Lamar Jackson before winning the 2016 Heisman Trophy Award (Photo by Derrel Johnson for Steed Media Service)

When 2016 began, there weren’t many people talking about the five athletes mentioned below. But as the year ends they have become stars and household names.

Dak Prescott. When the Dallas Cowboys drafted quarterback Dak Prescott out of Mississippi State in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, it was with little fanfare, and was to back up Tony Romo. When Romo was injured in a preseason game, Dak was thrust into the starting lineup. After losing his first start, Dak and the Cowboys went on to win 11 in a row. There is an unwritten rule that players don’t lose their starting jobs to injury, but only a fool  would bench a quarterback, rookie or not, who is playing as well as Dak. Led by the poise and accuracy of Prescott, Dallas is headed to the playoffs as the top seed and has Cowboys Nation wondering Romo who?

Simone Biles. Those in the know in the gymnastics world were likely already aware of the sensational talent and skills of Simone Biles. She won two gold medals in the 2013 World Championships, and four apiece in 2014 and 2015, and Biles was clearly the favorite going into the 2016 Olympics. Pressure bursts pipes, but not for the 4’8” gymnastics giant who, shined in Rio on the grandest stage of all, won four Olympic gold medals.

Lamar Jackson. In 2015, Lamar Jackson of Florida made eight starts as a freshman, but it was nothing that would prepare anyone for his sophomore campaign. With 51 total touchdowns in 2016, of which 21 were rushing, both ACC Conference records, the 19-year old Louisville quarterback stunned the college football world with his feats on the field, becoming the youngest man to win the biggest prize in college sports, the Heisman Award.

Ezekiel Elliott. Known as Zeke, the swaggy Ohio State running back was a star in college. When he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft with the fourth overall pick, Zeke instantly had a legion of fans. The rookie hasn’t disappointed, helping to lead the team to a 13-2 record and the top spot in the NFC in the 2016 NFL Playoffs. Going into the final game of the season, Zeke leads the NFL in rushing yards, averaging well over 100 rushing yards per game. Elliott is poised to become the first rookie to lead the NFL in rushing since Edgerrin James.

Von Miller. Von Miller had been under the radar since entering the NFL when he was chosen second overall in the 2011 NFL Draft, right after Cam Newton. Miller would not be topped by Newton in Super Bowl 50, antagonizing the quarterback all game, notching two game-changing strip sacks that led the Denver Broncos to a 24-10 win. Miller was named Super Bowl MVP, prompting him to become a commercial pitch man, like in this hilarious Justin Bieber spoof called “Start Me.”

Derrel Johnson

Lover of Christ, sports, hip-hop, my hometown of Harlem and much more. IG @JazzJohnson1