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I can’t wait to see all the activity going on around Radio City Music Hall tonight and throughout the weekend as my favorite college football stars join the professional ranks. Some people think it has gotten out of hand considering these are still just young men who have not done anything yet in the NFL, but I love seeing all the wheeling and dealing as teams decide their futures. It is one of the few times a team change the fate of the franchise just by putting a name on a draft card.
As a collector, the fun of watching the draft is even more captivating. Finally all these hyped prospects will have a home in the pros. We can finally start predicting and investing as we guess which players are set up for short-term stardom, long-term legacies or the 99 cent bargain bin at your local card shop. Like many collectors I like to pick a couple guys I think will be the next Cam Newton and pick up some of their cards. With 2012 Upper Deck Football in stores now, the timing couldn’t be better. In a few days we will know where everyone has landed and who is in the right position to be the next big thing. Here are some rookies I feel have the potential to be the next big thing as they jump to the next level:
ANDREW LUCK, QB, STANFORD: The next John Elway. The next Peyton Manning. Everything has been said about Luck in the months leading up to the draft, and the hype machine has reached critical mass levels. Luck is commanding mainstream and hobby attention like no prospect we have seen in years, so you have to give him some attention as a collector. All the tools are there, but we can’t see inside Luck’s head. How is he handling the pressure? Will he break under the strain of having to follow in Manning’s footsteps and be the savior of a downtrodden franchise? These questions won’t be answered on draft night as it will be all smiles, but as the season begins we will learn a lot about Luck.
From a collecting standpoint it’s hard to justify the prices he commands right now only because he hasn’t proven anything. College success does not guarantee professional success, and Luck will need to be as good as advertised to justify his current card prices. Of course big risk yields big reward, if he becomes a legend he’ll take his place among the likes of Honus Wagner, Michael Jordan, and others among hobby royalty and investors will look very smart. I think he’s reached a point however where I need to see him perform at the highest level to be a believer. We’ll see if the pressure is too much or if he rises to the occasion, we’re just hours away from the Andrew Luck Colts saga getting underway.
ROBERT GRIFFIN III, QB, BAYLOR: There was a time not really that long ago when Andrew Luck was a sure bet. Considered one of the greatest prospects of all time, there was no way anyone else was going number one overall in 2012. It got so crazy people spent last offseason predicting which teams would go on a “Suck for Luck” campaign to get the number one pick. But the fact that people have spent the last few months debating Griffin vs. Luck tells you how far “RG3” has come. Luck has gone from a can’t-miss superstar to the point where legitimate analysts think the Colts may be making a mistake taking Luck over the talented prospect from Baylor. He seems to be every bit the elite dual threat QB as we have seen with Michael Vick or Cam Newton. The thing is, many believe he might be even better.
The downside is that as a collector you are going to have to pay for RG3’s trading cards at a premium level right out of the gate. He should be less expensive than Luck however and if you think he might make a bigger splash performing in the nation’s capital, that’s not a bad deal. The chance of hitting a Griffin makes it well worth the chance on busting some packs in search of him. It certainly worked out well for this collector as he pulled one of my favorite cards of RG3. The Griffin autographs are limited and sure to be very hot one he is officially a member of the Redskins.
RYAN TANNEHIL, QB, TEXAS A&M: Quarterbacks tend to drive the football card hobby and every year there are guys with huge potential that rise up the charts because of the importance of the position. This year is no different with Luck and RG3 hysteria overshadowing really all the other quarterback prospects in the draft. The consensus best of the rest is Tannehill; who like RG3 has seen his stock shoot up as the draft approaches. Where it was once Luck, RG3 and then a huge gap in the rankings; Tannehill has been rumored to be going as high as within the first five picks. If he slips it will create some draft day excitement as a number of teams may try to trade up to get him.
Like Griffin the downside is that the hype will push Tannehill’s card prices up very high, much higher than if he had managed to stay in the shadows behind Luck and RG3 a little longer. However, he will still be a huge bargain compared to the “Big Two.” You’ll likely be able to get 2-3 Tannehill rookies for the price of a similar Luck or Griffin card. I think a solid comparison is Christian Ponder. His cards have always sold for much cheaper than Cam Newton, but he is looking like a very solid QB. Tannehill should find a team ready to have him starting sometime this season, and he should develop quickly. If you don’t have the big bucks to spend on Luck and Griffin this is the guy for you.
BRANDON WEEDEN, QB, OKLAHOMA STATE: If Tannehill was a bargain, then Weeden is the unexpected surprise you find at the bottom of a bargain bin at the local card shop or card show. When you see it you know it should not be in the bargain bin, but there it is and you are going to get a heck of a price as a result. Weeden’s age is probably the biggest thing pushing him down the draft rankings, but he should still be a high draft pick. He will probably be one of the last QB’s drafted that has a real chance of starting this season. A lot will depend on where he lands. Rumors have him going to Cleveland which would be a decent spot to learn. Colt McCoy is very beatable for the starting job and it’s a young team that will likely have added Trent Richardson by the time they take Weeden. In terms of his future values, it will really depend on the situation he finds himself in with the new team.
TRENT RICHARDSON, RB, ALABAMA: Call him Mark Ingram version 2.0. Ingram was the one elite running back prospect from Alabama in an otherwise weak draft class at the position. It’s a different year, but the same story. We have an Alabama running back at the top of the class, a big gap and then everyone else. However unlike Ingram, I think Richardson will have a much bigger immediate impact. Ingram got lost on a dynamic offense and may never become an elite lead running back. Richardson on the other hand is built to be that guy and will go to a team ready to hand him that role, likely the Browns. The Browns are perfect because their passing game will be just good enough to be a distraction, but not enough to take away from a run-first mentality. With Peyton Hillis gone it will be all about Richardson and his young legs should help make him the man in Cleveland. You’ll have to pay for him because of the lack of other quality running backs, but unlike Ingram who I thought was overpriced, Richardson should be worth it.
RONNIE HILLMAN, RB, SAN DIEGO STATE: With Richardson so far ahead of the other running backs, best to take a wait and see approach with the rest of the prospects. If you’re looking for another RB to invest in, you’re looking for a dynamic player who can do different things for a team and find playing time as a backup. If you want a name to watch for in the later rounds, I love Hillman. He has durability, quickness and elusiveness. He is built to be a Darren Sproles type of player and those guys tend to get a lot of attention even in a crowded backfield. If he finds a team looking for a change of pace back or a return man he is golden and he should be drafted high enough where a team isn’t just taking him for depth.
JUSTIN BLACKMON, WR, OKLAHOMA STATE: Blackmon going to the Rams has to have a lot of people salivating; both Rams fans and collectors alike. He’s a dynamic playmaker who should make an immediate impact similar to A.J. Green and Julio Jones last year. It really helps that he is being dropped into a perfect situation. Jeff Fisher is a great coach, Sam Bradford is a great young QB and Steven Jackson is an elite RB that can keep a defense busy. Blackmon could bring that whole offense together in a big way. Remember the Rams were a playoff team Bradford’s rookie year, so the talent is there. We could see a Detroit Lions type of rise from mediocrity to success thanks to a plethora of young talent led by Blackmon.
In the past I’ve stayed away from collecting wide receivers because they don’t tend to hold their value even when they are really good. However recent examples like Green, Jones, and even further back like Calvin Johnson are bucking that trend. If there was a guy who could continue the trend it’s Blackmon, and he is certainly worth a look. Wide receivers tend to sell for less than quarterbacks and running backs anyway, so it’s not a bad strategy to go all in on the best WR available.
STEPHEN HILL, WR, GEORGIA TECH: Stephen Hill is a big and powerful wide receiver from Georgia Tech. Remind you of anyone? If you said Calvin Johnson, you are absolutely right. He’s built to potentially be a number one receiver. Now I’m not saying he can step in and immediately be a Calvin Johnson, but depending on where he lands he could become a number one option. Even if he’s stuck behind an elite number one, he can be a dynamic number two option when the top receiver is double teamed. Remember Julio Jones putting up big numbers thanks to Roddy White taking attention away from him. There are a number of near-elite prospects behind Blackmon who could help keep Hill under the radar and make his cards a good bargain.
QUINTON COPLES, DE, NORTH CAROLINA: Unfortunately after the big three offensive positions, we all know it’s tough to make a mark in the hobby no matter how good you are. For a defensive player everything has to come together for a guy to be a hot commodity. There are some solid names at the top of the draft, but unfortunately they are probably going to less than popular teams. Coples is appealing because he is a top pass rusher in the class and may be going to the always popular Philadelphia Eagles. If Coples becomes an elite rusher and starts racking up the sacks in Philadelphia for a very talented team, he could prove to be a popular guy among collectors. Wherever he goes he should find plenty of playing time to terrorize quarterbacks.
COBY FLEENER, TE, STANFORD: Traditionally tight ends just don’t get enough love in card collecting. That trend has been changing a bit with many teams relying more on the position and names like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham becoming household names. There always seems to be one or two solid tight ends that emerge from each draft as popular options; and Fleener seems to be a very solid prospect. He’s built to be a solid pass catching TE and should find catches wherever he goes. If he ends up reunited with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis he should do extremely well. His cards should be very affordable and he has the potential to become an elite TE.
Enjoy the draft this weekend and make sure to grab some packs of 2012 Upper Deck Football to help enhance your draft experience. Who knows, you may just pull a rookie card of the next Peyton Manning, Calvin Johnson or Adrian Peterson.