Each year, the world’s top sports leagues are flooded with the next generation of talent. This process is more pronounced in places like North America thanks to the annual draft system. In the NBA and NFL, many top players are recruited from the NCAA collegiate system—which diehard fans also follow.
By the time American football and basketball players head into the NFL or NBA Draft, they’re already a known quantity. They’ve seen years of coverage from analysts—and it’s popular enough that sportsbooks even offer odds on the drafts. Fans can shop around for deals on sites like OddsChecker to find an offer they want to use to back their favorite amateurs at the draft. Unsurprisingly, top picks often go on to lead prolific careers.
But what about sports leagues that don’t include an annual draft system? When it comes to forecasting the most influential athletes in each league, major publications tend to focus on competitors who start off strong. And if you like to keep your finger on the pulse of the world’s top up-and-coming athletes, you’ve probably heard of the names listed below. Keep reading for the most promising competitors who have yet to celebrate their 15th birthday.
Coco Gauff Taking Tennis by Storm
WTA, 19 years old
Coco Gauff is taking professional tennis by storm. She comes from a background similar to Venus and Serena Williams, as Gauff’s father has played a highly influential role in her interest in the sport and her success. As she made her way through the WTA junior circuits, she racked up awards, including titles at the 2018 French Open and the 2018 US Open.
The very next year, she reached the third round of the US Open. Early in her career, Osaka had become one of the most dynamic and exciting singles players to watch. Though she’s yet to bring home a major singles win at an Open, she reached the finals at the 2022 French Open.
Lando Norris Takes the Wheel
Formula One, 23 years old
Lando Norris is one of the youngest drivers in Formula One—and he’s easily the strongest driver under 25. At the moment, he’s racing with McLaren where he leads his team alongside Oscar Piastri (also at the start of his career). Norris has incrementally grown as a driver since joining McLaren in 2018. He earned his first podium in 2020, then placed second at the 2021 Italian Grand Prix.
Man City’s Main Man: Erling Haaland
UK Premier League, 22 years old
Easily one of the hottest names in football today, Erling Haaland is Man City’s leading striker. For the last few years, he’s drifted through European association football, setting records, including becoming the Premier League’s first player to score two, three, and four hat-tricks, including three consecutive hat tricks at home games.
Outside of the box, Haaland is also a celebrated athlete. Back in 2020, before his name hit the headlines, Haaland was granted the Golden Boy Award for his positive outlook and approach to the game. At the moment, many fans and analysts are wondering if the Norwegian player will have what it takes to help push his national team toward World Cup qualification.
Ravi Bishnoi Up-and-Coming in IPL
IPL, 22 years old
Moving to the Indian Premier League, many people are excited about Ravi Bishnoi’s up-and-coming career. He first nabbed headlines while representing his country in the 2020 Cricket World Cup, where he finished as the highest wicket-taker with 17 dismissals. Most recently, he was drafted to join the IPL’s newest team, the Lucknow Super Giants. While he wasn’t selected to represent his country in the upcoming 2023 ICC Men’s World Cup, he’ll likely appear on the next roster.
Juan Soto: The Childish Bambino
MLB, 24 years old
Juan Soto is the Dominican Republic’s latest legendary baseball export. He earned his nickname of ‘Childish Bambino’ as a combination of rap artist Childish Gambino and a reference to Babe Ruth (aka The Great Bambino)—both of whom are beloved in their respective fields. Since joining the MLB in 2018, Soto has spent time sweeping up multiple awards on different teams—almost with a year-over-year precision.
During his first year in the big leagues in 2018, Soto finished second for Rookie of the Year (NL). In 2019, he played a critical role in bringing the Washington Nationals their very first World Series win. In 2020 and again in 2021, he brought home the Silver Slugger Award as the MLB’s best offensive player. In both 2021 and 2022, Soto was listed on the MLB’s All-Star team.
Cale Makar Goes Big in Colorado
NHL, 24 years old
Since he was drafted in 2017, Cale Makar has made his name with the Colorado Avalanche. Though he spent time on the rookie roster for two years, his 2019 debut was incredibly strong. His impact was palpable enough that he walked away with the Calder Memorial Trophy, awarded to the year’s top rookie. Like Soto, Makar has been racking up accolades on a yearly basis.
In 2020, Makar’s all-around play-making skills saw him nominated for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, which is awarded for defensive skills. In 2022, he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy thanks to his efforts in taking the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup Finals—and in bringing home the trophy.
Ja’Marr Chase Leads the Game
NFL, 23 years old
Above, we mentioned that the NFL and NBA both scout talent from the NCAA. In the case of Ja’Marr Chase, his notoriety started during his stint playing college football with Louisiana State University. Before joining the Cincinnati Bengals in 2021, Chase led LSU to a 2020 championship. For this, he received the Fred Biletnikoff Award for his performance as the NCAA’s top receiver. One year later, in 2021, Chase was a critical force in helping drive the Bengals to a Super Bowl. Though the Bengals lost the championship game, Chase set NFL rookie records for most single-year and single-game receiving yards that season. During the 2022-23 season, Chase struggled with a hip injury but is expected to start the 2023-24 season strong.