Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook insists he was never going to miss out on the chance of featuring in the playoffs despite his recent injury struggles.

Cook missed the final two games of the regular season with a shoulder injury but is in line to return against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

The Vikings star, who produced 1,654 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns before his injury, says he has no concerns over his readiness to come back into the fold.

"I definitely feel refreshed. I don't want to put a percentage on it, but whatever per cent I was, I'd be out there on Sunday," Cook told a news conference on Wednesday.

"I'm going to be ready to go, be at full strength and looking forward to a good football game.

"I'm going to be me. I'll work hard in practice each and every day, put myself in game scenarios each and every day and push myself as far as I can conditioning wise.

"Put myself in a state of mind for the game – a loud environment, a hostile environment. That's how I'm going to approach practice every day.

"I knew what my goal was – to be ready for the playoffs. I've been there before, I know. There was nothing that was going to hold me out from the playoffs. Just be strong, be healthy and get back on the field."

The Vikings took a wildcard place in the playoffs, finishing second in the NFC North, with the Saints coming top of the NFC South.

Tuesday marked the end of an incredible decade for the NFL, which will crown the champion of its 100th season in February at the end of a campaign that has seen the man who dominated the past 10 years show signs of fallibility.

The 2010s largely belonged to a sixth-round pick from the University of Michigan who turned the New England Patriots into the greatest NFL dynasty.

However, there were plenty of others who helped define a fascinating period and a plethora of exciting talents queueing up to try to ensure it is they who stand out when the world looks back on the 2020s.

Here we reflect on 10 players who made the most lasting impact on the 2010s, and assess the players most likely to have the same influence on the 2020s.


2010s

Tom Brady

Five seasons into his NFL career, Brady had already secured a remarkable legacy, as a sixth-rounder who rose from Drew Bledsoe's injury replacement to a quarterback who guided the Patriots to their first three Super Bowl titles.

He led what many consider to be best offense ever in 2007 when the Patriots went 16-0, however, when the story of the greatest quarterback in NFL history is told, his and New England's second act will be the most compelling chapter.

The 2010s proved a decade in which Brady consistently and spectacularly defied Father Time. After a heart-breaking Super Bowl XLVI defeat to the New York Giants at the end of the 2011 season, a 37-year-old Brady authored a Super Bowl MVP performance three seasons later as the Patriots won their fourth title by defeating the Seattle Seahawks. 

His stunning response to a four-game 2016 suspension for his role in the Deflategate saga was a dominant 15-game stretch in which the Patriots lost only once and completed the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history in a 34-28 defeat of the Atlanta Falcons.

Brady followed that with an MVP campaign in 2017 that may unfairly be forgotten by many due to New England's 41-33 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles in which he threw for 505 passing yards, breaking his record from the previous year.

Super Bowl LIII was won largely on the back of the Patriots defense and the 2019 season has provided further evidence the 42-year-old is finally declining. No player can outrun Father Time, but Brady has redefined what is possible for ageing quarterbacks.
 

Peyton Manning

Manning's career appeared to be nearing its end at the start of the decade. A playoff defeat to the New York Jets marked his final appearance for the Indianapolis Colts as neck surgery ruled him out of the 2011 season and he was released in March 2012.

However, Manning landed in the perfect environment to prove he was still among the elite. His Denver Broncos spell was historic as he helmed an explosive offense that reached its apex in 2013, Manning delivering arguably the greatest season ever for a quarterback.

He set single-season records for passing yardage (5,477) and touchdowns (55) that have yet to be broken. However, after a 43-8 Super Bowl thrashing at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, Manning would have to wait until the 2015 campaign – during which he suffered the ignominy of being benched for Brock Osweiler – to win his second ring.

Manning regained the starting job and, despite his clearly declining abilities, won Super Bowl 50 with significant help from the Denver defense. It may not have been in the fashion many expected but, four years after his career was threatened by injury, Manning was able to go out on his own terms.

Rob Gronkowski

The Patriots' second spell of superiority owed much to their decision to draft a tight end out of Arizona with durability concerns in the second round of the 2010 draft.

New England's addition of Gronkowski paid instant dividends. He caught 10 touchdowns in his rookie season and developed into the league's ultimate red-zone weapon.

With four 1,000-yard seasons and five years with double-digit touchdowns – including a 17-score campaign in 2011 – Gronk's blend of athleticism, brute force and blocking ability saw him become the best tight end of his generation and the focal point of the New England offense.

Colin Kaepernick

Even with the dominance enjoyed by the likes of Brady, Manning and Gronkowski, no player from the past decade has transcended the sport more than Kaepernick.

A supremely athletic, gangly, long-striding dual-threat dynamo, Kaepernick exploded onto the scene in 2012, setting the record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a playoff game with 181 against the Green Bay Packers as he led the San Francisco 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII, coming within a few yards of victory in an agonising 34-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

But, for all he did on the big stage, it was his actions during a preseason game that had the greatest impact on the sport, Kaepernick's life, and wider society.

His decision first to sit and then to kneel during the national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality and racial injustice sparked both admiration and condemnation and led to a plethora of players replicating him. Though he gained plenty of supporters and attention for his cause, the movement he started cost Kaepernick his NFL career.

He has not been signed since parting with the Niners in 2017 and filed a since-settled grievance against the league, accusing the 32 franchises of colluding to keep him out of a job.

An NFL-organised workout last month fell apart at the last minute but the large crowd that attended a hastily arranged session on a high-school field the same day was indicative of his massive societal influence. That he is still unemployed remains the greatest stain on the reputation of a league obsessed with image.

Aaron Donald

In years gone by, a dominant edge rusher was often seen as the final piece of the puzzle. Now, teams are just as committed to unearthing the next Donald as they are to finding difference-making outside pass rushers.

Donald has transformed the value of interior defensive lineman by rapidly blossoming into arguably the NFL's best player. His quickness, power, intelligent hand usage and versatility have made him near-impossible to block. He can play every position on the defensive line and is devastatingly effective from each spot.

A two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Donald had 20.5 sacks in 2018 and still managed 12.5 sacks in 2019, a season viewed as a disappointment. Donald is already close to a certainty for the Hall of Fame and may well go down as the finest defensive player of his generation.

J.J. Watt

Five first-team All-Pro selections, five double-digit sack seasons and three Defensive Player of the Year awards, the most incredible aspect of Watt's career is that injuries may have prevented the NFL from witnessing his true ceiling.

Watt has been robbed of much of his prime years, only completing a full regular season once since 2015, yet his CV, which includes two 20.5-sack campaigns, is likely already good enough for the Hall of Fame. 

Firmly in the MVP discussion in 2014, Watt was the face of defensive football for much of the decade but, as the 2010s end, there is danger he will come to be partly defined by an inability to stay on the field at a time when the Texans have been most competitive. Thankfully, at 30, he still has the time and the talent to make sure that is not the case.

Adrian Peterson

Only one non-quarterback won the MVP award in the decade, and that came in 2012 when Peterson produced one of the best running back seasons in history.

Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging an astonishing 131.1 yards per game on the ground. Off-field controversy interrupted his career and, though he enjoyed a renaissance in 2015 with a 1,485-yard campaign, he has never recaptured his unbelievable best. 

He has, however, succeeded in remaining effective enough to stretch his career well into this thirties and achieved his long-held ambition of passing Walter Payton on the all-time touchdowns list with his 111th score.

Drew Brees

While Manning and Brady took the majority of the acclaim and, in the latter's case, the titles in the 2010s, Brees has enjoyed consistency unmatched by most quarterbacks and racked up a plethora of records.

Brees led the league in passing yards five times in the decade and broke Brett Favre's all-time pass completions and passing yardage records in a 2018 season where his New Orleans Saints were a controversial non-called pass interference penalty away from the Super Bowl.

Week 15 of the 2019 season saw him break Manning's record for career passing touchdowns with his 540th. His arm strength may have declined but, Brees is still poised to enter his third decade in the league upholding the remarkable standard he has met since arriving in New Orleans.

Odell Beckham Jr.

The man who produced perhaps the defining play of the decade, Beckham has not quite hit the heights he once promised.

However, his scarcely believable one-handed catch against the Dallas Cowboys on November 23, 2014, is one of the NFL's indelible images. Falling backwards as Brandon Carr attempted to drag him down, Beckham arched his back and plucked the ball out of the air with his fingertips before tumbling into the endzone.

Whether through remarkable catches, arguments with coaches or an on-off relationship with a kicking net, Beckham has made the headlines throughout the decade and will surely continue to do so in the 2020s.

Antonio Brown

Brown's status as one of the players of the decade was already secured prior to his tumultuous 2019.

He made the unlikely journey from Pittsburgh Steelers sixth-round pick to a premier NFL receiver. Boasting incredible speed, agility and ability to make spectacular contested catches in spite of his smaller stature, Brown racked up four seasons of at least 1,400 receiving yards, including a 1,698-yard year in 2014. 

Yet for all his on-field exploits, Brown may well end up being most remembered for a 2019 offseason in which he forced an exit from the Steelers, left the Oakland Raiders without playing a snap after a series of controversies and was then cut by the New England Patriots after allegations of sexual assault. Despite an outstanding on-field career, Brown ends the 2010s with an asterisk against his name. 

2020s

Patrick Mahomes

No quarterback has taken the league by storm in their first season as a starter in the manner that Mahomes did in 2018.

Mahomes threw for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns as the Kansas City Chiefs just missed out on the Super Bowl, defying belief with his ability to make plays on the move from a variety of arm angles.

After returning from a knee injury, Mahomes looks back to his best in 2019 and, with one of the best offensive minds in the league as his head coach in Andy Reid, he is primed to secure his place as the NFL's pre-eminent gunslinger in the 2020s.

Lamar Jackson

While Mahomes may be the most spectacular thrower to grace the NFL, Jackson is well on his way to cementing a reputation as the best running quarterback of all time.

Jackson and the Ravens have dominated the NFL in 2019 with a near-unstoppable offense. Defenses have found it almost impossible to decipher whether he is going to throw or run, with defenders frequently embarrassed by his elusiveness when he does the latter.

The only quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in a season, Jackson has already surpassed the achievements of Atlanta Falcons legend Michael Vick. He broke Vick's single-season quarterback rushing record by racking up 1,206 yards in 2019.

The final campaign of the 2010s could end with Jackson lifting the Lombardi Trophy. If he continues on this trajectory, the 2020s will see him become the greatest dual-threat quarterback of all time.

Trevor Lawrence

A pre-ordained NFL superstar since his high school days, the Clemson phenom has lived up to the massive hype in college and is effectively a lock to be the first overall pick in the 2021 draft.

Composed, mobile and possessing a cannon for an arm, several NFL teams in need of a quarterback will likely already be considering tanking 2020 to have a shot at landing Lawrence.

Regardless of whether he joins the league's elite or spectacularly fails, how Lawrence performs at the highest level is certain to be one of the most compelling storylines of the 2020s.

Kyler Murray 

The Arizona Cardinals took a significant risk in giving up on Josh Rosen to select a quarterback for the second successive year and pick Murray first overall.

Despite another losing season for Arizona in 2019, Murray's development as a rookie should provide great encouragement for the Cardinals, whose fans were treated to a series of dazzling displays from the former two-sport star, who was drafted ninth overall by MLB's Oakland Athletics in 2018.

Murray's decision to eschew baseball for the NFL was the most intensely debated issue of last year's draft. However, a year into his career, the dual-threat star has gone a long way to silencing the doubters and more two-sport athletes will follow his lead if he continues to excel.

Saquon Barkley

The second overall pick of the New York Giants in the 2018 draft, Barkley's career will, for many, settle the argument over the value of selecting a running back that high.

With a remarkable 2018 followed by an injury-affected 2019, it is the 2020s that will see Barkley provide the answer to whether it is worth using premier draft capital on a tailback in a league dominated by the passing game.

Those with a passion for analytics have largely already decided it is not. However, Barkley – regarded as the best running back prospect since Barry Sanders – has the talent to make a spectacular impact on the ground and in the passing game and prove them wrong.

George Kittle

Already cemented as the successor to Gronkowski as the NFL's premier tight end, Kittle is a bona-fide superstar with everything in his armoury to compile a Hall of Fame CV in the 2020s.

Kittle broke the record for single-season receiving yardage by a tight end in 2018 and in 2019 has proven himself the most valuable player for a San Francisco 49ers team two wins from Super Bowl LIV.

A freakish athlete and monstrous blocker whose sheer refusal to be tackled has seen him become the top yards-after-catch threat, Kittle produced one of the defining NFL images of the 2019 season as he carried three New Orleans Saints defenders with him on the game-clinching play of a Superdome shootout. Defenders across the league can expect to regularly receive the same treatment in the new decade.

Michael Thomas

The most astonishing aspect of Thomas breaking Marvin Harrison's record for receptions in a single-season is that the Saints star did so while still only 26.

As the focal point of arguably the NFL's most consistently potent offense, the sky is truly the limit for Thomas, who finished his record-breaking 2019 with 149 catches for 1,725 yards. 

He did so despite being subject to extremely tight coverage on seemingly every snap. Thomas rarely has the benefit of separation, but the 2020s could be the decade in which he separates himself from his contemporaries and becomes an all-time great receiver.

The Bosa brothers

There is a history of success between siblings in the NFL, and Joey and Nick Bosa are well on their way in joining Peyton and Eli Manning and J.J. Watt and T.J. Watt as two of the best brothers to play in the league.

Joey, selected third overall in 2016, has 40 sacks through four seasons for the Los Angeles Chargers, establishing himself as a dominant pass rusher, and Nick needed only one year to join him.

In his maiden season with the 49ers after being picked second overall, the younger Bosa racked up 80 quarterback pressures, the most ever by a rookie, according to analytics website Pro Football Focus.

He is among the favourites to win Defensive Player of the Year and, providing they avoid injury, the two best edge rushers in the 2020s may well be from the same family.

Jamal Adams

Though much of the focus for those of a Jets persuasion is on the growth of Sam Darnold, Adams is just as crucial to their hopes of crawling out of the doldrums.

The heart and soul of New York's defense, Adams is a ferocious, hard-hitting safety who could quickly vault to superstar status should the Jets become one of the AFC's best.

Reportedly close to being traded to the Dallas Cowboys during the 2019 season, Adams is in the perfect market to become one of the faces of the league if Gang Green can wrest AFC East superiority from Brady's Patriots.

The Jets are a franchise starved of success since the days of 'Broadway Joe' Namath. 'Broadway Jamal' may not have the same ring, but he can expect similar levels of hero-worship if the Jets return to postseason relevance.

Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson is hoping Lane Johnson will be back to relieve a mounting injury crisis ahead of Sunday's playoff encounter with the Seattle Seahawks.

Johnson suffered an ankle injury on December 9, though Pederson revealed on Monday the 29-year-old would be in contention to practice this week.

On Wednesday, Pederson confirmed Johnson was set to take part in a walkthrough, tbut would not yet be ready for a full-contact session.

However, the coach – who has had to place guard Brandon Brooks on the injured reserve list – hopes Johnson will be available for selection against the Seahawks.

"We're getting close on a couple of guys," Pederson told a news conference. 

"I do expect Lane to be able to go through and take a few plays. I think [tight end] Zach [Ertz] may be able to give us a little something.

"The rest of the guys, we’ve got to see. We’re a little more day to day with them and we've got to make sure they're closer to 100 per cent before we stick them out there."

Pederson also added his plans for the right guard position for Sunday's game will depend on Johnson's fitness.

"Not to divulge our gameplan, but we've got a couple of things going on there," he said.

"If Lane can play then we can work Big V [Halapoulivaati Vaitai] in there [at right guard]. If Lane can't, then we can put Matt Pryor [at right guard] and put Big V at tackle.

"We've got some scenarios that we've got to look at, starting in practice [on Wednesday]."

Pederson had already ruled Brooks – who dislocated his shoulder against the New York Giants on Sunday – out for the postseason, with the Eagles signing wide receiver Shelton Gibson to fill his roster spot.

"We know Shelton, definitely gives us depth. He's a core [special] teams player for us as well," Pederson said.

"It's unfortunate with the roster moves that we had to make, putting Brandon down and all that, but we can add these guys to the roster and give us depth."

Jay Gruden is hoping for a swift return to a coaching role, and would be open to joining his brother Jon at the Oakland Raiders.

Gruden was fired by the Washington Redskins – who on Wednesday appointed former Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera – early in the season following five straight defeats.

He has been out of work since then, though with several head coaches either already fired or set to be relieved of their duties following the end of the regular season, Gruden is eager to return.

However, Gruden will only consider a job which he feels is the right fit for him culturally, whether that is as a head coach or as an offensive coordinator.

"It's a pretty unique feeling [when you are fired]," Gruden told the Rap Sheet podcast. "You wake up at the same time in the morning ready to go to work but you don't have work to go to.

"I'm itching to do something. You definitely miss the camaraderie of the players, the coaches. You've just got to get used to it and wait for your next opportunity.

"We'll see what happens. There's going to be some changes made. Hopefully I'll be in a position to talk to some owners and get another opportunity as head coach.

"I could take a year off if I don't get that opportunity I'm looking for, we'll have to see what's available. Some of these jobs aren't easy.

"You have to make sure you look at the right player. Whether it's coordinator or head coach you've got to make sure you mesh with the people that you're working with."

The possibility of Gruden linking up with his brother Jon – who is head coach of the Raiders – has been touted, though he does not think a move is likely while his sibling has a full complement of staff.

"He's not got any job openings right now. If anything comes at a later time then I'd have to look at it," Gruden said.

"You want to make sure you work with people you know have the same core values that you have, work hard and are loyal. I know Jon fits all of that criteria, so he'd be a great guy to work for."

While Gruden is frustrated with how things ended with the Redskins, he acknowledged he expected to be fired.

"I was kind of ready for it. I knew it was going to happen," he added. "We didn't have any success, we were 0-5 at the time and there was frustration on both sides.

"Some changes had to be made and they made them. I was frustrated with the injuries and our best players never playing. We parted ways, all in good spirits and I'm ready to move on."

Ron Rivera has been hired as the new head coach of the Washington Redskins, the team has confirmed.

Rivera was fired by the Carolina Panthers in December following eight seasons at the helm, having guided the team to three successive divisional titles and an appearance in Super Bowl 50 in the 2015 campaign, with his last game in charge a defeat to Washington.

The Redskins finished the 2019 season bottom of the NFC East after losing 47-16 to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday to close out a 3-13 year.

On Monday, amid links to Rivera, the Redskins – who fired previous coach Jay Gruden in Week 5 of the 2019 season – parted ways with long-time president Bruce Allen, who had overseen a 62-97-1 record during his nine years in charge.

"After several meetings with coach Rivera, it was clear he is the right person to bring winning football back to Washington D.C.," said Redskins owner Dan Snyder in a statement announcing Rivera's arrival.

"He is widely respected around the league as a man of great integrity and has proven to be one of the finest coaches in the country."

Rivera, meanwhile, is hoping to restore Washington as one of NFL's powerhouses after years of underachievement. 

"While I love the storied history of the franchise, I am focused on the future and excited for the opportunity to win football games with this talented young team," Rivera said.

"After meeting Dan Snyder, it was clear we are aligned in our passion for the game and he supports my vision to turn the team around. I look forward to surrounding myself with great people and getting to work."

Rivera has reportedly signed a five-year deal with the Redskins, who had placed Bill Callahan in interim charge after Gruden was relieved of his duties.

The evolving world of sport means a new decade is likely to see widespread change.

With superstars like Lionel Messi, LeBron James, Roger Federer and Lewis Hamilton unlikely to be plying their trades in 2030, the stage is set for new names to come to the fore.

Omnisport's team of writers have tipped 20 20-year-olds to do just that over the next 10 years.

 

Men's football: Joao Felix

A €126m move from Benfica to Atletico Madrid made Joao Felix the second most expensive teenager in football history. His career in LaLiga is yet to truly ignite but the forward's lavish gifts are beyond doubt as he faces up to the decade when Cristiano Ronaldo will leave the stage for their native Portugal. Joao Felix is the anointed heir.

Basketball: Luka Doncic

The 2018 EuroLeague MVP and 2019 NBA Rookie of the Year, Doncic's incredible rise has continued unchecked this season – he is averaging 28.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 9.0 assists for the Dallas Mavericks. He should earn a first All-Star appearance this season and make his bow in the playoffs, where you would expect to see him featuring regularly in the coming years.

Cricket: Prithvi Shaw

Opening batsman Shaw became the youngest Indian to score a Test hundred on debut in 2018 and followed that up with a half-century in his second appearance. However, last year was one to forget for Shaw, who had injury problems before serving a six-month doping ban having taken a substance typically found in cough syrups. A first-class double hundred last month suggests he is ready to make up for lost time.

Tennis: Marketa Vondrousova

Although she was unable to win a title on the WTA Tour in 2019, Vondrousova was the runner-up at the French Open – one of three final appearances last year – and having risen to 16th in the world rankings she looks set to break the top 10 soon. The Czech's unorthodox playing style and penchant for drop shots makes her a particularly entertaining watch.

Formula One: Lando Norris

Norris enjoyed an excellent debut season in Formula One, helping McLaren to an impressive fourth place in the constructors' championship. After landing three straight points finishes to end the year, he carries momentum into 2020 and looks capable of challenging Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen over the next 10 years.

UFC: Chase Hooper

Featherweight Hooper was awarded a development deal after winning the second season of Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series in 2018 and is the youngest fighter on the UFC roster. He improved his unbeaten mixed martial arts record to 8-0-1 by stopping David Teymur in the first round of a thoroughly impressive UFC debut in December.

American football: Trevor Lawrence

The NFL is blessed with talented young quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson, but the potential star of the 2020s will not enter the league until 2021 at the earliest. Clemson's Lawrence possess the size, skill and nerve to succeed at the next level. He is still yet to lose a game in college and is one win away from back-to-back National Championships.

Sport climbing: Janja Garnbret

Sport climbing will make its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 and Garnbret is a favourite for success. She successfully defended her bouldering and combined titles at last year's world championships and added gold in the lead discipline. The Slovenian's tally of 14 International Federation of Sport Climbing titles is unprecedented.

Rugby league: Tom Flegler

Front-rower Flegler enjoyed a hugely promising breakthrough year with Brisbane Broncos in 2019, featuring 23 times in his maiden campaign. He has reportedly knocked back a host of lucrative offers to remain with Brisbane in 2020 and will now aim to make an even bigger impact.

Women's football: Georgia Stanway

Vastly experienced for her age, Stanway joined Manchester City from Blackburn Rovers and made her Women's Super League debut at 16 in 2015. She won her second FA Cup with a goalscoring player-of-the-match display as City beat West Ham 3-0 in 2019's Wembley final and was the youngest member of an England squad Phil Neville led to the World Cup semi-finals. If the Lionesses are to take the next step over the coming decade, expect Stanway to play a vital role.

Rugby union: Marcus Smith

Harlequins fly-half Smith is knocking on the door for full England selection after an impressive first two years of his club career. He was man of the match in last July's win over Barbarians, which fans of Eddie Jones' side will hope is a sign of things to come over the next decade.

Golf: Matthew Wolff

The PGA Tour welcomed a host of talented rookies in 2019, but Wolff may just be the best of the bunch. A standout college player with an unorthodox swing that generates enormous power, he won last July's 3M Open in only his third professional start.

MotoGP: Fabio Quartararo

After Jorge Lorenzo, the only man to defeat Marc Marquez in a MotoGP world championship, retired, and with Valentino Rossi nearing the end of his career, fans are looking to the next generation. That group looks set to be led by Quartararo, who will ride a factory-spec Yamaha for 2020 after claiming six pole positions and seven podiums in a magnificent rookie season.

Golf: Nasa Hataoka

Already fifth in the women's world rankings, Hataoka has claimed three LPGA Tour titles in the past 18 months, after becoming the first amateur to win a major on the Japan LPGA Tour back in 2016.

Baseball: Vladimir Guerrero Jnr

Guerrero has a lot to live up to but has already shown enough to suggest he may follow his father into baseball's Hall of Fame. Having signed for the Toronto Blue Jays as a free agent in 2015, Guerrero served his time in the minors before making his debut in the Major Leagues last April. He spent the rest of his maiden season displaying the kind of power that has marked him out as a star of the future, hitting .272, mashing 15 home runs and knocking in 69 RBI. By the end of the next decade, his may well be the face of baseball.

Ice Hockey: Quinn Hughes

Hughes, who could not even debut for the Vancouver Canucks until he recovered from an ankle injury in March, is an elite defenseman who also sat top of the rookie assist chart in late December.

Swimming: Michael Andrew

This year is an Olympic one and for the first time since the 1996 Games, Michael Phelps will not be in the pool. The United States needs a new swimming hero, and the hope is that Phelps' namesake can be the next star. Andrew was the youngest US swimmer to ever turn professional when he did so at 14 and, having finished fourth in the 50 metres butterfly at the 2019 World Aquatics Championships, he appears primed to be a breakout star in Tokyo.

Tennis: Denis Shapovalov

Shapovalov finished 2019 at a career-high ATP ranking of 15th, having won his first title in Stockholm. Expect his threat at the 2020 majors to be very real.

Athletics: Sydney McLaughlin

At the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, gold in the 4x400 metres relay followed silver in the 400m hurdles for McLaughlin. Only a Dalilah Muhammad world record was enough to deny her the victory.

Boxing: Joseph Adorno

Currently plying his trade in the lightweight division, Adorno was brought up in Puerto Rico and his thunderous left hook has drawn comparisons to Miguel Cotto – the great four-weight world champion hailing from that boxing-mad island. Promoters Top Rank will look to step up Adorno's level of opposition in 2020, although anyone climbing into the corner opposite a young man boasting a 14-0 record with 12 knockouts should make sure they get well paid.

J.J. Watt is set to return for the Houston Texans against the Buffalo Bills on Saturday after being activated off the reserve/injured list.

Watt, 30, has been sidelined since October due to a torn pectoral, an injury which was expected to see the Texans star miss the rest of the season.

However, the team announced on Tuesday that defensive end Watt had been activated ahead of the wildcard clash against the Bills.

"The #Texans have activated DE J.J. Watt off the Reserve/Injured list," they wrote on Twitter.

"The team also placed S Tashaun Gipson Sr. on the Reserve/Injured list."

The Texans host the Bills at NRG Stadium looking to advance to the AFC divisional round.

The Cleveland Browns have mutually agreed to part ways with general manager John Dorsey.

Dorsey, 59, leaves the Browns after just over two years as GM in Cleveland.

His exit also comes just two days after Freddie Kitchens was fired as head coach following the Browns' 6-10 season.

"We have a great appreciation for John and all he has done with the Cleveland Browns," team owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said in a statement.

"He has helped create a foundation that we need to continue to develop and build upon. While John helped greatly improve our team's talent and we are excited about the core players on our roster, we fully recognised that our team did not meet its potential on or off the field and additional changes in leadership give us the best opportunity for success in the future.

"As the role of the general manager continues to evolve in this league we felt there were areas that needed to be reassessed. Over the last 48 hours, we've had discussion with John about his role but could not come to an agreement on a position that would enable him to remain with the organisation.

"As we conveyed on Sunday and our players reiterated yesterday, bringing in a strong leader with our head coach is our priority.

"Our process to improve upon the leadership will allow the flexibility to ensure we create the best partnership between our future head coach and general manager.

"We know the road of our tenure as stewards of this franchise has been a test of patience as we all want the success that our fans so deserve and we are relentlessly committed to and working towards.

"We fully appreciate, understand and empathise with our fans as we work towards our ultimate goal of building a championship-level football team."

The Philadelphia Eagles are heading into the NFL playoffs with a new running back on their active roster after signing Elijah Holyfield.

Undrafted Georgia product Holyfield, the son of former two-weight boxing world champion Evander Holyfield, spent the regular season on the Carolina Panthers practice team and became available after they opted against offering him a reserve future contract on Monday.

The rookie tailback will provide additional depth as Miles Sanders (ankle) and Jordan Howard (shoulder) head into the postseason with niggling injuries.

Philadelphia also announced on Tuesday defensive end Daeshon Hall has been placed on injured reserve after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in Sunday's 34-17 win over the New York Giants.

The Eagles will take on the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card Round at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.

Ben Roethlisberger is set for a "significant" check-up in February on the elbow injury that curtailed his season, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed.

Veteran quarterback Roethlisberger underwent surgery on his right throwing elbow in September and was expected to make a full recovery and return for the 2020 NFL season.

Tomlin was unable to provide a detailed update on the two-time Super Bowl winner's rehabilitation but announced the next steps will be decided in around a month.

"Obviously some guys that have gone through some health things like Ben, who are in the process of rehabilitation, will have some significant updates along the way, check-ups that allow them to move into different areas of rehabilitation," said Tomlin.

"We'll get some clarity about those things in the upcoming days and weeks.

"I do not [have a timeline for Roethlisberger's return]. I lean on the expertise of the medical professionals. What I want is secondary to that.

"I know that he is due for an update somewhere around the first of February, a check-up that will be probably significant in terms of mapping out what's next. But that date is a moving target.

"We've been taking it one step at a time."

The Steelers, who missed the playoffs after a 28-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday saw them finish the regular season with an 8-8 record, ended the campaign with undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges under center.

Hodges replaced Mason Rudolph during the Week 12 win over the Cincinnati Bengals and started Pittsburgh's remaining games.

However, Tomlin confirmed Rudolph remains the back-up option for the Steelers heading into the offseason.

"I'm comfortable with Mason Rudolph," said Tomlin. "I'm disappointed he missed the amount of time he did. He had an opportunity to grow in a lot of ways and get a lot of experience.

"He missed some time due to injuries and performance and so forth, but I'm comfortable with Mason Rudolph. Mason's the back-up."

Mitchell Trubisky avoided paying the price for an underwhelming NFL season after it was confirmed he will remain the Chicago Bears' starting quarterback in 2020.

But general manager Ryan Pace acknowledged, when announcing the decision, that Trubisky must show greater consistency going forward.

The 25-year-old was the second overall pick in the 2017 draft but has so far played only one postseason game, failing to make the playoffs this term.

Trubisky threw for 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for the 8-8 Bears, who finished third in the NFC North despite their impressive defense.

The former North Carolina WB will get another opportunity in his fourth year, though, Pace told reporters on Tuesday.

"Yes, we do [feel confident with Trubisky]," Pace said. "With Mitch, we need more time in the coming months to evaluate things, but the first thing that comes to mind for me is just consistency.

"You see moments, you see games, but for him, it's [about] stringing together better consistency.

"You know with a young quarterback it's never going to be a straight line, be linear. There are going to be ups and downs."

However, Pace confirmed Chicago would look at the quarterback position in the offseason, with back-ups Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray soon to become free agents.

Trubisky is not the only man retaining the franchise's faith, as coach Matt Nagy will also continue to lead the Bears.

"We have extreme confidence in our head coach and the leader of our team in Matt Nagy," Pace said.

The GM appeared to suggest not all decisions would be so straightforward, however.

Pace began the news conference by saying: "We sit here today disappointed in our season. Obviously we expect more from ourselves, from our team. We didn't hit the goals we set out to achieve.

"The next four or five months are about hard decisions, decisions that require real honest assessment of our roster and our entire football operations."

Head coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell will keep their jobs at the Jacksonville Jaguars, owner Shad Khan announced on Tuesday.

The Jaguars fired executive vice-president of football operations Tom Coughlin two weeks ago and Marrone admitted he was concerned about his position after they beat the Indianapolis Colts 38-20 on Sunday to finish the NFL season with a 6-10 record.

Khan met with Caldwell, the head coach and their assistants over recent days and spoke to the players on Monday, and those meetings led to him deciding to retain the duo's services.

"I have met on several occasions over the past few days with Dave Caldwell, Doug Marrone and their staffs to fully understand their plans to reverse our course and compete for a postseason berth in 2020," said Khan in a statement.

"In addition, I held numerous one-on-one meetings with players on Monday and thoroughly appreciated their candour and thoughtful views – some expected, some not – on the season behind us and where we go from here.

"While our discussions will remain confidential, the decision I am making to keep our staff intact for 2020 has nothing to do with our victory on Sunday and everything to do with my positive meetings with Dave, Doug, the coordinators and our players, as well as my belief that this is not the time to consider an overhaul of our organisation.

"The 2019 season was unacceptable and I've made my dissatisfaction clear. While many unusual circumstances influenced our season, none can fully explain or defend our second-half collapse with first place in the division within reach on Week 9. At the same time, there were positive developments and contributions that should not be overlooked."

Khan confirmed Coughlin will not be replaced, and he wants to see how the team fares with the leadership tweak in 2020. He added: "Goals have been established. Accountability will be paramount."

Marrone has amassed a 22-28 regular-season record at the helm for Jacksonville, while going 2-1 in the playoffs.

If the 2010s were the decade of the veteran quarterbacks, the 2020s promise to be the next generation's era.

Ten years ago Peyton Manning met Drew Brees in the Super Bowl, Matt Schaub led the league in passing yards and Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning were all in the top 10.

Seven of that top 10 remain on teams in 2019 but only two - Rivers and Brady - featured among the leaders in that category this season.

Brees, Brady et al are used to completing passes, only this time it's the baton that is changing hands.

We take a look at why the future is now when it comes to the NFL's most important position.

 

Quarterbacks aged 27 or younger combined for a record 288 starts in 2019

Forty-somethings Brady and Brees may remain somewhere near the peak of their powers, but behind them there is a youth movement taking over.

The 2019 season saw QBs aged 27 or younger combine for 288 starts - by far the most since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Those young slingers combined for 145 wins too - again, another record broken by a large margin.

In Week 3, a record 20 of the 32 starting quarterbacks were 27 or younger. Draft classes after Brady, Brees and Rivers may not have produced players able to emulate their peers' achievements but playoff-bound QBs Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson have provided plenty of early encouragement.

 

Nine rookie QBs started a game in 2019, four did so in 2009

Remember the days when coaches wanted rookies to sit, learn the system and be thrown in when they were ready? 

Whether it was injuries (Gardner Minshew, Devlin Hodges, David Blough) or just pure curiosity (Will Grier, Ryan Finley) - teams turned to first-year players in 2019 in a way they never did a decade ago.

Only four rookies started games in the 2009 season - and three of those were first-rounders (Matt Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman). 

 

The QB with the most rushing yards in 2009 had... 323

A decade ago CJ2K became a thing as Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson went over 2,000 yards on the ground.

The leading QB in that category also came from the AFC South, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard amassing 323 rushing yards.

He was one of only four QBs - along with Rodgers, Vince Young and Jason Campbell - to pile up more than 200 on the season. Two hundred rushing yards? That's practically an eight-day span for current Baltimore QB Jackson, who broke an NFL record with a whopping 1,206 on the ground.

MVP-in-waiting Jackson was one of 13 quarterbacks to rush for over 200 yards in 2019. Six of those beat Garrard's 2009 total and all bar Russell Wilson are 24 or younger.

For years dual-threat quarterbacks were seen as a quick fad that would burn out as you had to win from the pocket. Yet mobility at the QB position has proven to be a vital weapon in today's NFL.

 

This season, 75 per cent of head coaching hires came from offensive backgrounds

Eleven new head coach vacancies were filled prior to the 2009 season. Seven of those came from defensive backgrounds.

Eight new head coach vacancies were filled prior to the 2019 season. Six of those came from offensive backgrounds.

Call it the Sean McVay effect: NFL franchises want bright young minds to teach their promising-but-green QBs how to thrive at the next level. 

 

Goodbye, golden generation?

In the list for most touchdown passes of all time - a category Brees recently put himself at the top of - six of the leading 10 players are still active.

Aside from Rodgers, who should have a few years left in Green Bay, it is conceivable that the rest of that group - Brees, Brady, Rivers, Eli Manning and Roethlisberger - may head off into the sunset over the next couple of seasons.

Throw in Peyton Manning, who retired in 2016, and it is obvious we are seeing the last days of the golden generation that spearheaded the pass-happy revolution.

Luckily, there's a host of players ready to take over and take on the mantle in the 2020s.

Bruce Arians insisted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can win with a quarterback other than Jameis Winston amid growing doubts over the QB's future.

Winston became the first NFL player to throw for at least 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in a season as the Buccaneers ended their campaign with a 28-22 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Tampa Bay's Winston joined the dubious 30-30 club after he was pick-sixed by Falcons linebacker Deion Jones on the first play of overtime.

With his rookie contract expiring, Winston's position at the Buccaneers is far from certain and head coach Arians did little to put an end to speculation.

"[If] we can win with this one, we can definitely win with another one too," Arians told reporters on Monday. "We're going to have this defense."

The Buccaneers used the number one pick in the 2015 draft to select Winston but the 25-year-old, who became the eighth quarterback in league history to throw for 5,000 yards in a season, struggled in 2019.

As the Buccaneers prepare to evaluate their season, Arians said he will take his time reviewing Winston's situation.

"It will be a while," Arians said. "I would think in a few weeks we will have a decision on which way we want to head. Will we let it out? Probably not. Because you lose your leverage on that one too. So it's 'stay tuned.'"

"Well, free agency, who's available," Arians added. "What's behind Door No. 2. That's the first question. Then as you evaluate for the draft, that's another question. Are they better than what you have? Then you evaluate and that's when you make your decisions."

Seattle Seahawks linebacker Mychal Kendricks is set to undergo surgery after suffering a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury.

Kendricks tore his ACL against the San Francisco 49ers, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll told reporters on Monday.

An NFL Super Bowl champion with the Philadelphia Eagles, Kendricks hurt his knee in the third quarter of Seattle's 26-21 loss to San Francisco on Sunday.

"Looks like he'll need surgery," Carroll said in his news conference. "He has an ACL injury that he will have to deal with."

After four appearances in his first season with the Seahawks, Kendricks played 14 games in 2019.

The Seahawks are scheduled to face the Eagles in the NFC wildcard game on Sunday.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.