The Next Icons (Complete Series)

December 21, 2022 The Next Icons (Complete Series)

By: Carlos Alvarez

When you take a look around the sports world, it\’s clear a change is happening. The faces that we have come to know and love over the last 10, 15 or even 20 years are slowly heading out the door. Thankfully, there is incredible talent on the rise to fill the void left by these superstars.  We\’re going to take a look at the new era of athletes ready to take the reins in their respective sports. Stars like Lebron James, Tom Brady, and Serena Williams have long dominated their craft, but a new era is emerging. It\’s time to acknowledge the old and embrace the new as the tides are clearly shifting.




The NFL Quarterback Shift is Here & Young Superstars Are On Top

Welcome to Part 1 of The Sportsletter’s holiday mini-series — The Next Icons. Throughout the next five Sundays, we’ll usher in a new era of athletes ready to take the reins in their respective sports. Stars like Lebron James, Tom Brady, and Serena Williams have long dominated their craft, but a new era is emerging. In today’s edition, we’ll focus on the next wave of NFL quarterbacks and how they’re changing the game.


The Old Generation: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers & Russell Wilson

Recently Removed: Drew Brees, Eli Manning & Ben Roethlisberger


The Next Generation: Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen

Honorable Mention: Jalen Hurts, Justin Herbert, Kyler Murray, Tua Tagovailoa, Trevor Lawrence


A trio of Super Bowl-winning icons has held NFL defenses hostage over the last decade-plus, with one of those — Tom Brady — head-and-shoulders above the rest. Brady (7), Aaron Rodgers (1), and Russell Wilson (1) have won nine combined Super Bowls in a total of 52 seasons. Brady (3) and Rodgers (4) have also earned seven combined MVP awards. But the tide is turning…


The next-gen gunslingers are making strides to top those numbers when it’s all said and done. Patrick Mahomes (2) and Lamar Jackson (1) already claimed three MVPs with one Super Bowl in the last four years. Josh Allen could be in line to grab another MVP this season.


Old Generation QBs (1st 3 Full Seasons)

T. Brady (NE/TB): 10,227 yards | 69 TDs | 38 INTs | 61.9% Comp.

A. Rodgers (GB): 12,394 yards | 86 TDs | 31 INTs | 64.6% Comp.

R. Wilson (SEA): 9,932 yards | 72 TDs | 26 INTs | 63.5% Comp.


Next Generation QBs (1st 3 Full Seasons)

P. Mahomes (KC): 13,868 yards | 114 TDs | 23 INTs | 66.1% Comp.

J. Allen (BUF): 12,040 yards | 93 TDs | 34 INTs | 64.0% Comp.

L. Jackson (BAL): 8,766 yards | 78 TDs | 28 INTs | 64.9% Comp.


When it comes to comparisons, all three next-gen quarterbacks stack up well against the legends. Mahomes, Allen, and Jackson recorded more yards, touchdowns, and better completion percentages early on. All three also possess one main characteristic that sets them apart, and it’s a major component in today’s generation — dual threat.


The Era of Dual-Threat

For decades, the quarterback position was all about arm strength, accuracy, and decision-making. And while those attributes are still the obvious barometers for measuring quarterbacks, there’s another must-have skill set — wheels.


Michael Vick and Cam Newton officially launched the era of the dual-threat QB, but almost every young gun in today\’s game at least has the capability of using their legs. The days of Tom Brady\’s statue pocket-passer style are evaporating fast. And while Vick (6,109 yards) and Newton (5,628 yards) own the most all-time rushing yards among NFL quarterbacks, they’ll quickly get caught by the next generation in the years ahead. Lamar Jackson already supplanted Vick’s record for most 100-yard rushing games by a QB.


Next-Gen Honorable Mention

The next set of icons isn’t limited to the three superstars listed above. There’s a wave of young signal-callers in Jalen Hurts (PHI), Tua Tagovailoa (MIA), Kyler Murray (ARI), and Justin Herbert (LAC) who are surefire MVP candidates in the years to come, if not this year. And don’t forget the hype around Trevor Lawrence (JAX), Trey Lance (SF), and Justin Fields (CHI).


Aside from Patriots QB Mac Jones, the younger generation of quarterbacks all have one thing in common — a rushing threat. And that’s no coincidence.


The Young Guns Are Already Winning, Too

Among the 32 quarterbacks who started the 2022 season as QB1, more than half (52%) are age 26 or younger. And those young stars aren’t waiting for their time to outshine the veterans. Among the eight oldest quarterbacks above the age of 30, only two are currently leading teams with winning records (as of Nov. 20) — Ryan Tannehill (TEN), and Kirk Cousins (MIN).


Brady, Rodgers, Wilson, Matthew Stafford, and Matt Ryan all have losing records. Meanwhile, our three highlighted stars — plus Hurts, Tagovailoa, Herbert, and Zach Wilson — are all above .500.


The RB Longevity Impact

One of the main causes or factors in the generational shift to running quarterbacks has been the wear and tear on full-time ball carriers. As players get bigger, faster, and stronger, the hits stack up. The shelf life of running backs and the emphasis on a spread-it-out offense have led teams to need — not want — a running QB. In essence, the run-pass option has opened up playbooks, and teams have shifted to a running back by committee style of roster management, with the quarterback acting as one of those options.


Big power backs like Derrick Henry (TEN), Jonathan Taylor (IND), and Nick Chubb (CLE) are the traditional-style runners who have the build to stand the test of time, but most teams have adapted receiving backs to spread the load while the QB provides additional run support.


QBs Recently Removed

The shift in era is even more evident when we look at the QBs who recently left the league. On top of the aging quarterbacks quickly drawing close to retirement, a number of legends already retired and signaled an age of renewal. Drew Brees, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger — with a combined five Super Bowl win — all left the NFL in the last three years. All three were traditional drop-back passers.


The Next Icons Have Arrived

For the majority of the 21st century, names like Brady, Manning, Brees, and Rodgers dominated NFL storylines. But 2022 has brought the official shift. It’s now time for a new crop of talented, young, and exciting QBs to take over. Much like the Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James debates that smother sports fans, here are the NFL QB debates we’ll be seeing in the years to come:


Could Mahomes challenge Brady for Super Bowl rings?


Is Josh Allen ready to make the Bills a dynasty?


Did Lamar Jackson supplant Michael Vick as the most electrifying rushing QB of all time?


How do the three Alabama products — Hurts, Tagovailoa, Jones — compare?


Is Trevor Lawrence going to live up to the hype?


The next-gen is here, and the time is now.


Additional Storylines

ESPN: Patrick Mahomes is Thinking About Playing Until 45 Like Tom Brady

NFL: Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts & Patrick Mahomes Lead 2022 MVP Race

SI: Wild Stat From 2021-22 NFL Playoffs Suggests New Era for NFL Quarterbacks

CBS Sports: Here’s Why the 2022 NFL Season is Proving Older QBs Have Officially Passed the Torch to Younger Generations




The World Cup Tilts Toward Youth & The Next Gen Futballers Are Taking Over

The Last Generation: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski

The Next Generation: Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland, Christian Pulisic


Editor’s Note: Our team included Pulisic for the sake of our United States audience. A long list of other international players could garner a spot in the next generation.


Out with the old and in with the new! For the better part of two decades, two superstars have held the world’s game by the horns. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have become soccer gods since coming on the scene in the early 2000s. They’ve reset the record books, and they’re not done yet.


Ronaldo (819) already ranks first in all-time goals across all competitions. Messi (787) ranks third and will likely catch Ronaldo before hanging it up. Robert Lewandowski (583) is also in the top 10 at No. 9 all-time. The trio of legends are all in their mid-30s, and they could run up the goals before it’s all said and done.


The Last Gen (Club Stats)

C. Ronaldo: 498 Goals | 138 Assists | Age: 37 (19 Seasons)

L. Messi: 487 Goals | 215 Assists | Age 35 (19 Seasons)

R. Lewandowski: 357 Goals | 67 Assists | Age: 34 (15 Seasons)


While our three legends from the previous generation aren’t done yet, they’re nearing stoppage time in their illustrious careers. Lewandowski recently made the move to Barcelona after 12 seasons with Bayern Munich. Messi transitioned to PSG after 17 seasons with Barca, but talks of his MLS adventure to close out his career are continuing to unfold. Then there’s Ronaldo, who just saw his return to Manchester United end in flames. Where he goes next is still a mystery.


What isn’t a mystery? The newcomers are taking over. A number of stars in their late 20s to early 30s still remain, including names like Neymar, Mo Salah, and Kevin De Bruyne. But there’s a lengthy list of stars under the age of 25 about to snatch the spotlight.


A pair of young stars are on pace to become legends by career’s end — Erlind Haaland and Kylian Mbappe. They’re both on pace for 500-plus goals and a place in the top 10 all-time when their careers wind down. We’ve added three more in the youth movement who may not fire off legendary numbers, but they’re worth the watch — Christian Pulisic, Vinicius Junior, and Phil Foden.


The Next Gen (Club Stats)

K. Mbappe: 147 Goals | 54 Assists | Age: 23 (8 Seasons)

E. Haaland: 111 Goals | 28 Assists | Age: 22 (5 Seasons)

C. Pulisic: 33 Goals | 25 Assists | Age: 24 (8 Seasons)

V. Junior: 38 Goals | 21 Assists | Age: 22 (6 Seasons)

P. Foden: 31 Goals | 17 Assists | Age: 22 (6 Seasons)


Haaland (Norway) is the only one of the group not active in this year’s World Cup, but the other four are front-and-center. Mbappe (France), Pulisic (USA), Junior (Brazil), and Foden (England) are all present.


Outside of our five featured icons, there are at least 10 more stars under the age of 21 who have shown flashes of becoming superstars. Time will tell.


Striker vs. Creator

While soccer legends come in many different shapes and sizes, the past generation was a mix of both traditional strikers and cheeky creators. Messi and Ronaldo have produced iconic careers with very different styles of play. And the new group is no different. Haaland’s 6-foot-4 frame and top-end speed represent the perfect striker with a boot gifted by the gods, while Mbappe’s speed on the wing has helped him make a living both scoring and assisting. Either way, both will likely follow in the footsteps of Messi and Ronaldo in terms of play style with Haaland mirroring Ronaldo’s body type and Mbappe matching Messi’s creativity and footwork.


The Women’s Shift is Underway, Too

The wave of new icons isn’t just a male soccer shift. It’s happening in the women’s game, too. The U.S. Women’s National Team is in the process of waving goodbye to a number of household names Carli Lloyd (40), Megan Rapinoe (37), and Alex Morgan (33). Lloyd retired this fall. Rapinoe has reportedly been considering it. Morgan isn’t stopping just yet, but her career is on the back end. And those departures pave the way for a group of young American stars like Trinity Rodman, Sophia Smith, and Catarina Macario.


The world’s game is taking center stage for the next few weeks, and the next icons are on display. Stay tuned for Part 3 next Sunday — NBA.


Additional Storylines Behind Erling Haaland’s Unstoppable Rise

SI: The Top 22 Players Under 22 at the 2022 World Cup

WSJ: Kylian Mbappe—23-Year-Old PSG Star—Is the Future of Soccer




The NBA’s Next Youth Movement is Ready to Take the Throne

The Last Gen: LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant & James Harden

The Next Gen: Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum, Trae Young, Ja Morant & Zion Williamson


For the last decade or so, Steph Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James have all taken their turns dominating the NBA in their own unique ways. Harden’s 36.1 PPG in 2019 is the second most ever in a single season by a guard, as his combination of step-back threes, craftiness around the rim, and elite playmaking made him literally unstoppable. Kevin Durant’s 2017 Finals performance showed us what a perfect offensive series looked like as he averaged 35.2 PPG on absurd shooting splits of 55.2 FG%, 47.4 3P%, and 92.7 FT%. And then in 2016, LeBron led the Finals in quite literally every single stat over the course of a seven-game series to upset the 73-9 Golden State Warriors with a 3-1 comeback. The Warriors may have dropped that title, but Steph Curry’s record-breaking 3-point stats and four championships still garner the title of greatness. All three of these feats mark some of the highest levels of basketball that we have ever seen, and these legends are bound for the Hall of Fame. They’re not done yet, but it’s almost time.


While these are undoubtedly some of the greatest players we have ever seen, it’s clear that their time on the mountaintop is coming to an end. With a laundry list of injuries, playoff failures, or failing to make the playoffs altogether, the throne seems to be up for the taking. Three players, in particular, have stepped up to become the new faces of the league. Those three players are Ja Morant, Luka Doncic, and Jayson Tatum, who are all making their own mark on the league in their own ways. We’ve also got two honorable mentions in Trae Young and Zion Williamson, but plenty of other young(er) stars like Devin Booker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Donovan Mitchell are in their prime. Let’s focus on the main three under the age of 25.


Ja’s Incredible Ability to Score in the Paint

Similar to Harden’s otherworldly ability to cook defenders on the perimeter, we haven’t quite ever seen anything like Ja Morant’s ability to dominate in the paint. Last season, he lead all players in points scored in the paint, scoring 16 of his 27 points per game from the area. That means he outscored guys like LeBron, Embiid, and Jokic, who are known to make a living down there. We’ve seen guards put up big scoring numbers, but we’ve never seen anyone with the ability to get into the lane quite like Ja Morant. Like Harden’s iconic stepback three, there doesn’t seem to be a straight answer on how to stop Morant from getting downhill. You’re just going to have to pray he misses.


Luka’s Otherwordly Individual Numbers

As of right now, nobody in NBA history has better offensive playoff numbers than Luka Doncic. For his career, he is averaging 32.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 7.9 assists in 28 games during the postseason. He’s gone up against elite defenders like Kawhi Leonard, Mikal Bridges, and Andrew Wiggins, but it doesn’t matter. No matter who you throw his way, Luka is going to get his numbers. When the lights shine brightest, you know he is going to show out.


Tatum’s Unprecedented Playoff Success 

Jayson Tatum’s playoff resume is more impressive than a good chunk of NBA legends, and he hasn’t even reached his prime. During his five-year career, he has been to the Conference Finals three times, the NBA Finals last year, and he\’s an incredible 4-1 in five career game 7s. For reference, Stephen Curry didn’t even make the playoffs until he was 24, Chris Paul didn’t reach the Conference Finals until he was 32, and Michael Jordan didn’t get to the Finals until he was 27. Yet, all of Tatum’s accomplishments, despite being shy of 25, show his incredible leadership on both sides of the ball.


The Transition Happening Before Our Eyes 

In just the last year alone, these three young stars have gone toe-to-toe with the game’s greats to show that they are ready to carry the torch.


Ja Morant’s battle with Steph Curry

Even though the Warriors put out Morant’s Grizzlies in six games, the series looked like it was going to go the distance before Ja got injured. In Game 2 of that series, he put up 47 points, hitting every big shot down the stretch to secure the victory.


Luka Hunting LeBron

There was a time when LeBron was one of the toughest defensive matchups in the NBA, but not anymore. During one of their recent matchups, Luka continually forced LeBron to switch onto him during crunch time, scoring bucket after bucket to show that the King can no longer keep up.


Tatum Locks Down KD

The Celtics-Nets first-round matchup in the 2022 playoffs was widely expected to be a classic, but it was anything but. Boston ended up sweeping Brooklyn largely due to Jayson Tatum playing incredible 1-on-1 defense on Kevin Durant, holding him to just 38% from the field for the whole series.


Our three players in the spotlight are between the ages of 23-24, which means they’re looking at 10-15 years of domination. Morant is must-see TV. Tatum has the tools to win multiple rings. And Doncic is on pace to shatter the record books. Let’s watch and enjoy…


Additional Storylines

Complex: Is the NBA’s Next Generation of Stars Taking Over?

The Ringer: Ja Morant Believes He Can Do Anything—And He Can

ESPN: Luka Doncic Becomes 2nd-Fastest Player to 50 Triple Doubles




The MLB\’s Young Bats Are Swinging for Legend Status

The Last Generation: Albert Pujols, Nelson Cruz, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander

The Next Generation: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., Yordan Alvarez, Juan Soto, Julio Rodriguez, Ronald Acuna Jr., Bo Bichette, Austin Riley, Wander Franco


In a year that saw Albert Pujols and Aaron Judge shatter home run records for the Cardinals and Yankees, it was young stars in Houston, Seattle, and Atlanta that made huge strides for their teams. The Blue Jays are still building a powerhouse, and the Padres swung the deal of the year in acquiring Juan Soto before losing Fernando Tatis Jr. to a suspension. But the stars are aligning for the teams holding the cards to the future, and those cards are the next faces of Major League Baseball.


Next Gen Early Career Stats

Vlad Guerrero Jr.: .284 Batting Avg | 104 HRs | 310 RBIs

Fernando Tatis Jr.: .292 Batting Avg | 81 HRs | 195 RBIs

Yordan Alvarez: .296 Batting Avg | 98 HRs | 283 RBIs

Juan Soto: .287 Batting Avg | 125 HRs | 374 RBIs

Julio Rodriguez: .284 Batting Avg | 28 HRs | 75 RBIs

Ronald Acuna Jr.: .277 Batting Avg | 120 HRs | 296 RBIs

Bo Bichette: .297 Batting Avg | 69 HRs | 239 RBIs

Austin Riley: .273 Batting Avg | 97 HRs | 276 RBIs

Wander Franco: .282 Batting Avg | 13 HRs | 72 RBIs


The players on our radar are all batters (no pitchers) who appear to hold the keys to their respective franchise’s futures. They’re all high-profile top picks who came in with a bang right out of the gate. And there are two pairs of teammates who made our list with Bichette and Guerrero Jr. (Blue Jays) and Tatis Jr. and Soto (Padres) holding the torch for both clubs. The futures are blindingly bright in San Diego and Toronto.


Youth Movement Already Paying Dividends

The nine players on our list (above) reside on seven different teams, and six of those teams finished top two in their divisions in 2022 — Braves, Blue Jays, Astros, Mariners, Braves, and Padres.


The next generation of baseball stars is emerging before our eyes, and they’re here to stay. While names like Shohei Ohtani, Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, and Mike Trout are peaking in their prime, expect the guys on our list to be staples in the big leagues for the next two decades.


Additional Storylines

Yardbarker: The 25 Best MLB Players Under 25

CBS Sports: Ranking MLB’s Top 50 Prospects

Top Row Sports: MLB’s 25 Best Players Under 25 to Build Around




As Tennis Starts to Watch the Legends Go, A New List of Youngsters Are Filling Their Shoes

The Last Generation: Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal & Novak Djokovic

The Next Generation: Carlos Alcaraz, Iga Swiatek, Coco Gauff, Casper Ruud, Janik Sinner, Bianca Andreescu, Amanda Anisimova & Leylah Fernandez


As tennis takes the spotlight in today’s Next Icons feature, a wave of generational heroes is on the way out. While Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are still swinging racquets en route to total career domination, Roger Federer and Serena Williams both stepped into retirement in 2022. The two biggest names in tennis during the 21st century, both Williams and Federer finished in the upper echelon of tennis royalty. And as they step aside, the newcomers have big shoes to fill.


Major Wins (All-Time)

Serena Williams (23)

Rafael Nadal (22)

Novak Djokovic (21)

Roger Federer (20)


While it’s unlikely to expect any of the young stars in the men’s game will approach the record books rewritten by the big three, the upside for players like Carlos Alcaraz, Casper Ruud, and Francis Tiafoe are sky high. Alcaraz already has his first major before the age of 20, and he’ll undoubtedly win more in the years ahead. Ruud hasn’t captured a slam yet, but he was the runner-up twice in 2022 (French Open and U.S. Open). On the women’s courts, Iga Swiatek is taking the tennis world by storm. Coco Gauff still hasn’t claimed a crown, but she just turned 18 and has her eyes set on becoming the next Serena Williams.


A wave of younger players like Bianca Andreescu and Ashleigh Barty was poised to become the next big thing, but Barty abruptly retired and Andreescu has seen a dip.


In 2022, it was Alcaraz and Swiatek who stole the show with their performances on the biggest stages. And with Gauff acting as the American favorite for the foreseeable future, our three feature stars are only just beginning. Swiatek climbed all the way to the World No. 1 ranking while Gauff vaulted into the top 10 (No. 7). They’re the only two players 21-and-under currently in the women’s top 10, but five others in their early 20s are ranked in the top 50.


Meanwhile, Alcaraz overtook Nadal for the No. 1 spot in men’s tennis this year, and a host of young stars are laced across the men’s rankings. Five of the top 15 (1/3) in men’s tennis are 23 or younger.


Top-Ranked Men’s Tennis Stars (23-And-Under)

1. Carlos Alcaraz (19)

3. Casper Ruud (23)

6. Felix Auger-Aliassime (22)

11. Holger Rune (19)

15. Janik Sinner (21)


Top-Ranked Women’s Tennis Stars (23-And-Under)

1. Iga Swiatek (21)

7. Coco Gauff (18)

21. Elena Rybakina (23)

23. Amanda Anisimova (21)

39. Leylah Fernandez (20)

42. Anastasia Potapova (21)

45. Bianca Andreescu (22)


It’s safe to say the future of tennis is riddled with potential next-gen icons. If Alcaraz and Swiatek are as good as advertised in 2022, it’s a pair of long and record-setting careers ahead.


Additional Storylines

TennisHead: The Five Best Young Male Tennis Players of 2022

CBS Sports: World No. 1 Iga Swiatek Named WTA Player of the Year

ESPN: Carlos Alcaraz Becomes Youngest Year-End No. 1 in ATP Rankings