Best Breakout Athletes of 2012: List Includes Jeremy Lin, Mike Trout, Colin Kaepernick and Johnny Manziel

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Dec 27, 2012 10:27 AM EST
New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin
New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin (R) and Jered Jeffries celebrate their win against the Toronto Raptors during the second half of their NBA basketball game in Toronto February 14."

Over the past year there have been some amazing games, matchups and moments, including the exciting Super Bowl between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots that ended with another amazing play from Eli Manning. The sports world also saw LeBron James hoist his first NBA title and the San Francisco Giants win the World Series for the second time in three years.

Throughout the year there have also been some amazing performances from players no one had even heard of when the clock struck midnight on Dec 31, 2011. Here is a look back at some of the breakout athletes and performers who took the sports world by storm in 2012.

Jeremy Lin

Point Guard, Houston Rockets

Every year there are breakout athletes and stars that emerge seemingly from out of nowhere, but no one in 2012 did it quite like Jeremy Lin. The 24-year-old guard appeared out of nowhere and took New York City by storm over two weeks in February by scoring 20 points or more in nine out of 10 straight games for the New York Knicks, including 38 against the Los Angeles Lakers.

The former Harvard product found a huge fan base in the city and had everyone gripped with "Linsanity". Lin found himself sleeping on his teammates couch to starting for the New York Knicks all within a matter of days. Lin put in 25 points, five rebounds, and seven assists --all career-highs at the time-- against the New Jersey Nets on Feb. 4 and helped the Knicks climb back from an 8-15 start.

He landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated two weeks in a row and was featured in profiles in nearly every notable American magazine. The Knicks couldn't print enough jerseys to sell, but like everything else in the world, "Linsanity" ended.

Lin turned his stardom into a three-year, $25 million contract with the Houston Rockets and now is the face (or second face behind James Harden) of a franchise that is up-and-coming with young talent. He has struggled offensively this season, but he has proven that he can play in the NBA and will be a star in the league for years to come.

If Lin had stayed in New York, he might be an even bigger star in the league's biggest media market, but he is a global figure now and is easily the most popular athlete in China. That's quite a lot for a dude who slept on his brothers couch while living on a 10-day contract from the Knicks.

Mike Trout

Outfielder, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Every once in a while, a player comes along that reminds scouts of a legend. That is exactly the type of descriptions people heard about Mike Trout, who broke out in the biggest way for the Angels this season and received comparisons to Mickey Mantle while nearly winning the AL MVP award as a rookie.

Trout put up numbers in 2012 that no one else in baseball history has complied, hitting .326 with 30 home runs, 83 RBIs and 49 stolen bases, tops in the American League. He won a Silver Slugger as well as the AL Rookie of the Year award in a landslide and likely would have won MVP as well had Miguel Cabrera not hit for that thing they call the Triple Crown.

The 21-year-old was passed over by 24 other teams in the 2009 MLB Draft and made his first appearance in the majors this season on April 28 with the Angels mired in an early season slump. Trout helped the lineup get going and sparked the Angels into the Wild Card chase, although they fell short by the end of the year.

Trout proved to be a true five-tool player, making some amazing plays in the outfield by robbing runs and making diving catches. He is the first rookie in baseball history to hit 30 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same season and also became the youngest member of the 30-30 club. The young star has nearly every Angels rookie record and was also named to the All-Star team.

Johnny Manziel

Quarterback, Texas A&M

With a nickname like "Johnny Football", it's only so long before everyone knows who you are.

Manziel literally came out of nowhere to take college football by surprise this season, leading the Aggies to a 10-2 record in their first season in the SEC while also becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman trophy. The 20-year-old star shattered Cam Newton's record for total yards in a season, passing for 3,491 yards and 24 touchdowns to go along with 1,181 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. He became the first freshman in SEC history to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in a season.

No other player in the nation has numbers like Manziel, who was responsible for over 60 percent of the offense at Texas A&M this year. Manziel had his Heisman moment against Alabama, handing the Crimson Tide their first loss of the season after throwing for 253 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 92 yards on the ground.

Manziel's numbers against certain teams were just staggering. He accounted for nearly 600 yards of total offense against Arkansas in a 58-10 win on Sept. 29 after throwing for 453 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 104 yards and another score. He threw for a season-high four touchdowns against Southern Methodist early in the year and had three rushing touchdowns with 181 yards on the ground against Louisiana Tech.

The Aggies finished the season on a hot streak, winning five straight games, including the victory over Alabama and a 59-29 thrashing of Missouri in the regular-season finale. Manziel had five total touchdowns in the game and passed for 372 yards to cap off his record breaking year.

Texas A&M had the third-highest scoring offense in the nation and gained over 550 total yards per game, mainly due to the play of Manziel Apart from the Heisman, he also become the first freshman to win the Associated Press Player of the Year Award and the Davey O'Brien Award, which is given to the most outstanding quarterback in college football.

Colin Kaepernick

Quaretrback, San Francisco 49ers

This one is a little different than the others because the sample size is smaller, but when one player replaces a quarterback that took their team to the NFC championship the season before, it's bound to turn some heads.

Colin Kaepernick got a chance to start for the 49ers when Alex Smith was injured with a concussion, but with the help of head coach Jim Harbaugh, the former Nevada star pulled a Tom Brady on Smith, keeping the starting job even after he returned healthy.

Kaepernick has given the 49ers a new dynamic on offense and led San Francisco to a 4-2 record since taking over. He threw for a career-high four touchdowns against Brady and the Patriots in a 41-34 win two weeks ago and has passed for eight touchdowns and just three interceptions this season. He has rushed for 410 yards and five touchdowns and had an impressive 50-yard scamper against the Miami Dolphins in a 27-13 win three weeks ago.

The play of Kaepernick hasn't been perfect this season, but he likely is the 49ers quarterback of the future and one of the breakout athletes of 2012.

With so many athletes and stories over the year it's hard to list everyone. Here are some names that easily could have made the list:

- Missy Franklin, U.S. Olympic Swimmer

Won four gold medals at the London games

- Gabby Douglas, U.S. Gymnast

Won two gold medals in the individual all-around and team competitions and became the first African-American to win the gold in the individual event.

- R.A. Dickey, Pitcher, New York Mets

The knuckleballer won the Cy Young this season at 37 years old and won 20 games.

- Brad Keselowski, NASCAR Driver

At 28, won his first career Sprint Cup Series Championship.

- Robert Griffin III, Quarterback, Washington Redskins

This Heisman winning quarterback has just been fantastic as a rookie.

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