PSA Set Registry

Collecting the Current Crop

The Most Desirable Rookie Cards of Active NFL Players

by Kevin Glew

There's Tom Brady and then there's the next tier of stars below him.

That would be an accurate assessment of the New England Patriots superstar's popularity among NFL fans and in the trading card hobby.

"If you look at modern cards, Tom Brady just dominates the football card market right now. I mean he's turned into the Mickey Mantle of football cards so to speak," said long-time hobbyist Jay Groat.

Joe Prizio, another veteran gridiron collector, agrees.

"If you're talking about active players, I would say the very top is Tom Brady without a doubt," he said.

But who would join Brady on a list of the most desirable rookie cards of active NFL players?

This question was recently posed to four veteran PSA Set Registry football collectors, and taking into account their input, along with some extensive research by the author, the ensuing list was compiled.

For this article, a well-known mainstream rookie card (or in many cases, the rookie that has been added to the Future Pro Football HOF Rookie Players - Modern set on the PSA Set Registry) has been identified for each player, but selected high-end rookies are also discussed.

2000 SP Authentic Tom Brady #118

With all that Brady has accomplished, it's mind-boggling to think that he wasn't selected until the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft, and it wasn't until Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe suffered an injury in 2001 that Brady would be named the starter and commence his unparalleled run of success. In 17 seasons as a NFL starter, the 6-foot-4 signal-caller has established league records for most regular season wins, playoff wins, division titles (15), touchdown passes in the Super Bowl (18), Super Bowl rings (5), and Super Bowl MVP Awards (4). His resume also boasts 13 Pro Bowl selections, three regular season MVP Awards, and a spot on the NFL's 2000s All-Decade team.

Brady's SP Authentic rookie (#118) is one of 81 Future Watch rookies in the 2000 SP Authentic Football series that are serial-numbered out of 1,250. The card presents an early photo of Brady poised to make a throw, but the text on the back does little to hint at his future greatness. This card is not particularly difficult to uncover in top grade if you can find one.

BradyBrady

Kevin Searfoss, who owns the No. 2 Current Finest Future HOF Rookie Players - Modern set on the PSA Set Registry, bought a PSA GEM-MT 10 example about four years ago for $3,500.

"Now, if you want a PSA 10, you're going to have to pay over five digits," he said.

Of the 536 submitted, there have been 98 PSA 10s. One PSA 10 fetched $16,800 in a Goldin Auctions sale in August 2018.

Selected High-End Rookie:
2000 Playoff Contenders Autograph #144

If you thought Brady's SP Authentic rookie was expensive, try pursuing his 2000 Playoff Contenders autograph (#144). The front of this card features a full-length action photo of Brady on the left with an on-card autograph at the bottom. This card is not serial-numbered, but it had a limited distribution.

"To me, the ultimate true Brady rookie card is the Playoff Contenders," said Prizio. "The last PSA 10 sold for $110,000 at auction. The [PSA 10] Population on that card is only 14 and that number has not changed much since 2011."

2001 Topps Chrome Rookie Refractor Drew Brees #229 (#/999)

The 39-year-old quarterback now owns the NFL record for most career passing yards after overtaking Brett Favre and Peyton Manning early in the 2018 season. Given Brees' success with the New Orleans Saints, it's easy to forget that he began his career with the San Diego Chargers and was a Pro Bowler with them in 2004. Since signing with the Saints as a free agent prior to the 2006 season, he has been selected to 10 more Pro Bowls, has topped the NFL in passing yards seven times, and most importantly, he led the Saints to their only Super Bowl victory (XLIV). Along the way, he has also compiled the highest completion percentage (66.9%) of any quarterback in NFL history and has passed for more than 5,000 yards in a season five times (no other NFL quarterback has done this more than once).

"When Drew Brees is all done, he may hold all of the passing records," said Groat.

Brees

Brees' silver-bordered 2001 Topps Chrome Rookie Refractor single (#229) showcases a full-length photo of him with the San Diego Chargers in a throwing motion.

"The problem with that card is that the centering is an issue; they tend to be a little off-center," said Searfoss. "And because you have that Chrome finish on there, they also scratch really easily."

Veteran collector Mark LeBourdais, who has assembled the No. 3 Current Finest Future HOF Rookie Players - Modern set on the PSA Set Registry, agrees.

"This 2001 Topps Chrome card is tough to get in a [PSA] 10," he said. In general, however, there are very few PSA 10s from this set, he notes. Out of the 1,670 evaluated by PSA, there are only 134 PSA 10s total in this set - only 8% of the cards graded thus far.

Searfoss says it's only been recently that the value of this card has skyrocketed.

"Before, you could get a [PSA MINT] 9 for under a $1,000. Now, [PSA] 9s are going for $3,500 to $4,000, while a PSA 10 will probably go for $5,000 to $6,000," he said.  "And it's climbing because there are only 999 of them, so it's less than the [2000 SP Authentic] Brady and I think it's much more condition sensitive."

Of the 153 evaluated, there have been just six PSA 10s. One PSA 10 garnered $5,767 on eBay in February 2018.

Selected High-End Rookie:
2001 Playoff Contenders Autograph #124

This card, which presents an action image of the then young quarterback getting ready to throw, is Brees's most coveted certified autograph rookie issue. It was limited to 500 copies.

Of the 143 submitted, there have been 39 PSA 10s. One PSA 9 sold for $4,199 on eBay in July 2018.

2005 Topps Chrome Aaron Rodgers #190

Like Brees, Rodgers possesses just one Super Bowl ring (XLV), but he has established himself as one of the most consistent and efficient quarterbacks in NFL history. After three seasons as Brett Favre's backup in Green Bay, Rodgers assumed the starting role in 2008 and didn't disappoint, becoming the first quarterback in league history to pass for more than 4,000 yards in their first two full seasons. Known for his pinpoint accuracy, the two-time NFL MVP has also twice been named the NFC Offensive Player of the Year and is one of four quarterbacks to pass for 40 touchdowns in more than one season. A six-time Pro Bowler, the 34-year-old Rodgers owns the highest career passer rating and best touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history.

Rodgers

His white bordered Topps Chrome card (#190) highlights Rodgers in practice shorts in a throwing motion. There are 199 PSA 10s, one of which fetched $1,000 on eBay in August 2018.

This card also comes in rarer and more valuable refractor versions.

Selected High-End Rookie:
2005 SP Authentic Autograph/Jersey #252 (#/99)

Rodgers' 2005 SP Authentic Autograph/Jersey single (#252) is his most desirable high-end single. Limited to 99 copies, this card presents a photo of Rodgers in a throwing motion, as well as an on-card autograph and jersey patch. Prizio notes that there are just four PSA 10s.

2004 Topps Chrome Larry Fitzgerald #215

Selected third overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2004 NFL draft, this dynamic 6-foot-3 wide receiver has put together a Hall of Fame resume in relative anonymity. Though he has never played with an elite quarterback for an extended period, the 11-time Pro Bowler has still set NFL records for most seasons with 90+ receptions (nine) and most TD receptions in a postseason (eight in 2008). Now 35, Fitzgerald, who owns virtually every receiving record in Cardinals' franchise history, sits third on all-time NFL lists in receptions, receiving yards, and eighth in receiving TDs.

"He's a guy who quietly gets it done," said Groat. "He has never been on a great team. He has never been on a team like the New York Giants where you're going to get the publicity. And he's never had a great quarterback to throw to him, so he has quietly done it by himself for the most part."

Fitzgerald

LeBourdais agrees.

"Look at who he has had throwing to him during his career," he said. "He had Carson Palmer throwing to him for a period and that helped him out, but other than that, who has he had throwing him the ball? Can you imagine what he would have done with Brady or Brees?"

His white-bordered Topps Chrome rookie (#215) fittingly highlights him about to make a catch. Of the 157 submitted, there have been 72 PSA 10s. One PSA 10 fetched $199 on eBay in August 2018.

This card also comes in rarer and more valuable refractor versions.

Selected High-End Rookie:
2004 Playoff Contenders Rookie Ticket Autograph #151 (#/50)

Prizio says Fitzgerald's 2004 Playoff Contenders autograph rookie is a highly desirable single. This black-bordered card features a photo of Fitzgerald in a running pose and a sticker autograph.

"That card is numbered to 50 and the PSA 10 population is only five," noted Prizio. "To me, among active players, that is a very rare card."

2004 Topps Chrome Ben Roethlisberger #166

Chosen in the first round (11th overall) by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2004 NFL draft, Roethlisberger was an immediate success in the pro ranks, leading the Steelers to 13 wins in his rookie season (a record for a first-year quarterback) and earning the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award. In the ensuing 13 seasons, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound signal-caller has led his club to two Super Bowl titles (XL and XLIII), been selected to six Pro Bowls, and has established himself as one of the most efficient passers in league history, posting a 94.0 passer rating (9th all-time). Now 36, he begins 2018 with the fourth highest winning percentage in regular season history and sits eighth on the career passing yards list.

Roethlisberger

His white-bordered Topps Chrome rookie features Roethlisberger in a throwing pose in his black Steelers jersey. Of the 348 evaluated, there have been 136 PSA 10s. One PSA 10 garnered $285 on eBay in August 2018.

This card also comes in several rarer and more valuable refractor versions.

Selected High-End Rookie:
2004 SP Authentic Autograph/Jersey #213 (#/299)

Limited to 299 copies, his SP Authentic rookie features a posed shot of a helmetless and intimidating looking Roethlisberger, an on-card signature, and a jersey patch.

Of the 27 graded, there have been nine PSA 10s.

2003 Leaf Rookies & Stars Antonio Gates #132

An All-American basketball player at Kent State, Gates was convinced to sign with the San Diego Chargers as a free agent in 2003. In 15 NFL seasons, Gates has been selected to eight Pro Bowls, is a three-time first-team All-Pro, and is the Chargers' all-time leader in receiving yards, receptions, and touchdown receptions. In 2015, he recorded his 100th touchdown reception to become just the second tight end to reach that mark. He now has the most touchdown receptions by a tight end and the sixth most by any player in NFL history.

Gates

"He's probably the second-best tight end [in NFL history] next to Tony Gonzalez," said Searfoss. "If you look at the statistics, his numbers are ones you would see from a wide receiver not a tight end."

His Leaf Rookies & Stars single offers a full-length photo of him in a running motion against a white background. There are 57 PSA 10s.

2002 Topps Chrome Julius Peppers #214

After a standout college career at the University of North Carolina, Peppers was chosen second overall by the Carolina Panthers in the 2002 NFL draft. He excelled in the professional ranks immediately, earning the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year in his first season. Now in his 17th NFL campaign, Peppers, who has played with the Panthers, Chicago Bears, and Green Bay Packers, has been named to nine Pro Bowls, is a three-time first-team All-Pro, and was selected to the NFL's 2000s All-Decade team. Along the way, he has recorded the fourth most sacks in NFL history, only ranking behind Hall of Famers Bruce Smith, Reggie White, and Kevin Greene.

"With Peppers being No. 4 on the all-time sacks list and with the number of years he has been playing, I would assume that he's definitely going to get into the Hall of Fame at some point," said LeBourdais.

Peppers

Searfoss agrees.

"Without question, I believe he'll be in the Hall of Fame," he said. "Between Carolina and Green Bay, where he has played, he has just been amazing at his position. And for him to be playing at the level he has been playing at - at his age - is extremely remarkable."

His Topps Chrome rookie (#214) offers an action shot of him looking poised to pursue and pounce on a quarterback. Its green borders can make it tricky to land in pristine condition. Of the 108 evaluated, there have been 20 PSA 10s, one of which sold for $330 on eBay in June 2018.

Selected High-End Rookie:
2002 Playoff Contenders Autograph #142 (#/40)

Limited to just 40 copies, this horizontally aligned single features an action photo and sticker autograph on the left and branding, his team, name, position, and number on the right. 

The only two submitted have received PSA 9 and PSA NM 7 grades.

2004 Topps Chrome Eli Manning #205

Selected first overall in 2004 by the San Diego Chargers and then dealt to the New York Giants, Manning has put together a solid 14-season NFL career in the Big Apple. His resume boasts two Super Bowl rings (XLII and XLVI), two Super Bowl MVP Awards, four Pro Bowl selections, and he holds the record for most passing yards in a single post-season (1,219 in 2011). The clutch performer is also the Giants' leader in virtually every passing category. Now 37 and in his 15th season, Manning sits sixth all-time in passing yards and eighth in passing touchdowns.

Manning

His white bordered Topps Chrome rookie features a photo of him in his blue Giants jersey in a throwing motion. Of the 330 graded, there have been 111 PSA 10s, one of which commanded $240 on eBay in July 2018.

This card also comes in several rarer and more valuable refractor versions.

Selected High-End Rookie:
2004 SP Authentic Autograph/Jersey #216 (#/299)

Manning's SP Authentic rookie features him in a posed running shot and includes an on-card autograph and jersey patch. A dark blue background extends to the edge for part of the top and left side, which makes these areas susceptible to chipping. Of the 15 submitted, there have been three PSA 10s. One PSA 10 garnered $2,550 on eBay in November 2016.

2007 Topps Chrome Adrian Peterson #181

After being taken seventh overall by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2007 NFL draft, Peterson would set an NFL mark for most rushing yards in a game (296) in his eighth regular season contest (November 4, 2007) and earn the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year award. The seven-time Pro Bowler continued to be an overpowering running back for several seasons, leading the NFL in rushing yards three times and in rushing touchdowns twice. In 2012, he finished with 2,097 rushing yards, which was only nine yards short of Eric Dickerson's single-season record. His career has been on the down slope since his legal woes in September 2014. He split 2017 between the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals and signed with the Washington Redskins prior to the 2018 season.

Peterson

"He's a three-time rushing champion, and individual awards like that matter greatly if you're going to be a Hall of Famer. I think he's sure to become a Hall of Famer," said Groat.

His 2007 Topps Chrome rookie (#181) presents an action photo of him in his purple Vikings jersey.

"That card has black borders and there was a time when it was tough to get in high grade," said Prizio.

Of the 461 submitted, there are 227 PSA 10s.

This card also comes in several rarer and more valuable refractor versions.

Selected High-End Rookie:
2007 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection Autograph/Patch #133 (#/99)

His Exquisite rookie exhibits a photo of Peterson cradling the football and offers a jersey patch and an on-card autograph. Only 99 were produced. Of the six submitted to PSA, just one has been deemed a PSA 10.

2010 Bowman Sterling Antonio Brown #44

It might be a tad premature to rank Brown among the greatest wide receivers of all time, but in the past seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he's definitely established himself as one of the best pass catchers of his era. A sixth-round pick, the 5-foot-10 receiver has more receptions and receiving yards than any other player since his NFL debut in 2010. The six-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro is also an excellent punt returner. In his second season, he became the first player to have 1,000 yards receiving and 1,000 in returns in the same year. The Miami native has also twice led the NFL in receiving yards and receptions.

"Other than Fitzgerald, I think Antonio Brown has the best chance of getting in the Hall out of the active receivers," said LeBourdais.

Brown

Brown's 2010 Bowman Sterling rookie (#44) features him running with the football. Of the 12 submitted to PSA, there have been four PSA 10s.

This card also comes in several rarer and more valuable refractor versions. One PSA 10 example of the gold refractor version (#/25) sold for $223 on eBay in February 2018.

Selected High-End Rookie:
2010 Playoff Contenders Rookie Ticket Autograph #105

Though it's not serial numbered, Brown's Playoff Contenders Rookie Ticket autograph single is one of his most coveted rookies. This card showcases an action image of Brown running in his white Steelers jersey on the left with his name, team, position, and number displayed in a ticket design on the right. Of the 87 submitted, there have been 68 PSA 10s, one of which sold for $1,138 on eBay in August 2018.

• • •

Honorable Mentions

Vinatieri

1997 Pacific Philadelphia #199 Adam Vinatieri

Rivers

2004 Topps Chrome #230 Philip Rivers

Gore

2005 Topps Chrome #177 Frank Gore

Ryan

2008 Topps Chrome #TC166 Matt Ryan

Jones

2011 Topps Chrome #131 Julio Jones

Newton

2011 Topps Chrome #1 Cam Newton

Watt

2011 Topps Chrome #104 J.J. Watt

Wilson

2012 Topps Chrome #40 Russell Wilson

Gurley

2015 Topps Chrome #110 Todd Gurley

Wentz

2016 Panini Prizm #218 Carson Wentz

• • •

For more information on football trading cards, please visit https://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/#5football-cards.


Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Thank you to Mark LeBourdais, Joe Prizio, John Bergeron, James Casper, and Will Jiles for providing cards for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of September 2018.