This past weekend, I headed over to Baseline Sports Cards in Schaumburg, Illinois, with one objective: buy a Justin Fields rookie card.
Fields was my No. 2-rated quarterback in the 2021 NFL draft, behind only Trevor Lawrence at the position, and No. 4 regardless of position. Him landing with the Chicago Bears, a historic franchise with a rather sad quarterback history, only boosted my feelings about his future success.
We can’t buy stock in players, per se, but we can buy trading cards. Fields was atop my list, especially after a recent chat with sports card analyst Chris Steuber who lent his expertise to a story I wrote about the leading card-grading service, PSA, halting much of its operations until July while it works through a months-long backlog of submissions. Steuber and I got around to a few other topics in the trading card biz, and I was very excited when he validated my feelings on Fields.
I asked Steuber to give me some names of NFL rookies whose cards he’s looking to invest in. Steuber possesses an extra layer of proficiency on the subject, considering he’s a big NFL draft follower who used to cover it for some major outlets.
“For me, it’s Justin Fields,” Steuber said. “I love Justin Fields as a player. I think going to Chicago in that big market there is huge. Obviously, the quarterback history there is awful. They’ve never had a great quarterback at all.”
Steuber was just gilding the lily here. I wasn’t about to stop him.
“His talent, what he brings to the table, is special,” he said. “I don’t quite feel the same way because when Patrick Mahomes came out of Texas Tech, I loved him and invested heavily in his cards as a rookie. But I do feel similarly with Fields.”
That was all I needed to hear. I arrived at the card shop, fistful of cash in hand, ready to buy. But this was the Chicago suburbs, after all, and it was only May. So what few 2021 football cards were available — more come out in June and beyond — had already been somewhat picked through. There were no Fields of Gold to be had.
I instead bought a pack of 2021 Panini Score cards — $40 for 40 cards. Not exactly the hobby I recall from childhood. No Fields there, either, sadly, but I got Trey Lance and Mac Jones rookie cards, and it was anchored with a Mahomes card, too. I have no earthly clue what, if anything, they’re worth now. I just know I’ll be fans of the 49ers and Patriots QBs.
Since Steuber knows the business inside and out, we picked his brain to help you figure out which cards might be best to seek.
Which 2021 card brands are best to buy?
The modern card market offers multiple options with different prices, quality and desirability. Steuber offered up some of his favorites for investment purposes.
“The big one in football is National Treasures,” he said. “It’s a very premier product, a very expensive product.
“The other big one is Panini Prizm. It’s really taken off in recent years. It’s Panini’s flagship set, I guess you could say. People want them. It’s a highly desired set of cards. Those are the two big ones for me, what I invest in. You go where the money is.”
Steuber also said he liked Donruss Optic, although not quite as much as the first two. “It’s got a chrome look — a very attractive look,” he said. “It’s good.”
For those not quite willing to make a big investment, Steuber offered up Select cards. “[That] is another popular brand for some people. The other brands, to me, are more for the collectors and less geared toward investors. Those are great for limited budgets.”
Quarterbacks are king
Not shockingly, Steuber has a type when it comes to collecting rookie cards as investments.
“With football, it’s all about the quarterbacks when investing in cards,” he said. “Before the pandemic, that was all I would ever do, save for a select few skill players.
“People look for other avenues to invest, whether it’s getting priced out or what, with positions, maybe wide receivers or running backs. But I have played easy with that stuff.”
Is there one skill-position player who might be an exception? Steuber offers up two players he’ll make exceptions for — one veteran and one rookie.
“Maybe Christian McCaffery, who I think is going to have a huge year,” he said. “Usually I am really picky with those players though.”
And the rook? Here’s a hint ...
“I do like DeVonta Smith a lot,” Steuber said. And one reason why is because Smith has a chance to join those three Hall of Famers from his above tweet. Steuber also likes to target non-QBs who have the chance to fill rare voids in the sporting world, which gives them chances to have their cards be highly sought in the future.
“The only two current NFL players who potentially have a chance to accomplish that feat are DeVonta Smith and Joe Burrow,” he said. “So to me, those are two guys who are — just because I think of this stuff all the time — able to accomplish something rare in sports. That matters. If those guys can win a Super Bowl and be first-ballot Hall of Famers, you really have something there.”
Burrow might be entering his second season, but Steuber also views him as a worthy dart throw.
“They’re both worth investment, I think," he said. “Burrow, especially coming back from his injury, but Smith, too.”
Which other QBs are worth buying stock in?
Steuber's takes on the other first-round quarterbacks from 2021:
Trevor Lawrence: “I really do like Trevor Lawrence. If he can stay healthy, obviously, I think great things are going to happen for him there. They have some weapons. I like Laviska Shenault there. That’s a good combination, and Urban Meyer is there, which makes it even more interesting.”
Zach Wilson: “I like Zach Wilson, but I don’t like where he’s at. I don’t like the Jets in terms of their recent history. Coming from Utah and going to New York, I don’t know how that’s going to work."
Trey Lance: “I am not big on Trey Lance. I think he has too much work. I think he’s a huge project.”
(We're going to hold onto our Lance card just in case.)
Mac Jones: “I think Mac Jones is in the perfect situation in New England.”
His favorite QB prospect outside Round 1: “Of the other quarterbacks, I’d invest in Davis Mills. Five-star recruit in high school. He played out west and didn’t have a lot of eyes on him, especially during a COVID season.
"But he’s loaded with talent. I think being in Houston, with Deshaun Watson’s future being who knows what, I can easily see him being their starting quarterback in the somewhat near future. I think he’s going to have a shot to show what he really has.”
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