Hindsight is always 20/20, but it's impossible to believe that six teams passed over Peterson in last April's draft. The rookie has charmed the Vikings' fan base with his low-key demeanor and go-for-broke running style. Peterson has six 100-yard games and two 200-yard games, including a 296-yard performance in Week 9 against the Chargers, the greatest single-game output in history.
2 of 50John Biever/SI
Dwight Howard, Magic
Not that Howard, 22, wasn't an impact player his first three seasons, but he has generated early MVP buzz in 2007-08. The No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft is threatening to join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob McAdoo as the only players to average at least 20 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks in a season.
3 of 50John Biever/SI
Curtis Granderson, Detroit Tigers
With 23 home runs, 22 triples, 37 doubles and 23 stolen bases, Granderson became the first player to record 20 of each of those categories since Willie Mays did it in 1957. The Tiger centerfielder also broke his own franchise record with seven leadoff homers and hit .302 for the season.
4 of 50John W. McDonough/SI
Mike Conley, Jr., Ohio State
Conley went from being Greg Oden's high school sidekick to one of the best guards in the country. He emerged in the NCAA tournament, scoring 18.4 points and dishing out 4.8 assists in OSU's final five games. The lightning-quick guard was selected No. 4 by Memphis.
5 of 50Bob Rosato/SI
Knowshon Moreno, Georgia
The running back started Georgia's last six games and responded with the first 1,000-yard rushing season by a Georgia freshman since Herschel Walker in 1980. Moreno, the SEC's Freshman of the Year, totaled 1,273 yards and 12 touchdowns.
6 of 50Bob Martin/SI
Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks
This 22-year-old Ducks center is a big reason to stay up late and catch some West Coast games. Getzlaf started to make his name known in last season's playoffs, where he chipped in seven goals and 17 points in 21 games. The 100-point plateau could be within reach in a season or two.
7 of 50Chuck Solomon/SI
Ana Ivanovic, tennis
Joining Serbian countrymate Jelena Jankovic up the women's tennis rankings, the 20-year-old Ivanovic finished the year with a career-high ranking of No. 4 in the world. She won three singles titles and served notice with a runner-up finish to Justine Henin at the French Open, and a semifinals appearance at Wimbledon.
8 of 50Al Bello/Getty Images
Kelly Pavlik, boxing
Dubbed "The Pride of Youngstown," Pavlik (32-0, 29 KOs) stopped Jermain Taylor in a seventh-round knockout victory Sept. 29 to win the WBC and WBO middleweight titles. The win shocked the boxing community and put the boxer on top of the middleweight division.
9 of 50Fred Vuich/SI
Steve Stricker, golf
A couple of years ago Stricker had to beg tournament directors for sponsor's exemptions. Not anymore. Last year he was named the PGA Tour's comeback player of the year, and in 2007, he finished fourth in the world golf rankings (up from No. 63).
10 of 50Bob Martin/SI
Tyson Gay, track
Gay won three gold medals at the IAAF World Championships in Osaka, taking both the 100 and 200, and running the third leg on the victorious 4x100 relay. Earlier in the year, at the U.S. championships, he ran the second-fastest 200 (19.62) of all time.
11 of 50David Bergman/SI
Derek Anderson, Cleveland Browns
The formally unheralded quarterback, who went from third-string with Baltimore in 2005 to Cleveland's second-choice starter in Week 2, threw for 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns (with 19 interceptions) this season. The Browns finished 10-6 and just missed the playoffs.
12 of 50Bob Rosato/SI
Deron Williams, Jazz
After a middling rookie season, Willams emerged in 2006-07 to rank second in the NBA in assists and help lead the Jazz to their first Western Conference finals appearance in nine seasons. He has continued to blossom in his third season (highlighted by a pair of 15-assist, two-turnover outings), fueling debate about whether Williams or the player selected one spot behind him, 2006 Rookie of the Year Chris Paul, is the better point guard.
13 of 50Allen Fredrickson/Icon SMI
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Just imagine if he had played the full season. After his call-up on May 25, Braun hit .324 with 34 homers, 97 RBIs and 91 runs. His .634 slugging percentage led NL players and was the highest by a rookie in major league history. Braun joined Pat Listach as the only Brewers player to win Rookie of the Year.
14 of 50Bob Rosato/SI
Jeff Green, Georgetown
Green went from second-team All-Big East as a sophomore to Big East Player of the Year as a junior. He led Georgetown to the Final Four, hitting a last-second shot against Vanderbilt in the Sweet 16 and was the Most Outstanding Player of the East Region. He was selected No. 5 overall by the Sonics and now teams with Kevin Durant.
15 of 50John Biever/SI
Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
The redshirt freshman won a three-way quarterback derby and, in his first start, threw for 63 yards and four touchdowns against. North Texas. Bradford led the nation in passing efficiency (180.5) in throwing for 2,875 yards and 34 touchdowns to seven interceptions. He guided the Sooners to the Big 12 crown.
16 of 50Chuck Solomon/SI
Novak Djokovic, men's tennis
Call it a trivalry. Djokovic, the world's No. 3 player, established himself as a threat to both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with tournament wins in Miami, Estoril, Montreal and Vienna. In Montreal he defeated the world Nos. 1, 2 and 3 (Federer, Nadal and Andy Roddick) on three consecutive days, and finished runner-up to Federer at the U.S. Open.
17 of 50Todd Bigelow/SI
Suzann Petterson, golf
Petterson won five times in 2007 -- she also had 11 Top 10 finishes -- including a one-stroke victory over Karrie Webb at the LPGA Championship. She finished the year as the No. 4 player in the world.
18 of 50Victor Decolongon/Getty Images
Paul Stastny, Avalanche
The name should look familiar. Paul's father, Peter, broke the 100-point barrier seven times. It might be hard to fill those shoes, but the 21-year-old Avalanche forward is off to a blazing start: 28 goals and 78 points in 82 games last season -- his first in the NHL. He's also on pace for more than 100 points this year.
19 of 50AP
Quinton (Ramage) Jackson, MMA
In May, at UFC 71, Jackson defeated UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell at 1:53 of the opening round. Later in the year, he defeated PRIDE middleweight champion Dan Henderson at UFC 75 in London, England, in September. That unified the two organizations' titles.
20 of 50Bob Rosato/SI
Antonio Cromartie, San Diego Chargers
The amazingly athletic Cromartie has accumulated an NFL-high 10 interceptions this year, despite earning a starting role with the Chargers at midseason. His two biggest highlights: Three interceptions off Peyton Manning on national television, and three combined defensive touchdowns, including an NFL-record 109-yard yard return touchdown off a missed field goal against Minnesota.
21 of 50John W. McDonough/SI
Monta Ellis, Warriors
Looking like an alltime draft steal, the No. 40 pick in 2005 was named Most Improved Player last season after upping his scoring average an NBA-high 9.7 points (16.5 from 6.8). The Warriors guard is scoring at the same rate this season in coach Don Nelson's up-tempo offense (including back-to-back 31-point performances in November).
22 of 50Damian Strohmeyer/SI
Fausto Carmona, Cleveland Indians
The Indians lanky righthander improved from 1-10 as a rookie to 19-8 in 32 starts in 2007. He ranked second in the AL in wins and ERA (3.06) and finished fourth in Cy Young voting behind teammate C.C. Sabathia.
23 of 50David E. Klutho/SI
Aaron Brooks, Oregon
Brooks was not on any preseason All-Pac 10 teams, but ended up as a Wooden finalist and a first-round NBA draft pick. The senior upped his points per game total to 17.7 (from 10.8) and hit two last-second game-winners (including one against No. 1 UCLA) as he led Oregon to a 29-8 season.
24 of 50Bob Rosato/SI
Jeremy Maclin, Missouri
The redshirt freshman wideout emerged as the most electric part of Missouri's potent offense. He led FBS with a freshman-record 2,713 all-purpose yards. Maclin had 16 total touchdowns and was the only player this season to find the end zone on a reception, rush, punt return and kick return.
25 of 50Robert Beck/SI
Anze Kopitar, Kings
If not for injuries, Kopitar could have easily won the Calder Trophy last season -- scoring 20 goals and 61 points in 72 games. The 20-year-old is on pace for 40 goals and 85 points this year.
26 of 50George Tiedemann/GT Images/SI
Clint Bowyer, Nascar
In just his second full season on Nascar's top circuit, Bowyer stunned the field at New Hampshire International Speedway in the opening race of the 12-driver Chase for the Nextel Cup. He ended up finishing third in the final standings behind Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, with a pair of wins and 17 top-10 finishes.
27 of 50Bill Frakes/SI
Curlin, horse racing
When Curlin pulled away to win the Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth Park in October, the 3-year-old chestnut colt sealed Horse of the Year honors. Curlin earlier won the Preakness Stakes and lost a dramatic stretch duel with the filly Rags to Riches in the Belmont Stakes.
28 of 50Bob Rosato/SI
Mario Williams, Houston Texans
Any complaints about the pick now? Drafted No. 1 overall in the 2006 NFL draft (ahead of Reggie Bush), Williams emerged in 2007 as a one of the NFL's most destructive forces. He had 14 sacks. "They're getting their money's worth these days, aren't they," said Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler.
29 of 50Greg Nelson/SI
Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers
So much for a sophomore slump. Fielder became the youngest player ever to hit 50 home runs in a season and his 50 home runs nearly doubled his rookie total of 28. The 24-year-old hit .288 with 119 RBI and walked 90 times. Fielder finished third in balloting for the National League Most Valuable Player Award, the best by a Brewer since Robin Yount won the American League MVP in 1989
30 of 50Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Kevin Martin, Kings
Kevin who? That's what most fans were thinking prior to last season when the Kings guard increased his scoring average by 9.4 points after posting 10.8 ppg in 2005-06. This season, he's averaging nearly 25 points per game.
31 of 50Al Tielemans/SI
Braylon Edwards, Cleveland Browns
In 2007 Edwards made a meteoric rise from inconsistent playmaker to one of the NFL's elite receiving threats. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2005 draft, Edwards had 80 catches for 1,289 yards and 16 touchdowns. He now owns the franchise single-season record for receiving touchdowns and has posted four 100-yard games and four multi-touchdown games this season.
32 of 50John Biever/SI
Hunter Pence, Houston Astros
He'll be hitting third for the Astros in 2008 and looks poised to be in the middle of Houston's lineup for years to come. As a rookie Pence hit .322 with 17 homers, nine triples, a .539 slugging percentage and an OPS of .899. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting.
33 of 50Michael J. LeBrecht II/1Deuce3 Photography/SI
Earnest Graham, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In three previous seasons, the Florida product totaled 215 rushing yards and zero touchdowns. But this year, Graham has come alive for the NFC South-leading Bucs, netting 1,222 total yards (898 rushing yards) and 10 touchdowns. The 27-year-old Graham could supplant Cadillac Williams as the franchise back for years to come.
34 of 50Scott Wachter/Icon SMI
Troy Tulowitski, Colorado Rockies
Poised beyond his 23 years, Tulowitski led all shortstops in fielding percentage and set an NL rookie record for home runs by a shortstop (24). He batted .291 with 99 RBIs and helped lead the Rockies to a sizzling finish and World Series appearance.
35 of 50Greg Nelson/SI
Daniel Gibson, Cavaliers
After averaging only 4.6 points in limited regular-season duty and making little impact in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Cavaliers guard burned the Pistons with 21- and 31-point efforts in the Eastern Conference finals. The latter performance, which included a 19-point fourth quarter, came in series-clinching Game 6. Now a starter in his second season, Gibson is among the league leaders in three-point shooting.
36 of 50Lou Capozzola/SI
Mike Richards, Philadelphia Flyers
The 22-year-old center is showing the potential that prompted the Flyers to select him in the first round in 2003 -- and recently ink him to a 12-year extension. Richards plays a smart, two-way game and can be a playmaker on the power play. He's on pace for 40 goals and 96 points this season.
37 of 50Simon Bruty/SI
Al Jefferson, Timberwolves
Relying on a repertoire of low-post moves, the 22-year-old Jefferson did his best Kevin McHale impersonation by averaging 19.8 points and 11.5 rebounds in 25 games after the All-Star break last season with the Celtics. Fittingly, McHale, the Timberwolves' personnel boss, acquired the forward as the centerpiece of Minnesota's part of the Kevin Garnett trade. Among his early-season highlights: a 32-point, 20-rebound game against Phoenix.
38 of 50Bill Frakes/SI
Acie Law IV, Texas A&M
The Texas A&M's guard gave Kevin Durant a run for the Big 12 Player of the Year after averaging 18.1 points, 5.0 assists and shooting 46 percent from 3-point range. Law hit several clutch, last-minute 3-pointers and was the No. 11 pick in the first round of the NBA draft.
39 of 50John Rivera/Icon SMI
Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
Crabtree became the first freshman to win the Biletnikoff Award, given to college's top wide receiver. The 6-foot-3, 222-pounder receiver led the nation in receptions (125), receiving yards (1,861), touchdown catches (21), and had at least 100 receiving yards 10 times.
40 of 50Damian Strohmeyer/SI
Stephen Curry, Davidson
After failing to get an offer from any ACC school, including Virginia Tech, where his father Dell played, Curry has made a name for himself at Davidson. He averaged 21.5 points as a freshman and set an NCAA freshman record with 122 3-pointers. He has upped his scoring this year.
41 of 50AJ Mast/Icon SMI
Greg Middleton, Indiana
The hulking, 6-foot-3, 270-pound Indiana sophomore defensive end emerged as one of the nation's premier pass rushers. He had two sacks in his first career start against Indiana State en route to nation-leading 16 sacks. Middletown was named to AP's All-America third team and was a first-team All-Big Ten pick.
42 of 50Bill Frakes/SI
Essence Carson, women's basketball
The Rutgers senior forward averaged 12.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and won her second straight Big East Defensive Player of the Year, leading Rutgers to a surprising runner-up finish to Tennessee. Most impressively, following radio host Don Imus' racially insensitive comments about her team, she proved to be an eloquent spokesperson for Rutgers and women athletics.
43 of 50Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Kelvim Escobar, Los Angeles Angels
A hard throwing righthander who toiled between the bullpen and starting rotation, Escobar finally fufilled his massive promise at age 31. In 30 starts, Escobar was 18-7 with a 3.40 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP.
44 of 50Fred Vuich/SI
Josh Cribbs, Cleveland Browns
Like Derek Anderson, Cribbs has experienced a rags-to-riches story in his third NFL season. Undrafted out of Kent State, he has amassed a league-best 1,809 kickoff yards in 2007 with two touchdowns.
45 of 50Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Jozy Altidore, soccer
No wonder Real Madrid has interest in Red Bulls forward Altidore. The 18-year-old scored nine goals in 22 MLS games and memorably scored two goals in the 2-1 win over Brazil in the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Altidore finished with 4 goals in the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
46 of 50Bill Frakes/SI
Jared Allen, Kansas City Chiefs
The fourth-year end has morphed into the anchor of the Chiefs' rebuilt defense. He has a league-best 15.5 sacks (a career high), three forced fumbles, and 65 tackles despite missing Kansas City's first two games. In his Week 3 debut, Allen sparked a comeback win over the Vikings with eight tackles, two sacks, two pass deflections and one forced fumble.
47 of 50Tom Dahlin/SI
Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
A non-roster invitee to training camp, Pena won the first-base job and hit 46 homers and drove in 121 runs, both franchise records. His slugging percentage was .627, and his OPS on-base plus slugging was 1.038. "You can probably argue if I was on another team, my MVP chances could have been stronger," Pena told the St. Petersburg Times. "To be honest, I don't look at it that way. If I'm going to win that type of award, I want to do it here. I feel like I'm part of something here."
48 of 50Brad Mangin/SI
Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers.
Willis, the No. 12 overall pick in the 2007 draft, has been terrific for a Niners defense decimated by injuries, totaling an NFL-best 174 tackles in his rookie campaign. He has also brought a rarely-seen element of speed to the corps, which was on full display in Week 12 when he chased down Arizona receiver Sean Morey for a game-saving tackle in the Niners' 37-31 overtime victory.
49 of 50Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Woody Austin, golf
At 43 and a career journeyman, Austin won his first PGA Tour victory since 2004 thanks to a final round 62 at the Stanford St. Jude Championship at TPC Southwind. It was the lowest final-round performance on the PGA Tour this season. He followed up with a second place finish to Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship.
50 of 50AP
The Patriots' offensive line
Sure, the Patriots have won three Super Bowls since 2001. But those championship clubs cannot match the dominance of the `07 Pats, especially on offense. The underrated starting line -- left tackle Matt Light (72), left guard Logan Mankins, center Dan Koppen, right guard Stephen Neal and right tackle Nick Kaczur -- has been intact for three seasons and paved the way for Tom Brady's 4,806 passing yards and 50 TDs this year.
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