After the 2017 Draft: The 6 Best Card Values in this Year’s Draft Class

2017 Leaf Draft

The 2071 NFL Draft has come and gone, and it’s time for some super early analysis to break down the best possibilities for card collectors to make some decent returns. Follow me here for some follow up value calls as teams finalize their rosters over the summer, into preseason games, and finally as this rookie star takes the field in this fall.

There is plenty of commentary around rating the Draft, but from the perspective of discovering value in player cards, it is quite different than giving grades for overall team draft selections or analyzing how great of a value a team got for getting a “first rounder” deep in later rounds.

Are you looking to make some money on the hobby/sport of card collecting?

Rating players and cards based on potential ROI is much different, and takes much more analysis and speculation. The variables are nearly endless, but they all lead to three that will ultimately drive card price for each player — 2017–18 season player success, specific card demand, and specific card supply (rarity).

When speculating on card ROI, for good reason I also tend to favor offensive players than defensive players as well as rookie cards that are numbered and autographed. Simply put, offensive play makers tend to have more value in the collectible markets, and autograph and numbered rookie cards seem to be both more in demand as well as scarce — a nice 1–2 punch for driving ROI.

Jumping into the realm of limited edition, numbered, autographed rookie cards is the most expensive side of this market. If investing in cards with these types of values is a little more than you were bargaining for, stick with autos and rookies (eliminate limited number editions), and then if you’re still looking for cheaper value, eliminate autographs (but continue to look for limited edition cards — numbered, threads, memorabilia, or parallels.) Have fun with this hobby and don’t let all the options get to you. A little while on eBay looking for at your favorite rookie’s cards will get you in the mood to start building your collection.

Johnson is a defensive tackle that, even with great play, only University of Iowa Hawkeye and die-hard Vikings card collectors will get excited about.

We then need to analyze the 2017 draft. Each draft typically includes a ton of players taken that play in the trenches. This list consists of great players that certainly came with much draft hype, and make the game what it is, but usually cards I tend to stay away from. There following usually mainly consists of collectors that build on their favorite universities, with the second being the most die-hard team collectors of the team that drafted the player. There are always outliers like Ndamukong Suh was a few years ago, but investable stars that come from the trenches are far and few between. This includes Offensive Line (OL), Defensive Line (DL), Fullback (FB), Nose Tackle (NT), Guard (G), Center ©, Long Snapper (LS), Punter (P), and Kicker (K). Of the 232 players taken in the 2017 draft, only 56 (24%) were taken from this class. That leaves us with a lot of ideas to consider when finding card values in the 2017 draft class.

Desmond King could be a play maker at Safety for the LA Chargers. But just like any midtier positions, only a select niche of card player will get excited about midtier position superstars. Take Joey Bosa, the 2016–17 RoY. His cards increased in value a little after Bosa’s award, but it will likely take months into the 2017–18 season for any mojo to start happening with his cards. I loaded up on some Rookie Numbered Autograph Bosa cards, but I may be holding them awhile.

After throwing out the core of the uninvestables, I then move on to scour the list of positions occasionally give us play makers and stars, but still aren’t the “I’m going to get a Nike endorsement” grade of potential star. This usually is the largest number of draft picks, and that regularity didn’t disappoint in 2017 (Holy Tight Ends batman!). If I pick from this list, it’s usually because they are significant college standouts that went deep in the draft rather than in the first round or two, they look like freaks of nature and seem to be very coachable, and they are jumping into very favorable conditions with the team that drafted them. I also like it when teams trade up for them — it shows a level of commitment to the player by the team. For my 2nd tier of investables, I look to the positions of Linebacker (LB), Tight End (TE), Cornerback (CB), Halfback (HB), Safety (S), and Defensive End (DE). 109 (47%) players in this class were drafted in the 2017 Draft Class.

Fournette is crushing the hobby card markets. Collectors are hoping he is this season’s Zeke Elliott, and they’re paying dearly for it. Even if he crushes his rookie year with the Jaguars, it will be hard to see any upside in his cards. Fournette Rookie cards are priced for perfection, and anything other than perfection could see his cards falling as the season starts rolling. I’d steer clear here.

Finally, I look for the best value in the most popular position classes — where superstars are made. But because the entire football card collector community hangs out in this list of players with me, it takes some talent and guts to try to uncover tomorrow’s winners today.

Value can be found here the best because they are headline players, and they are the fastest to rise in value (as well as the fastest to lose value) when the player is doing what he should be doing — building his stat sheet and creating wins for his team. This class includes Quarterbacks (Q), Running Backs (RB) and Wide Receivers (WR).

D’Onta Foreman, Texas RB superstar, makes our honorable mention list as he joins the Houston Texans — a team that could potentially make him an NFL superstar.

This makes 2017 especially hard — it went down in history as one of the rougher draft classes for quarterbacks. Not only was it a rough draft class for QBs, but many of the “potentially-ready-to-play-now” quarterbacks (Trubisky and Mahomes the best prospects here) went to teams that will likely develop them over years — providing owners of these cards nothing but a long wait for any value in these cards, and could quite possibly even (ugh) losses.

To add more questions to the QB class, it’s hard to tell what the Bears have in mind for Trubisky this early on (do they even know?) — and it’s hard to rate him a value even if they do plan to start him in 2017–18. So we really have to dig to find players that are going to see their cards skyrocket — we project that great investable cards — those providing opportunity to receive real value over current acquisition costs, will be less than any of the previous five years.

The ROI doesn’t just come from identifying future stars and then gobble up their rookie cards. Rather, I still look at the same things I do in the last tier of investables — 1) is a team willing to invest in their rookie player, 2) does the team have favorable conditions to allow them to reach stardom quickly, 3) what does the player’s cards on the market look like in regards to scarcity and demand. 67 (29%) fall in this category for the 2017 Draft Class.

Finally, as more of a disclaimer than a strategy to value mining, I stray away from players that have significant past criminal cases for a variety of reasons. Lest you believe I’m just being judgmental here, I’ll cheer for them on game day and celebrate their ability to overcome adversity. You won’t find Mixon or Westbrook or any other players from the “questionable decisions” list my list.

When I’m putting hard earned money down on cards in which I’m seeking value, I just like to stray away from questionable players when there are so many great players out there.There chance of having long careers in the league diminish significantly when they have a criminal background. I’m not going to stack the odds against finding great value.

Now let’s get on with this list!

QB Deshaun Watson

By far, Watson cards could be the best value in this year’s rookie class. But to be sure, I likely would be saying that about Trubisky or Mahomes too — if they would have been drafted by the Houston Texans.

The Texans need an immediate impact player at the QB position — while they just happen to have a top-tier 12th-ranked defense. I’m not a Texan fan, but this team could get scary this season. If Watson can keep his feet underneath him and give us a little of that mojo he showed us during his college career — especially during the national title game against Alabama, then all bets are off with this kid’s rookie card values.

Dak Prescott gave us extreme value this past season because he was a sleeper (went late in the draft and not a Top 5 QB pick) and Dallas was able to use him early in the 2016–17 season. Watson values could reach Prescott’s elevated rookie values and even reach further. I would also look at Watson’s supporting cast from the draft in RB D’Onta Foreman as well as rookie cards of offensive standouts TE C.J. Feidorowicz, WR DeAndre Hopkins, and WR Will Fuller. If Houston’s offense starts the season red hot, it will be because these three surrounded Watson and are likely recording some big numbers.

Watson’s cards are at a premium and are priced for perfection. I just believe the Texans are ready to dominate with the right QB at helm, and this could mean there is much more upside for Watson’s already expensive set of rookie cards.

RB Jamaal Williams

Next I have to look at what Green Bay did in the draft because, well, Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers. With their running game stuck in neutral, and Eddie Lacy departing to the Seahawks, I have to think that a sound option at this position will keep the Packers scoring points and winning games.

The Pack picked up BYU collegiate star RB Jamaal Williams in the 4th round, and he’ll do well joining their current “run by committee.” To be noted, Green Bay actually picked up a whopping 6 running backs in the 2017 Draft — certainly making a statement to their current running corps in Ty Montgomery, Christine Michael and Don Jackson. Of those six running backs, Williams was taken the earliest and has the most potential to be a starting bruising back for Green Bay.

I’ll also be picking up a few Purdue WR DeAngelo Yancey cards, a young rookie that was drafted into the Packers’ receiving corps. If anyone is going to make you look great, Aaron Rodgers is going to make you look great. If you want to get super speculative, of course you can probably pick up the rest of their draft picks on the cheap, though I won’t be joining that party. The best options with the remaining Packers’ RB 2017 draft picks are UTEP’s Aaron Jones and Utah State’s Devante Mays. Green Bay traded up for Jones in the 5th round (an indicator that I love), and grabbed Mays in the 7th.

QB C.J. Beathard

Who??? This is a classic “invest in what you know” thesis, and I know the University of Iowa Hawkeyes. As a die-hard Hawkeye fan, you’re looking at the newest biggest 49ers fan — don’t hate me for it. But if we really dig into this draft pick, it gets pretty interesting.

There’s no doubt that the 49ers are in quite a predicament, and to most 49ers fans, this draft pick caused weeping, wailing and the nashing of teeth. But Beathard was head coach Shanihan’s pick. He had a lot to say about Beathard after the draft, but summed it up best with “He reminds me a lot of Kirk Cousins.”

If you dig into Beathard’s play, you’ll realize he’s a pretty complete player with an arm to boot. And he’s as tough as they come. He’ll win games even when it doesn’t seem he has the chance. He always has.

His 2016–17 collegiate football season was pretty lackluster, but his supporting cast members often hindered his play more than helped it. Most mocks had him at the 2nd or 3rd QB going off the boards after the 2015–16 season (61.6% completion percentage, 2,800 yards, 17 touchdowns, 5 interceptions), so we’re left having to decide if he regressed his Senior season of if there were extenuating circumstances. I make a case for the latter.

Additional support for this thesis comes with analyzing the 49ers and their current QB corps of proven second and third-string quarterbacks — there current slurry of QBs may provide the opportunity for Beathard to play in games during his his rookie season.

And lastly, the 49ers gave us another indication of their intentions with Beathard — they drafted Iowa’s starting TE Kittle later in the draft — a move that will create significant comfort to Beathard if he winds up under center in 2017. This is the most speculative value play in my list, to be sure. But if Beathard beomes the Prescott of 2017, you heard it hear first. And of course, he could become just what the analysts have predicted all along — a very smart and capable career backup quarterback. (This wouldn’t be so great for card values).

The 49ers are definitely set up to give him his shot his rookie season. If you’re fully on board with this thesis, then you’ll realize it will take many young rising stars to put Beathard, or any 49ers successful QB, on that pedestal. So you may also want to look at 4th Round RB Joe Williams and 5th Round WR Trent Taylor. I will be, the 49ers traded up for both.

WR Juju Smith-Schuster

I love finding value by marrying talented ready-to-start draft picks to a team that has all of the capabilities to make them a star. (See my top pick with Watson and the Texans). Second Round Smith-Schuster is ready to play, and many mocks picked him in the first round (he ended up 62nd overall). QB Big Ben Rothlisberger is another one of those veteran quarterbacks that can take rookies under his wing, and make them look great if he wants. He is getting close to retirement, so his grandfatherly presence is being felt on the field and in the locker room more than ever. And though he talked a bit of the “R” word after this season, he’s back. And it’s hard to believe quarterbacks at his age are in it just for the money — Big Ben wants that 2018 Super Bowl ring. If he gets what he wants, Smith-Schuster will be one of the young stars that got them there.

It seems Smith-Schuster cards shot up during the draft, and they may be too expensive right now to grab up (I’ve heard there is a ton of card collectors in Pittsburgh, home of bigtime Beckett advertiser Steel City Collectibles). But if the hype around Smith-Schuster cards wains in the preseason, it may serve you well to snap some of these up.

WR Kenny Golladay

Though not the exact the thesis as Smith-Schuster, Golladay is a beast of a WR (think Megatron size) that is marrying up to a beast of a quarterback that wants playoff wins, let alone a Super Bowl win. Matthew Stafford is starting to enter his prime season as a quarterback and coming up on a contract year. He has won enough accolades to fill up a spare bedroom, yet his team struggles in the playoffs and hasn’t come close to reaching the Super Bowl.

Red zone play is a significant issue when the Lions lose, and Golladay is a Red Zone beast. Add to the story that the Lions traded up from New England for Kenny. I’m betting this wide receiver will start from day one, and it will take becoming a better route runner to do just that. If he struggles over the summer and in preseason with his routes, he may not become the asset I believe he could be for Detroit. At least in his rookie year.

Coming into the draft only known by mock creators and team analysts, this Northern Illinois stud will have to pay attention to his route running — Stafford will hit you where you’re supposed to be more often than where you are actually at). This is a player that could take over the 2016 “Prescott who?” conversation by the 2017–18 midseason. I think his cards will be overlooked by nearly everyone except a few Lions fans over the summer and preseason, providing a great opportunity to consider these cards.

Need an honorable mention that may also benefit from Stafford’s desire to win? Go with 4th Round Detroit Lions Draft Pick Toledo TE Michael Roberts. I am.

WR Zay Jones

During ESPN’s draft coverage on Saturday, ESPN fantasy football expert Matthew Berry named Jones this year’s “draft class fantasy sleeper.” The East Carolina WR is the FBS’ all-time leader in receptions. With Robert Woods gone, Jones could see significant playing time as Sammy Watkins’ #2. Which means he could easily by the Bills’ #1 by the end of the season. And the Bills drafted up for Jones.

I don’t know how many card collectors are out in Buffalo — but his card has been on a significant rise since Draft. If the values ease over the summer and into preseason, I’ll be snapping up some Zay autos.

Honorable Mention

Still grading potential value by the metrics I’ve outlined above, the following players also potentially offer strong value. Don’t go out and buy them right away after the Draft hype, but watch their values this summer to see if they ease, and if they do, you might be able to pick up a great value.

These players were drafted by a solid core team that can make them superstars overnight, and the teams have a clear need for the player. As with any NFL player, the odds are stacked against making the league, let alone becoming a starter and ultimately becoming a superstar. But these players look to have those odds stacked in their favor — and it will take guts, grit and a chip on their shoulder to make me look amazing. Here’s to making me look amazing!

WR, Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans

Titans traded up for Davis. Supporting cast led by hungry QB Mariota and 2016–17’s 12th-ranked defense. This 5th overall pick may not get as much attention as blue chip draft picks Fournette, Trubisky and Watson.

WR, Taywan Taylor, Tennessee Titans

Titans traded up for Taylor. Supporting cast led by hungry QB Mariota and 2016–17’s 12th-ranked defense. This 3rd Rounder may go unnoticed to most collectors, allowing great value to be snapped up pre-season.

WR, Mike Williams, LA Chargers

Another hungry quarterback in Philip Rivers, this Florida WR is a stud. With Defensive Rookie of the Year Bosa on the other end, offense can put up some points. Rivers needs a star — will Williams rise to meet those expectations? Though a first rounder (harded to find value here), collectors may be chasing more blue chip name brand draft picks in Watson, Garrett, Trubisky, Ross, and Fournette.

WR or RB, Curtis Samuel, Carolina Panthers

Panthers allow Samuel to play immediately after losing Ted Ginn in free agency. An already fast offense with QB Newton at the helm, Samuel only makes it faster. Projected as a potential first rounder, he dropped to the second round and may be off collectors’ radars.

CB, Desmond King, LA Chargers

Joining fellow Big Ten alum Defensive Rookie of the Year Joey Bosa may provide the stimulus for this often-mocked 2nd or 3rd Rounder All-American to have an excellent year. Was awarded the Jim Thorpe (best defensive back) award his Junior 2015–16 season. Fell hard to the 5th Round. Does he have what it takes to become the Chargers’ second straight DoY award candidate? Won’t go noticed by card collectors except Iowa Hawkeye fans — may not even get that much fanfare from Chargers fans.

Question? Shoot me an email at ryan@thepearlypig.com or on Twitter @surbski