Skip to main content

For fans that enjoy watching college football to scope out the next stars in the NFL, this should be a fun year.

Across the board, there are plenty of skill players that should prove their worth at the next level. Also, there are some NFL rookies who could dazzle.

Sports Collectors Digest spoke with a pair of football gurus in the card world to get their takes on which young players to track in the college and pro games.

Also See: Ball from Tom Brady's 'final' TD pass back on market 

For players still in college, this story focuses on guys who will be eligible for the 2023 NFL draft.

COLLEGE STARS TO WATCH

Lance Fischer, the founder and owner of Onyx Authenticated Inc., is a former recruiter for the Florida State University football program.

He loves this year’s crop of college players.

Onyx is able to land autograph and card deals with many of the top college players for its product releases. Texas running back Bijan Robinson is one of those guys.

Onyx Vintage College Football cards featuring Texas RB Bijan Robinson.

Onyx Vintage College Football cards featuring Texas RB Bijan Robinson.

“When we met him in Austin [in early July], the kid is just very, very humble and is focused on the sport,” Fischer said. “He’s obviously taking advantage of the NIL opportunities, but the stuff I’ve heard about him not only on the field but just his mentality, he’s special.

“A lot of people are saying he’s one of the better running backs coming out of college in quite some time, because he not only brings the running aspect but the catching aspect out of the backfield. You don’t get that on a lot of players. He should be really exciting and someone that people should continue to look into whether it’s collecting or investment wise.”

Also See: Young QB cards still soaring in value 

Robinson is earning comparisons to former Longhorns running back and top-five draft pick Ricky Williams. During his sophomore campaign, Robinson rushed for 1,127 yards on 195 carries and 11 touchdowns. He added 295 yards receiving and four scores.

NFL teams are hesitant these days to draft running backs in the first round — none were selected in the opening round of last year’s draft — because of their shelf life in the NFL. But Robinson could be an exception.

“If you rewound the clock back 10 years, absolutely,” Fischer said. “But knowing how teams kind of draft running backs, it’s possible, but he’s definitely a first-rounder. And to say that a running back’s a first-rounder is almost the equivalent of saying, hey, this kid’s a top-five pick 10 years ago.”

Other than Robinson, Fischer is excited to watch a pair of running backs who switched schools in Zach Evans, who transferred from TCU to Ole Miss, and Jahmyr Gibbs, who went from Georgia Tech to Alabama. Also, do-everything Deuce Vaughan of Kansas State — a Darren Sproles lookalike — will be fun to keep an eye on.

There also is a solid corps of quarterback prospects at the college level this season. The group is led by three marquee names: Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young and Kentucky’s Will Levis.

Onyx Vintage College Football card of Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud.

Onyx Vintage College Football card of Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud.

“Depending on what drafting service you look at, a lot of them have him going in the first round and some other services don’t,” Fischer of Levis. “The kid’s arm strength is crazy. He’s not on probably the best team in the country, but he’s going to be playing against SEC competition, and with that it’s going to give him a lot of experience. It’s going to be interesting, because he’s not going to be having the same type of offensive lines that the C.J. Strouds and the Bryce Youngs are going to have. I think people are going to get a better look at [Levis’] true skill set on game film.”

Also, unlike Stroud and Young, Levis doesn’t have a big-time set of wide receiver targets to throw to. Yet, he managed to have a big junior season, going 233-for-353 passing for 2,826 yards, 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

By comparison, Stroud lit up college football last year as a sophomore with 4,435 yards passing on 317-for-441. He tossed 44 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

Young put up video game-type numbers as well as a sophomore: 4,872 yards passing on 366-for-547. He had 47 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Onyx college football card of Alabama QB Bryce Young.

Onyx college football card of Alabama QB Bryce Young.

Also See: Trey Lance rookie card sets record 

Fischer looks at the top three quarterbacks as franchise-type pieces for years to come. After that trio, there isn’t a huge drop-off in talent from the gunslingers.

“Then you’re going to see a second crop pop up in the second and third rounds,” Fischer said. “This is going to be a really strong quarterback class. You saw it in this last draft where a lot of teams that needed a quarterback didn’t take one because the skill set isn’t there. Instead of using a pick on a quarterback from this past draft, they said, you know, let’s get a different position player that we need and we’ll wait until next year’s class to get our quarterback.”

Geoff Wilson, founder of Sports Card Investor, is a huge college football fan. He’s especially interested in guys who play at his alma mater, Florida.

Wilson mainly tracks quarterbacks in the college game because that’s the position that drives the collecting hobby and garners the higher card prices. He believes Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson is going to have a fantastic season that equates into a high draft pick in next year’s draft.

“He’s unrefined, but he’s unbelievably dynamic,” Wilson said. “Some of the plays this guy pulled off last year were unworldly. He reminds me a lot of Cam Newton and people forget that Cam Newton was on the Gators; he was Tim Tebow’s backup for his first few years, then he transferred to Auburn and won the national championship and became a first-round draft pick.

“I got to watch Cam Newton quite a bit in college when he was on the Gators and I can tell you, Anthony Richardson is a faster, more athletic version of Cam Newton. He has the same type of build, he’s a huge quarterback, he’s very strong, big, big guy, but he moves real fast.”

Last year as a backup, Richardson threw for 529 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions. He rushed for 401 yards and three scores.

“I think this year’s crop of [college] quarterbacks is head and shoulders above last year’s,” Fischer said. “Last year was an interesting year, and from a collectible stance, it kind of really hurt football, because the draft was weak in skill position players.

“This next draft, 2023, should be pretty special. You’ve got a couple of really good running backs, you’ve got great quarterbacks. A lot of people have been waiting for Bryce Young for the draft. Levis is coming up now and C.J. Stroud. To me, those are the top three quarterbacks and then after that you start to get into the kid out of Miami [Tyler Van Dyke], he’s going to be a good one.”

The 2022 NFL Draft was loaded at wide receiver. Six big targets were selected in the first 18 picks.

“I’d say you’ve probably got the equivalent of a similar class of receivers like last year,” Fischer said. “You definitely don’t see a drop-off. I see kind of the same, which is good. Last year’s was decent.”

Fischer is big on Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba, LSU’s Kayshon Boutte and USC’s Jordan Addison, who transferred from Pittsburgh.

“I really like Jaxon,” Fischer said. “When we do these signings, 9.9 times out of 10, these guys are not on time. Jaxon was early. That alone showed something about this kid’s mentality and responsibility level. I was impressed with that piece. Just talking to him, his mindset — the guy is, I don’t want to say intense, but he’s focused. I think that’s one of the reasons why he had a Madden-like Rose Bowl this past bowl season. I think it also showcases where this kid’s wanting to go.

“Even during the negotiations of his cards, he didn’t want to take under a certain amount. It didn’t matter if he got the deal or not, he thought his value was X. I thought that was pretty impressive. It wasn’t the representative driving his pricing, it was him. You don’t see that normally, usually it’s the agency or the reps that are really pushing the price.”

Smith-Njigba had a breakout season as a sophomore, hauling in 95 passes for 1,606 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s the clear-cut top option this year for Stroud after Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave were drafted No. 10 and 11 overall in May’s draft.

Onyx Vintage College Football cards featuring Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

Onyx Vintage College Football cards featuring Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

Boutte played in only six games a season ago, but he had 38 catches for 509 yards and nine touchdowns. Addison hauled in 100 catches as a sophomore for 1,593 yards and 17 scores.

Defensive players certainly don’t equate to big dollars in the card industry, but there are a couple of freak players that will be vying for the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft.

Fischer has high praise for Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. He led the nation in sacks (17.5) last year as a sophomore.

“He’s almost a generational-type talent,” Fischer said. “The quickness, the guy’s a ball-hawk. As a linebacker, what he did last year was just insane. In fact, Saban has said he probably will be one of the best defensive players he’s ever coached. That alone says quite a bit.”

Georgia defensive end Jalen Carter is a special talent. The Bulldogs had five defensive players from last year’s national title-winning team drafted in the first round, including three on the line. Carter will continue that defensive dominance in this coming draft.

NFL ROOKIES READY TO SHINE

With just seven offensive skill players selected in the opening round of the 2022 NFL Draft, teams primarily went with defensive needs.

“This year’s class was a little weaker than usual,” Fischer said.

The rookie class could take a couple years to pan out as some wait for a starting job.

“I think the thing that excites me about this year’s rookie class is there aren’t a whole lot of big expectations from an offensive production standpoint in that you only had obviously one quarterback taken in the first rounds of the draft, that’s unusual,” Wilson said. “Normally, you want to see more quarterbacks taken early, but the thing is, when it comes to cards, it really only takes one breakout quarterback. There’s many examples of hyped quarterbacks in the first round not panning out and there’s many examples of quarterbacks taken in later rounds panning out and doing quite well.

“This class has fairly low expectations and I’m hoping that somebody kind of comes out and surprises everyone.”

Also See: Mac Jones rookie cards gaining steam 

Malik Willis was the third quarterback off the board in April, going in the third round, 86th overall, to the Tennessee Titans. The Liberty product had a solid career playing in the lower-tier FBS division.

Tennessee Titans rookie QB Malik Willis.

Tennessee Titans rookie QB Malik Willis.

“He’s a fun player to watch,” Wilson said. “He’s very unconventional and a lot of the traditional quarterback gurus say he isn’t going to do well because he doesn’t really have the fundamentals proper or whatever. But he sure knows how to turn nothing into something. I don’t know how much field he’ll really see with [Ryan] Tannehill ahead of him, but I know he’s one of those guys the fans will be hoping gets a chance to come into the game.”

Pittsburgh product Kenny Pickett, the only quarterback that went in the first round, was selected by his hometown Steelers at 20th overall. He could get a chance to earn some starts with Mitch Trubisky in front of him.

Pittsburgh Steelers rookie QB Kenny Pickett.

Pittsburgh Steelers rookie QB Kenny Pickett.

The Atlanta Falcons hope they picked up their replacement for Matt Ryan when they went with Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder with the 74th pick. Mississippi quarterback Matt Corral was also taken in the third round at No. 94 by the Carolina Panthers.

With only four quarterbacks selected in the first three rounds and expectations being so low, how will that equate to card prices for the quarterbacks? Is it a good time to buy their cards?

“The football market is largely driven by quarterbacks and every year the strength of the quarterback class typically dictates the interest in a product,” Wilson said. “So what I think is actually going to happen is it’s probably a good thing this year that a lot of the releases of the key products aren’t going to come out until either late in the season or after the season’s over. That might actually work out OK. If Pickett or Pittsburgh does really well or if you have one of these other guys like Desmond Ridder for Atlanta that actually gets a chance to play and start — if any of those guys emerge, then there’s going to be a lot more interest in the bigger-name products like Prizm and Optic and Select and National Treasures and Flawless when they eventually come out.

“On the flip side, if none of those guys really perform this season, then I do think there’s going to be a lack of interest in the current year’s football releases. People still love football cards, but I think what you’re going to see is increasing prices of the 2021 and the 2020 releases. People are still going to want to break and they’re still going to want to chase cards and that type of thing.”

Aforementioned was depth in last year’s wide receivers. With six players being selected early, a couple could have breakout seasons and boost the entire draft class.

However, card prices for wideouts still don’t rate very high compared to quarterbacks.

“While they’re still not ultimately as collectible as quarterbacks, you are seeing more wide receiver cards gain a lot of interest and momentum in the hobby,” Wilson said. “Last year, Ja’Marr Chase was one of the hottest cards in football and the year prior was Justin Jefferson. There now has been a precedent set the last couple of years where whoever the top wide receiver rookie is, there’s a pretty big chase on their cards.”

Fischer is high on Jets running back Breese Hall. He was the first running back selected in the draft, going 36th overall out of Iowa State. Fischer thinks Hall and teammate Garrett Wilson, from Ohio State, could be two of the frontrunners for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Jets rookie RB Breece Hall.

Jets rookie RB Breece Hall.

“The Jets have the opportunity to make some strides, granted they’re in a tough division,” Fischer said. “I’ve always been high on [quarterback] Zach Wilson and now he’s got some really good weapons around him. His offensive line has definitely improved, the receiving corps, now he’s got a running back. The Jets can make some noise this year.”

A couple other wide receivers that Fischer likes are the Saints’ Chris Olave from Ohio State and the Steelers’ George Pickens from Georgia.

Saints rookie WR Chris Olave.

Saints rookie WR Chris Olave.

Wilson said regardless of which prospects have been in products, football cards have been red hot since last season ended.

“During the course of this year, we saw the prices of many cards dip, but the price of some of these hot quarterbacks that people are chasing like Burrow and Herbert and Josh Allen, those prices for the most part have held really strong,” Wilson said. “There’s been incredible interest in football cards this year. I’ve seen more interest in football cards this year than any of the last several years.”

Auction of the Week

memorabilia-network-logo

The Memorabilia Network

Sign up Now for our Upcoming Auction: 10/24/2022 – 11/06/2022. Bringing you global, high-end memorabilia auction and consulting services, while telling your stories.