Sports Card Strategy: Which NFL Rookie Cards Should You Buy?

There's an awful lot of debate going on in the hobby right now. But one thing sports card collectors can agree on is that grabbing the best rookie cards is the smartest move from a collecting and investing standpoint.

But that's super hard to know, because before the pro uniform stuff has even come out, we already have at least 11 different types of rookie cards in college uniforms in 2021.

Let's break this down a bit...

There were 259 picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, and we all know how many countless other NFL free agent rookies there will be this summer. And just as many actually rookies that there are to track, there are starting to be almost as many different brands and sets of rookie cards.

So even though collectors, hobbyists and investors pretty much know the obvious players to target - do they really know the differences between the cards that are available for each player with the desired "RC" mark on them?

We're not talking about which NFL Rookies to buy, but rather which types of cards make sense to buy for each, and why.

Some of these lessons are ones we've learned in 2021 and there's nothing we can do action-wise until 2022. And some decisions we can still make this year to be smart about how we spend our money.

First out:

2021 Leaf Rookies (Pre-NFL Draft)
2021 Pro Set / Leaf Rookies (Pre-NFL Draft)

$7 - $9/card on average

Next out:

2021 Topps Trevor Lawrence Exclusive Collection (Pre-NFL Draft)

$75/box (already going for $120+ per box) 1 auto on average per 5 boxes.

Then came Draft Weekend:

2021 Panini NFL Draft Instant with College Uniforms
2021 Panini NFL Draft Night Illustrations
2021 Panini NFL Draft Night Instant
2021 Pro Set / Leaf Rookies (Post-NFL Draft)

$7 - $9/card on average

Then, more from Panini:

2021 Panini Mosaic NFL Draft College Uniforms - $800/box (2 autos)
$400/per auto

2021 Panini Prizm NFL Draft College Uniforms - $449/box (5 autos)
$89/per auto

and from Leaf:

2021 Leaf Metal Draft Autos - $150/box (5 autos)
2021 Leaf Metal Draft Ultimate - $150/box (5 autos)

$33/per auto

Even though Topps and Leaf don't have the NFL or NFLPA licenses, their cards are looking sweet and have some nostalgic aspects that collectors love. Panini is and will still be the market leader, but are now facing some stiff competition in a soft(er) market than a year ago.

It's no longer an obvious choice to just go blow your load on Panini Prizm boxes anymore.

Another thing collectors and investors can likely agree on is that recently the data shows that base rookie card values have dropped, but autos and limited edition cards have held value and are likely to see value increases based on scarcity.

These Panini Instant Rookies, Leaf Online Exclusives and Trevor Lawrence Online Exclusives are limited print runs that were only available for a limited time and sold out quickly. The Leaf autos are not only limited edition, but have the most cost effective autos.

Additionally, the Panini Prizm College Draft Picks Hobby Boxes for $449 were the first Panini Hobby Boxes this year to not sell out within the first 30 minutes on the website. In fact, they were available up to a week afterwards before "finally" selling out.

Moving forward, go after the rookies and rookie cards you like, but be advised heading into 2022 when to wait on purchasing and when to blow your load early.

More to come as the year goes on! In the meantime, Happy Collecting and please let me know your thoughts in the comments below and let me know if you missed anything!

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Paul Hickey is a Digital Creator, spending about about 60% of his work time building WordPress websites for small businesses, 20% of his work time running an eCommerce Sports Cards and Digital Collectibles business at and another 20% of his work time authoring books and creating digital art in the form of NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens).

In each of his entrepreneurial endeavors, he believes it's important to create a community. He strives to do this by creating helpful content for his audience (community members) to learn about the topics he's interested in.

This is why he creates content on the following topics:

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