Five Athletes to Watch in 2010

It takes a lot for an athlete to crack the Power 100 rankings, but these five fresh faces could do it

It's never too early to look way ahead. Here are five athletes to watch in 2010:

Brandon Jennings

Best known for skipping college to play pro basketball overseas, Jennings has parlayed his Italian Lega experience into NBA success. A front-runner for NBA Rookie of the Year, Jennings is the perfect spokesperson for companies hoping to expand in Europe with a lower-cost endorser. The Milwaukee Bucks point guard has a seven-figure shoe and apparel deal with Under Armour (UA) that he signed while in Italy and an exclusive memorabilia/autographs contract with trading-card company Panini America (formerly Donruss Playoff LP).

Melanie Oudin

There are no limits for the 2009 U.S. Open darling. Oudin secured a six-figure multiyear endorsement deal with BackOffice Associates during her 2009 Open run. If she can maintain her level of play in 2010, the sponsorship floodgates will open. As the Williams sisters age, Oudin is the logical choice as the next major American woman tennis endorser. Of course, she will have to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump—since her strong showing at Flushing Meadows, Oudin has yet to win another WTA main-draw match.

Mark Sanchez

When Sanchez entered the NFL, experts thought he'd boost the league's Hispanic fan base, estimated at 25 million. Aside from playing in the NFL's "Hispanic Heritage" game, Sanchez's Latin impact has been minimal. Nevertheless, after leading the Jets to the playoffs, he is back in the Big Apple spotlight. The Jets quarterback undoubtedly has national appeal beyond the Latin market, finishing fifth in a SportsBusiness Daily/SportsBusiness Journal poll of the most marketable NFL players and sporting the league's 14th-best-selling jersey. If he had been able to beat the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC playoffs and taken the Jets to Super Bowl XLIV, it's a good bet he would have made his debut high up on next year's Power 100 rankings. With his looks and talent, he should do pretty well anyway.

Tim Tebow

No one knows how productive Tebow will be in his first NFL season, or what position he'll be drafted to play. What's certain is that Tebow is one of the most recognizable college athletes in history. Known as much for his faith as his football skills, the "John 3:16" inscription on the Florida quarterback's eye-black was the most searched item on Google the day after the Gators won the 2009 BCS National Championship. With marketers looking for the next "all-American boy" pitchman after the Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps scandals, Tebow is emerging at the right time to fill those goody two-shoes. Set to star in a Super Bowl commercial, and tabbed as the cover athlete on Electronic Arts' (ERTS) 2011 college football game, Tebow could land on the next Power 100 list with even a statistically subpar rookie season.

Michelle Wie

Although Wie has used sponsor's exemptions to compete in LPGA events since 2005, she didn't officially pass Qualifying School until December 2008. At least Wie can use that as an excuse for why it took her so long to win her first tournament, the 2009 Lorena Ochoa Invitational. Since she was considered a child prodigy and has been on the national stage for years, Wie's off-field score bested that of other Power 100 candidates, including Chris Paul, Tony Romo, and Mark Teixeira. Her record-breaking deals with Nike (NKE) and Sony (SNE) make her one of the world's highest-paid female athletes. However, unless she ups her performance, she'll remain on the Power 100 cusp.

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