Wading through the abyss of post-1990 football rookie cards can be difficult, but there may be some relative bargains out there.
by Garrett R. Monaghan
For savvy football card collectors searching for a great deal, finding underpriced rookie cards can be a tall order. Unlike baseball, where players usually need a series of good seasons to really raise their value, football cards can rise and fall in value pretty quickly. However, it’s possible to sniff out good deals here and there with a little help.
The following list of ten undervalued rookie cards should help both casual and serious collectors find something to fill out their collection without breaking the bank. All the prices given are approximated from listed values in Beckett Sports Monthly and Tuff Stuff magazine, and may vary from what you’ll find on eBay or at the local card shop. Buying high end graded cards may cost a little more.
1998 Upper Deck Payton Manning
This might be the only time you see the words “Peyton Manning” and “underpriced” in the same sentence, much less the same article. But, the fact stands. The ’98 Upper Deck Manning rookie card is only listed at $15-$30, and is the #1 card in the set. It may not be autographed or have a swatch but it’s really a classic at this point and there are plenty of folks out there who will want an affordable but nice Manning rookie as he makes his way to Canton. As Manning continues his climb up football’s Mount Olympus, his cards are only going to keep going up. Hop on this one, and hang on to it for a long time.
1994 Stadium Club Marshall Faulk
One of the most dominating running backs of the mid-to-late ‘90s, Faulk was eclipsed during his career by standouts like Emmitt Smith. That said, Faulk compiled some impressive numbers over the course of his career, though his cards suffer from being in a number of particularly poor sets. His ’94 Stadium Club rookie card lists for $8-$10, but can also sell for quite a bit higher. Underrated in his time, Faulk’s cards are correspondingly underpriced today.
1996 Bowman’s Best Ray Lewis
Like Faulk, Lewis’ cards pre-date the era of massive overproduction. There is always some confusion in the post-1980s card market, but the number of sets is still manageable. Lewis is one of the highlights in the 1996 NFL rookie class and one of just a small number of players not only still active in the league, but playing at a high level 14 seasons later. He’s simply one of the best football players of all-time and it’s surprising his rookie cards don’t sell for more money. His 06 Bowman’s Best rookie card grouping includes the base card, Refractor and Atomic Refractor. At less than $100, go all out and grab the Atomic–if you can find it. If not, grab the others.
2001 Fleer Genuine Drew Brees
Drew Brees hasn’t always been a superstar, and it’s taken his cards a little while to catch up with his performance on the field. After a few susperstar-worthy seasons, however, card collectors have started to sit up and take notice, and Bress’ value is rising across the board. The 2001 Fleer Genuine set is an underrated set in general, and Brees’ rookie card is listed for a reasonable $25. If Brees stays healthy and productive for a few more seasons and makes another Super Bowl run or two, he’ll have a legitimate shot at Canton, and his cards should start getting the respect they deserve.
2008 Donruss Elite Chris Johnson
Johnson has put up very impressive numbers for the Titans this year and while he’s not viewed in the same class as Adrian Peterson yet, he’s severely undervalued right now. While he needs a few more years of steady production to establish himself as a major star, he seems to off to a great start. Johnson’s ’08 Donruss Elite rookie card is listed at a reasonable $10, and it’s a worthwhile investment to see if he can cash in on his considerable potential.
2004 Fleer Genuine Larry Fitzgerald
If Larry Fitzgerald had Tom Brady or Peyton Manning throwing to him, he might be the biggest name in the game. As it is, he’s stuck with a geriatric quarterback and a small market team; neither of which help him. If Fitzgerald stays healthy, he’ll wind up in Canton one day. His 2004 Fleer Genuine rookie card is a bargain at $12, especially when compared with the $30 and $40 Eli Manning and Roethlisberger cards in the same set. Grab Fitzgerald before other collectors start showing him the love.
2004 Topps Chrome Michael Turner
The Chargers might not have needed Michael Turner, but the Atlanta Falcons certainly do. Along with QB Matt Ryan, Turner is a centerpiece of one of the most dangerous offenses in the league. As Ryan matures, expect to see Turner’s numbers get even better in tandem. At $15, Turner’s ’04 Topps Chrome rookie card is a steal for one of the league’s most unappreciated backs.
2004 Topps Chrome Steven Jackson
Like Larry Fitzgerald, Jackson would be a superstar if he played for a decent team. Unfortunately, he doesn’t and his value suffers drastically because of it. This year, Jackson had his best season since 2006. Despite playing hurt for the last few weeks of the season on another horrible Rams team, he still racked up over 1,400 yards–the mark of a true professional. Jackson’s ’04 Topps Chrome rookie card runs $10-15. If Jackson comes back healthy, and the Rams put anything around him, he’ll finish with numbers that will make us wonder how we overlooked his remarkable ability.
2004 Donruss Elite Matt Schaub
Matt Shaub had the poor luck to be part of one of the deepest draft classes for quarterbacks in years, and hadn’t had an opportunity to break out until this season. And boy did he break out in style. Schaub threw for 4770 yards and 29 touchdowns, catapulting himself into the ranks of the NFL’s leading quarterbacks. He’s a bit of a late bloomer, and consequently undervalued. His ’04 Donruss Elite rookie card is a reasonable $15, great when compared to a $30 Philip Rivers. If Schaub can build on this year’s success and the Titans rise to a consistent playoff level, his cards will start moving in the right direction pretty quickly.
2004 SP Authentic Jared Allen
Defensive players never get enough attention from collectors. Allen finished second in the NFL in sacks this season, and has recorded at least eleven in each of the last four seasons. He’s only starting to get some of the attention he deserves, in part due to a move from Kansas City to Minnesota. With all attention on Brett Favre and the offense, Allen is starting to catch a bit more of the limelight, and his cards are starting to creep up in value. Allen’s ’04 SP Authentic rookie card is priced at $12.50-$25, and could easily go up substantially with a few more Pro Bowl type years.