Ethereum (ETH -0.57%) is one of the biggest names in crypto, which can be a blessing and a curse. Because of its popularity, it's one of the safer investment options. While there are no guarantees that any crypto will succeed over time, Ethereum has a much better chance than some lesser-known cryptocurrencies.

However, because it's already one of the most popular cryptocurrencies, you may not stand to gain as much by investing now. Fortunately, there are a few options that could follow in Ethereum's footsteps in terms of growth, and they could potentially be lucrative over the long run.

1. Solana

Solana (SOL -2.59%) has long been known as an "Ethereum killer" and has become one of the fastest-growing cryptocurrencies of 2021. Since then, though, it's been in a slump -- with its price falling nearly 88% from its peak in November.

While that may seem like bad news for investors, the upside is that there's plenty of room for growth. By investing now, you could see potentially lucrative returns if Solana makes a comeback.

And it is possible for Solana to rebound. One major advantage it has over Ethereum is its blazing-fast speed. Despite its recent update, The Merge, Ethereum still struggles with slow transaction times and high fees.

Solana can reportedly process up to 65,000 transactions per second, compared to Ethereum's dismal 13 transactions per second. If developers and users grow tired of Ethereum's congestion and high gas fees, they could come flocking to Solana.

2. Cardano

Cardano (ADA -2.36%) is similar to Ethereum and Solana in that it's a smart contract platform that can host decentralized applications (dApps). Unlike its competitors, however, Cardano's developers are taking a deliberately careful approach to the blockchain's growth. All updates must go through a peer-review process, and developers are following a five-stage roadmap in building out new features.

In theory, this should make Cardano more consistent and reliable with fewer bugs. This is a major advantage in the crypto space as this new technology often leads to serious glitches and frustration among users.

Cardano is also much smaller than Ethereum, with a market cap of just under $14 billion -- compared to Ethereum's whopping $191 billion. This could suggest that Cardano has plenty of room for growth.

3. Polygon

Polygon (MATIC -3.61%) is a Layer 2 sidechain and works alongside Ethereum to improve its transaction times and reduce costs. It essentially functions as a second blockchain to process transactions, clearing up some of the congestion on Ethereum's main network.

But Polygon doesn't just benefit Ethereum. It's also partnered with major companies like Meta Platforms, Disney, and Coca-Cola to help integrate blockchain solutions into their existing ecosystems.

In short, Polygon aims to improve the efficiency of blockchain technology. And between its partnerships with companies and Ethereum's reliance on it to improve its speed, Polygon could be poised for serious growth in the near future.

While all cryptocurrencies are still speculative right now, some have better chances than others of seeing long-term growth. Nobody knows for certain whether Solana, Cardano, or Polygon will see Ethereum-level returns, but if you're willing to take the risk, you could potentially see lucrative rewards.