attack almost single-handedly, and Morris is one of them. He seemingly came out of nowhere, and has been an absolute steal for Mike Shanahan. Redskins fans have a lot to look forward to with RGIII and Alfred Morris.
7. J.J. Watt
Many believed that the Texans would take a massive hit at the loss of Mario Williams to the Bills. J.J. Watt thought otherwise.
Watt has filled the void admirably, with a whopping 20.5 sacks through just 16 games. There is talk of him being a legitimate candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, which would certainly be well deserved.
Prior to 2012, who actually knew who J.J. Watt was? Now, it seems like every NFL fan knows Watt. And offensive coordinators hate playing against him.
6. Victor Cruz
An undrafted free agent out of the University of Massachusetts, Victor Cruz seemingly came out of nowhere. In no time, he was the number one receiver on the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
Cruz is already very popular amongst NFL fans, particularly for his salsa dance touchdown celebration. He cracked 1,500 receiving yards in his first season with the Giants, and has surpassed the 1,000 mark again this season.
The emergence of Cruz as a bona fide wide receiver allowed the Giants to lose Mario Manningham in free agency to the San Francisco 49ers. Any time you can go from undrafted free agent to Pro Bowler as quick as he has, you’re surprising a lot of people.
5. Johnny Manziel
If you’re a freshman quarterback and have already won the Heisman Trophy, you’re probably having a pretty good year.
Case in fact: Johnny Manziel. The freshman quarterback for Texas A&M posted great numbers in 2012, including 24 touchdowns, just 8 interceptions, over 3400 yards, and a completion percentage over 68%.
He’ll certainly have a lot to live up to for the rest of his college career, however long that might be, as he’s already won the top individual award before he can legally buy a beer. Safe to say this guy has a bright future.
4. Jeremy Lin
Linsanity was ridiculously crazy, and I really can’t remember anything like it happening during my time as a fan. Sure, some of it had to do with the hype machine that is the New York media, but it was still a lot of fun.
With Carmelo Anthony injured and severe point guard struggles, then coach Mike D’Antoni called Jeremy Lin’s number. At that point, Lin was a Harvard graduate, a D-League graduate, and basically a nobody at the NBA level. Lin flourished in D’Antoni’s point guard pick-and-roll system, and the Knicks showed some life for the first time all season. He was putting up unbelievable numbers for someone who nobody had ever heard of, and that actually includes turnovers, as well.
An injury ended Lin’s season and career as a Knick. Mike D’Antoni was replaced with Mike Woodson, and the Knicks were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by the eventual champion Miami Heat. Jeremy Lin left New York in free agency for the Houston Rockets, where he now shares the backcourt with fellow newcomer James Harden.
Crazy how things can change, huh?
3. Mike Trout
Any time you’re a rookie and in the conversation for MVP, you’re probably a pretty special player.
The MVP race between Trout and Cabrera was the perfect example of the division between sabermetric fans and the more traditional fans. The sabermetric crowd thought Trout should win MVP with no discussion, while the others believed that winning the triple crown is an automatic MVP bid.
Any way you slice it, Mike Trout is an absolute stud in every aspect of the game. The Angels certainly landed a huge player in their rookie. Imagine the trio that will be Trout, Pujols, and the newly signed Josh Hamilton? It’s a scary thought, and a thought that AL managers will be having nightmares over.
2. Anthony Davis
In 2012, Anthony Davis won the NCAA Championship with Kentucky, won a gold medal with the USA national team, and was selected number one overall in the NBA Draft. Does it get a whole lot better than that?
In high school, Davis stood a bit over 6 feet tall, and was looking for a scholarship as a guard. Thanks to a massive growth spurt, he now stands at 6’10″. During his only year at Kentucky, he took the college basketball world by storm, averaging a ridiculous 4.7 blocks per game, along with 14 points and 10 rebounds on over 62% shooting.
Although he didn’t play much on Team USA, he still won a gold medal. Add that to the national championship and being picked number one overall in the NBA Draft, and you can see that it was quite the year for Mr. Davis.
1. Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson
It really didn’t feel right not to group these guys together.
Individually, all three have been superb all season long. The notion that rookie quarterbacks can’t succeed has began to be disproved as of recent years, and this trio is playing a big part.
Luck has taken over for Peyton Manning and led the Colts to the playoffs. Russell Wilson, a third round pick, battled and won the starting quarterback job in training camp and has been sensational ever since. Robert Griffin III took over a miserable Redskins team only to be playing for the division in Week 17 against the Cowboys. Yes, all three of these rookie quarterbacks could be in the playoffs this year.
These three very well could be the face of the NFL sooner rather than later. And 2012 was just the beginning for them.
-Mark Evans, Assistant Manager/Editor of Content
Follow us on Twitter