It’s not that hard to calculate. There have been so many busts over the years, the list of Pro Football Hall of Famers who were taken first in the NFL Draft is actually not that long. There are some gems, however, and regardless of what happened to some, it’s fascinating trip down memory lane.
We’ve tracked down the most valuable graded rookie cards of the number one picks prior to 1990. The data, from Vintage Card Prices, covers sales over the last several years and if you’re not an avid collector, keep in mind these are for high grade, vintage cards and most prices represent cards that have been professionally graded. Don’t expect the Bradshaw rookie that’s been in your childhood toy box to be worth this kind of scratch. And remember, this is NFL only so Joe Namath’s rookie card as the top AFL pick in ’65 isn’t included.
Click the player’s name to see what’s up for bid now on eBay and you’ll get a better idea of what they’re going for based on grade and see some that are very reasonably priced.
Obviously the list below is affected by the grade of the card, but it’s a pretty fair barometer overall of which number one picks’ cards wound up being worth the most mone:
1. Terry Bradshaw. It took a few years for Bradshaw to establish himself as an NFL quarterback but once he did, the Steelers were unstoppable. His 1971 Topps rookie card is extremely popular and pricey, in part because like all of the cards in the set, it’s not easy to find in ultra high grade. Those colored borders put this one in the ‘condition hypersensitive’ category. A PSA 10 Bradshaw rookie card sold for more than $19,000 in 2006 according to PSA and another sale was recorded at $14,065. PSA 9 Bradshaw rookies consistently bring $3,000-4000.
2. Paul Hornung. The 1957 Topps set gave us rookie cards for Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas too, but in ’57, they were two guys just hoping to keep their jobs in the league. Hornung was a star before he even signed his first contract. His 1957 Topps card has sold for $7, 394 in a PSA 9 holder. 8’s run $1,000-1,500, just for reference.
3. Charley Trippi. An occasional show guest even today, the popular running back was the first pick back in 1945. There were no major football card issues until a few years later. His 1948 Leaf rookie card, graded SGC 88, has sold for as much as $3,220 while his ’48 Bowman has brought $1,235 in PSA 9 grade.
4.Troy Aikman. Here’s one example where a rookie card graded Beckett Grading Services carries a premium. Modern era collectors sometimes pay big bucks for cards in BGS holders. The 1989 Score issue is semi difficult and Aikman rookies have sold for $2,651 and $1,506 in BGS 10 grade. An average, mint 9 Aikman rookie, graded or not, usually sells for well under $100. You can find them on eBay for less than $30 on a regular basis. The price disparity is strange indeed, but if we’re talking highest prices paid, you can’t ignore these.
5. O.J. Simpson. People don’t buy O.J.’s cards because they like him. They buy him because you can’t have a Hall of Fame rookie card set without him and his card is the key to the 1970 Topps football set. O.J. rookie cards are now 42 years old and they have sold for as much as $1,378 in PSA 9 over the last several years. An 8.5 sold for $650 and an 8 brought $264.
John Elway deserves honorable mention, here, with a PSA 10 1984 Topps selling for nearly $1,000 once, but there are way too many Elway rookies in the market to bring this card up much in price.