Handicapping the Contenders for 2014 Offensive Rookie of the Year

If there is one award that means a ton to football cards, its the offensive rookie of the year. Because so many products are rookie focused, collectors have been following along all year, and this is the culmination in a lot of ways. When the award is finally announced on Saturday night, im curious what the value reaction will be. There are a few rookies who have run to the front of the pack as finalists for the award, and I want to handicap some of the potential that they could win.

Odell Beckham Jr

Handicap: Close to a sure thing
Hobby Value: Extreme

I literally cannot remember a time where a WR commanded as much attention as Beckham commands so far in 2014. He is easily the top valued rookie in the class, and it is a direct result of his ability to make spectacular plays. His catch remains the best play of the year, and catapulted him onto the national stage where he excelled among many of the collectors’ fancy this year. Beckham is about as close to a sure thing as possible, and his card values reflect it. To think he did what he did and didnt even play a whole season? Im speechless.

Cards to chase:

2014 Contenders Odell Beckham Jr Championship Ticket Auto RC

2014 Chrome Odell Beckham Jr Auto RC

Odell Beckham Game Used 2014 Gloves – Steiner Cert

Teddy Bridgewater

Handicap: Middle of the road
Hobby Value: GOOD

I dont think many people expected Bridgewater to be the top QB in the class, especially with Johnny Manziel on the marquee when the draft started back at the beginning of the year. He posted some promising games at the end of the season, leading an embattled Vikings team steeped in controversy to a respectable 7-9 record in a tough division. Hobby wise, his value has climbed since the end of the year, with people realizing what he is all about.

Cards to chase:

2014 Contenders Teddy Bridgewater Rookie Ink Auto

2014 Topps Prime Teddy Bridgewater Auto Six Piece Booklet

2014 SP Authentic Teddy Bridgewater Auto 3 Color Patch

Mike Evans

Handicap: Top Tier
Hobby Value: GOOD

To have 1 WR be the main guy in the class is one thing. To have two WR play at a top level and maintain hobby value these days is insane in this age. Evans played for a terrible team at a devalued position, which means that his value suffered through no fault of his own. If Beckham didnt rule the last 8 weeks of the season, Evans would have a real shot at this award.

Cards to Chase:

2014 Topps Finest Mike Evans Auto RC Refractor /35

2014 Topps Chrome Mike Evans Auto RC

2013 Exquisite Mike Evans Auto XRC /99

Jeremy Hill

Handicap: Longshot
Hobby Value: BELOW AVERAGE

I really like what Jeremy Hill did for the Bengals this year. As a later round pick, he was a main reason why the Bengals had success in an offense that had its challenges. Gio Bernard struggled to get his footing late in the year, and Hill ran wild in his place. It was fun to watch, but collectors really dont care about RBs anymore. I cant tell you how much that makes me sad. Hill also has a terrible autograph, which further disinterests people.

Cards to Chase:

2014 Topps Platinum Jeremy Hill On Card Auto RC

2014 Topps Valor Jeremy Hill Auto Patch /25

2014 Topps Strata Jeremy Hill Clear Cut Auto Logo 1/1

Sammy Watkins

Handicap: Longshot
Hobby Value: GOOD

I put him on here because in the eyes of the hobby he deserves to be a finalist. Watkins was the top receiver drafted, but was arguably the fourth best of the class behind ODB, Evans and Benjamin. People have a lot more faith in him because of his college career and his potential, which will develop over the next few years. Its rare that WR have success in year one, and I dont think anyone is ready to give up on him. Even Dez Bryant didnt come on until his third year.

Cards to chase:

2014 Chrome Sammy Watkins Black Refractor Auto RC /25

2014 Contenders Sammy Watkins Championship Ticket Auto

2014 Flawless Sammy Watkins Jumbo Patch Auto

Breaking Down Some of the Best Products of 2014 (to date)

In case you missed it, here are my takes on the WORST products of 2014 so far.

Now, without further adieu, here are some thoughts on where the companies got it right. I judge most of my feelings about a set on looks, but I realize that box break is also a factor. We have had some nice products so far, and this is the time to call them out.

2014 Topps Flagship

Design Grade: A-
Break Grade: B+
Overall Grade: A-

I think that of all the recent years of Topps, this set was easily one of the best. All the main areas of the break were solid, from the parallels to the autographs. The switch away from premiere candid photos to inception style retouch work was great, and overall this was an incredibly fun break.

Evidence:

2014 Topps Rookie Premiere Auto Mike Evans RC

2014 Topps Tom Brady SP Variation Auto

2014 Topps Teddy Bridgewater 1985 Throwback Auto RC

2014 Panini Elite

Design Grade: B+
Break Grade: B+
Overall Grade: B+

I really liked Elite this year. Although some of the design work was as shoddy as ever, other parts of it were downright awesome. Adding in on card autographs with NFL uniforms similar to Topps’ concepts worked really well. The break was fun and the base design was the best it has been in years.

Evidence:

2014 Elite Johnny Manziel Acetate Auto RC

2014 Elite Odell Beckham Jr Auto RC

2014 Elite Derek Carr Auto On Card RC

2014 Topps Inception

Design Grade: A
Break Grade: B
Overall Grade: B+

Topps has really hit a homerun with this product, but it really only works in years with a good rookie class. The inscription cards are still some of the best cards released this year, and the general set continues to hold more value than it has in the past. A great looking design and look for its fourth go around.

Evidence:

2014 Inception Teddy Bridgewater Nike Logo Auto Patch 1/1

2014 Topps Inception Odell Beckham Auto Nike Tag Booklet /5

2014 Topps Inception Kelvin Benjamin Silver Signatures Auto

2014 Leaf Trinity

Design Grade: B+
Break Grade: A-
Overall Grade: A-

Inscriptions, Giant patches, glass cards, it all works on a very limited run product. I broke more Trinity than I ever have this year, and its all because the cards were so cool. Kudos to Leaf for getting an unlicensed product into the consciousness of the regular collector.

Evidence:

2014 Leaf Trinity Jeremy Hill Inscription Auto

2014 Leaf Trinity Teddy Bridgewater PURE Glass Auto

2014 Leaf Trinity Jadeveon Clowney Jumbo Patch Auto

2014 Upper Deck SP Authentic

Design Grade: A
Break Grade: B
Overall Grade: A-

If you are a college collector, this product was right in your wheelhouse. Not even a question. The cards looked like the SPA of old, and the inscription element was impressive. I think that for the first time in a long time, I saw this set for what it used to be.

Evidence:

2014 SP Authentic Jimmy Garoppolo Auto Patch Inscription Logo 1/1

2014 SP Authentic Blake Bortles Auto Patch RC

2014 SP Authentic Matthew Stafford Authentic Moments Auto

2014 Topps Finest

Design Grade: A
Break Grade: C
Overall Grade: B

I loved Finest this year, and broke a ton of it, despite the longer odds on hitting a bigger rookie autograph. The reason was that the design was awesome, and it was easily one of the better products in value when you did hit something big. The big letdown was that the base design rookie autos were stickers instead of on card this year.

Evidence:

2014 Topps Finest Blake Bortles Superfractor Auto

2014 Topps Finest Mike Evans Superfractor Jumbo Patch Auto 1/1

2014 Topps Finest Sammy Watkins XFractor Jumbo Patch Auto

There are obviously going to be some people who feel like sets such as Flawless and Contenders should be on here, but I have such hugely negative feelings about break quality vs price (Flawless) and design of the overall product (Contenders), that I didnt think they deserved credit on this list.

That being said, there are still a lot of products left on the calendar, so this list could easily change in the coming weeks. Perennial winners in Five Star, Supreme, NT and others have yet to hit shelves, so there is still a lot of football products with big aspirations. Hopefully things work out well.

Breaking Down Some of the Worst Products of 2014 (To Date)

In the midst of trying to stay on top of the myriad of releases that the companies have put out in football this year, I think its time to call out where they have failed so far this year. Its not always the design or the box break that does it either, but rather a combination of factors.

2014 Panini Hot Rookies

Design Grade: F
Break Grade: F
Overall Grade: F

There are no words for how bad this shit is. Hands down, Panini couldnt pay me to open boxes of this stuff, as both the design and format were horrendous. Airbrushed sideline shots, foil stamping to cover up the score logo, and colored foil are worthy of the garbage bin more than the bargain bin. They meant this to be a hobby type version of Score, but who thought that was a brand worth doubling down on? Barf.

Evidence:

2014 Panini Hot Rookies Kelvin Benjamin Auto

2014 Panini Hot Rookies Jeremy Hill Auto

2014 Panini Hot Rookies Jadeveon Clowney Auto

2014 Bowman Sterling Football

Design Grade: D
Break Grade: D-
Overall Grade: D-

This is one product that I have no clue why it is still around. Honestly just a horrible format, a horrible price, and this year a horrible design. For $250+ at release, you are given hits that can be found in boxes at a fraction of the price. Yuck. Stickers are all over this product, which makes little sense considering the other sets that have been hard signed for a cheaper price at an earlier release.

Evidence:

2014 Bowman Sterling Drew Brees Auto Red /99

2014 Bowman Sterling Odell Beckham Purple Wave Auto

2014 Bowman Sterling Mike Evans/Kelvin Benjamin Dual Relic Auto Pulsar

2014 Absolute Memorabilia

Design Grade: B
Break Grade: F
Overall Grade: D+

If you are like me, you have to be curious why Panini would think to release a set based on a type of card that no longer has any value. The jersey card has been dead for years, and yet Absolute is stuffed to the gills with them. Even the better autographs have no value, and the foil presentation does nothing for the look. The cards look good for what Absolute has delivered in the past, but trying to sell this off as a rebranding is a joke. Doesnt help that many of the autographs were sticker dumps of non-rookie players who have no business being in a product that costs as much as this crap does.

Evidence:

2014 Absolute Odell Beckham Quad Relic Auto

2014 Absolute Johnny Manziel Six Relic Tools of the Trade

2014 Absolute John Elway Ink Auto

2014 Topps Chrome Football

Design Grade: A-
Break Grade: F
Overall Grade: C-

It pains me to put this set on the list, but I cant say it wasnt one of the most dismal box breaks of the year. Because the production run was drastically increased this year, Chrome fell victim to entire case runs without any good autographs. Although the design is still awesome, and there were REALLY nice cards in the product, things just didnt bode well for one of my favorite products of the year.

Evidence:

2014 Topps Chrome Mike Evans Auto Pink Refractor /75

2014 Topps Chrome Davante Adams Gold Refractor Auto /10

2014 Topps Chrome Brandin Cooks 1985 Throwback Auto /15

2014 Panini Playbook

Design Grade: C-
Break Grade: D-
Overall Grade: D+

They took out the guaranteed booklet auto relic this year, and added a new hot rookies parallel auto for some stupid reason. Even though there were some cool cards, the box break was absolutely brutal all around. Who doesnt love opening a box and getting a hot rookies scrub auto as your hit for the box. Its not even like they added cards from a good product! How much better would Contenders preview tickets have been instead? Even more appalling are the single acetate cards which Panini thought would make good use of the acetate for the booklets signed at the premiere.

Evidence:

2014 Playbook Jimmy Garoppolo Booklet Auto Patch

2014 Playbook Teddy Bridgewater Trapped Acetate Auto

2014 Playbook Khalil Mack Hot Rookies Orange Parallel

2014 Bowman Chrome

Design Grade: B
Break Grade: F
Overall Grade: D+

This had potential with a cool looking design and a build off of a popular product from earilier in the year. Instead this was a relative sticker dump with as bad a break as Topps Chrome. Big let downs were everywhere, as Topps Chrome at least had a majority of hard signed cards with no redemptions.

Evidence:

2014 Bowman Chrome Odell Beckham Auto Refractor

2014 Bowman Chrome Teddy Bridgewater Red Refractor Auto /25

2014 Panini Prizm

Design Grade: F
Break Grade: F
Overall Grade: F

Not only were the cards uglier than the Colts offense in the AFC championship game, but it had a terrible box break to boot. The break content with 80 million parallels, and hordes of sticker scrub autos left a shit streak on the shelves of the shops that stocked it. Just a terrible product all around, selling below dealer cost almost from the get go.

Evidence:

2014 Prizm Jeremy Hill Finite Auto 1/1

2014 Prizm Demarco Murray Auto Die Cut Military Parallel

2014 Prizm Teddy Bridgewater Hippie-Fractor Auto

2014 Panini Totally Certified

Design Grade: F
Break Grade: F
Overall Grade: F

I think this should be a top contender for worst of the year and I am not kidding about that. It looks like shit, breaks like shit, and has for years. It should have been axed years ago, but Panini has no idea how to build a card release calendar, so here it is. The design of the rookie patch autos is so bad, I cant even begin to describe it. Leave it to Panini to name a set “Awesome Autographs.”

Evidence:

2014 Totally Certified Andrew Luck Awesome Autographs

2014 Totally Certified Odell Beckham Auto Rookie Patch

2014 Totally Certified Odell Beckham Auto Rookie Penmanship

Dont worry, there wasnt all bad news, and Im sure these werent the only bad products of the year. Ill be back tomorrow with my best products of the year.

Addiction Discussion: Why Do We Keep Ripping Wax?

We have all been there, and we have all muttered the two words that no one ever wants to mutter:

“NEVER AGAIN!”

Over the majority of the last 50-75 years of the sports card industry, opening packs and breaking boxes has become an integral part of being a collector. We all want to be the one to walk away with that white whale that has eluded us. Hell, that’s why many of us use the phrase “white whale” as it is that type of scenario. Pulling a nice card happens so infrequently that we created a coloquialism.

With rising costs of wax, and content becoming more and more monotonous, questions continue to be raised surrounding the practice and its sustainability. Over the last 10 years, collectors have seen prices increase to insane levels, and investment opportunities dwindle, and yet, here we are.

Investment and sports cards has always run hand in hand, even though I rarely equate Sports Cards with a worthwhile use of money these days. For the most part, card values and desire to collect has dropped, especially as the industry seems to repeatedly use the same formula over and over again. Even when a concept becomes stale, card companies run it into the ground instead of trying to bring innovation and creativity to the table. Sure, there are some novel ideas that have taken hold, but those are literally one in a million. Most ideas are horrible by the time they hit shelves.

As the trend has shown over 2013 and 2014 especially, more and more people have become disenfranchised with the way things are going, leaving the hobby and not looking back. Because the fault lies in many different areas of the business side of the hobby, its tough to lock down even a short list of reasons. I want lack of good looking cards to be a reason, but we all know collectors will buy anything that has perceived value regardless of look.

Despite this situation, wax prices continue to go up without delivering truly unique content, and collectors (for now) keep buying. With this being such a buyers market, the question of why people rip wax instead of just buying the cards they want continues to baffle me.

I am a collector that still breaks boxes. This is all despite the fact that my PC theme is so specific, which only makes me question my own motivations further. I have started to wonder if this desire to open is more akin to a gambling type addiction than anything, because the two seemingly run hand in hand. With 90% of boxes (if not more) ending in a large value loss, we basically pay the dealers for the thrill of opening packs. If we hit a good card, it goes straight to eBay without a thought in many cases. Some collectors keep things for an ever growing collection that borders on hoarding, and that’s not something to scoff at either.

Think about it like this. Gambling (as a whole) actually provides more of an opportunity to make more money when you consider house odds on many games. From what I understand, many Casinos have perfected the art of getting consumers to dump their winnings back into the pot even when they hit a big score. The only main difference between gambling in a casino and cards is that there is never a TOTAL loss of investment when opening packs. You are always left with something, even if you lose. However, with cards, its beginning to seem like people lose far more often.

The scariest part is that I am not advocating a return to the ways of old, which some older collectors say is the solution to the issue – its not. We are too far past the point of no return on that model to think that any business would be able to survive with the way things were done. Licensing costs and regulations almost make the previous model as unsustainable as the current model. Neither will work.

What I am advocating is that Sports Cards as an industry is unsustainable, and it will land us in a very tough spot as collectors for years to come. I digress, as this article is more about us than the manufacturers. If collectors continue to understand that opening boxes is a losing venture more often than not, are we as responsible as them for the decline that is going on?

With the advent of group breaks being a preferred format for more collectors to avoid large losses on breaking wax, it should be more accessible for people to buy in. Instead of that being the situation, we see that even group breaker participation seems to be dropping quickly too. It might be a combination of the people who run them and the product quality they seem to pimp, but that is an entirely different discussion.

Is the thrill of opening packs more an addiction than anything? It might be, as its clear that many people have an unabated need to keep going, despite warning signs telling them there are better ways to participate in the hobby. They want to gamble on the big hit. It goes without saying that breaking boxes is no longer needed to complete sets, which was one of the many reasons people used to do it prior to eBay.

If I am a card company, the solution might not be as evident as people think. In fact it might be located OUTSIDE the proverbial box of cards itself, more in the distribution models and formats of the products. That being said, as a collector myself, I know how hard it is to stay away. You almost have to go cold turkey, and for most of us, that is just as miserable as losing your ass on a box of cards.

For the manufacturers, the exploitation of wax breaker’s addiction is likely not at the forefront of product planning, either. They should be moving more towards the way casinos function rather than just pumping content into or away from boxes. The only win win is for them to give us just enough to get us to buy another box, while still holding enough value inside and outside the box for us to want to keep coming back.

That is the reason why casinos have giant buildings on the strip in Vegas despite a recession kicking disposable income to the curb. If Americans are continuing to save money over spending it at the highest rate since World War 2, what enticing situation can be provided to keep them coming back? Im not sure that exists in the same way for cards, and it is why I am becoming alarmingly concerned.

Bringing exclusive licenses into the mix is a prime reason why things will likely get worse rather than better. Instead of inciting competition among licensed brands, exclusive licenses use the guise of “making investments into product lines” as an excuse to be complacent and lazy. This is what we have seen with just about every exclusive that has ever been granted. History is not a good teacher there, and collectors have been left footing the bill

SO. What to do?

Right now, we are almost powerless to make any impact, and I know that it will be tough to hear. The industry IS a sinking ship, even though the hobby will never die. Do not confuse Panini’s blank check from Italy with a license to do what ever they want. Panini Group is a business, and if they are smart they would see that spending money with no prospect of return is a horrible plan. When (not if) that happens, then what?

We see that collectors long for the nostalgia of their youth, which is why vintage cards will always have a market, even after they all die out. They will die out, as it is an inevitability. However, because value can be derived from seeing how much something is worth to SOMEONE ELSE, Vintage will remain at the top of the heap.

From our perspective, we need to figure out where the fun lies. Someone with a ton of money can break wax indiscriminately, regardless of the losses they may take. On the other hand, those whales rarely come along. Most of the people that break wax have to put their face in their palms each month their credit card bill comes due. The addiction is there, and they will keep breaking, but the point where they stop is coming near. Numbers have shown that.

We see that companies rarely hire new blood in any way shape and form. They trade horses among themselves, hoping that the person who was afraid to go out on a limb before, all of a sudden can deliver a shot in the arm. Spoiler alert – it never happens. The leadership remains the same, and they rarely allow for people to go off on their own. Panini is a perfect example of this, as many members of their team come from either Beckett (an outdated and disconnected magazine dwindling on despair), and Fleer (a company that has already gone bankrupt once). With Topps and Upper Deck already following the same path, the talent there will likely migrate as well. That spells bad news all around.

Bottom line, I realize that the last 1400 words were a basic “off the cuff” type of discussion around a common theme, but hopefully it becomes a starting point for your own internal battle with our addiction. I use the word “our” because I am right there with you. We can continually dream of a utopian card society that figures these issues out, but that is never going to happen. The only remaining point of order is how you personally will deal with it. I am challenged daily, and I would guess you are too.

Annual Word of Warning: STAY AWAY FROM 2007 ROOKIE PREMIERE AUTOS!

With the Seahawks in the Super Bowl again, its time we revisit a topic that I am literally sick of talking about. Yet, because no one in the hobby really does their homework on certain things like they should, I feel like it is always necessary.

Back before 2010, Topps did not number the yearly rookie premiere auto releases that were always part of the flagship set. Because of the way the cards were produced, they always printed more of the cards than were needed, just in case something went down during the signing at the rookie premiere. After 2010, the cards were numbered to prevent this situation from happening. Dont fall for any of the crap out there, as its just not worth it – especially with the 2007 versions.

To start, for the best of my knowledge, these are ones that LOOK real. No guarantees:

2007 Rookie Premiere Auto Marshawn Lynch Blue Ink

2007 Rookie Premiere Auto Marshawn Lynch Blue Ink BGS 9.5

Here are some of the examples of what the fakes look like for Marshawn Lynch:

FAKE 2007 Rookie Premiere Auto – Marshawn Lynch/Adrian Peterson

FAKE 2007 Rookie Premiere Auto – Marshawn Lynch/Adrian Peterson/Calvin Johnson/ Ted Ginn

FAKE 2007 Rookie Premiere Auto – Marshawn Lynch/Adrian Peterson Red Ink

FAKE 2007 Rookie Premiere Auto – Marshawn Lynch/Adrian Peterson/Calvin Johnson/Ted Ginn Version 2 Red Ink

NOTE: These cards have changed hands so many times, the seller is likely not the person responsible.

Its actually widespread across the whole series prior to 2010. There are fakes everywhere, but 2007 remains the biggest of the run:

FAKE 2007 Rookie Premiere Auto – Calvin Johnson / Adrian Peterson

FAKE 2007 Rookie Premiere Auto – Ted Ginn / Antonio Pittman / Troy Smith / Anthony Gonzalez

A well known hobby scam artist used his knowledge of the process to obtain hundreds and hundreds of the leftovers that werent signed, and forged so many signatures that the fakes now outnumber the real ones. The worst of these sets was the 2007 set, which features Super Bowl participant Marshawn Lynch, alongside other big names like Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson. I want to make sure everyone has a pre-emptive warning to STAY FAR AWAY FROM EVERY LAST ONE OF THESE CARDS, unless you have intimate knowledge of the real examples vs the fake examples.

Because Lynch’s signature is already erratic, it is harder to pick out the fakes, unless they are one of the early iterations where the autograph looks like it was done by my four year old. Since that time, the scammers have gotten better at perfecting their craft, which means it isnt as easy to pick ou the real ones anymore. BGS actually stopped grading these cards because of so many fakes. PSA wasnt as smart in that respect, as many fakes were slabbed repeatedly by them. DO NOT take a slab as representation that it is real, unless it also bears the mark that it was certified by JSA too. Blue PSA slabs may also be acceptable. Even ones like this have entered questionable territory, as I cant trust them anymore. The fakes are everywhere, real ones are few and far between.

Again, if you want more information on how I know these are not real, please go back through my archives and search “Rookie Premiere Auto.” They will all pop up.

This is a subject I have written about ad nauseum over the years, and with Lynch on the highest of national stages, its time to brush off the dust, as much as I hate to do it.