When everyone is trying to buy the rookies, it may be time to invest in guys who have been around for awhile, but haven’t quite put it together. One of the best plays is to predict NFL veteran breakout seasons.
If you’re reading NFL headlines during the summer—particularly as a sports card collector—most of the attention and hype surround the incoming rookie class. Of course, there is some logic to this, especially in a year that includes the most highly touted quarterback prospect since 2012. After all, hot rookie cards are typically cash cows of collecting.
That said, there is a lot of money that can be made finding veterans on the rise. Especially since the buy-in is potentially lower. From young stars to more experienced players in new places or circumstances, there is as much money to be made by buying rookie cards of the next breakout star, guessing who the next ROY will be.
With that in mind, here are our breakout candidates for the 2021 football season.
This list includes three players that are not considered MVP favorites. However, we wouldn’t find it too surprising if they ended up in the conversation.
Baker Mayfield is a polarizing player for everyone, even his front office. With that in mind, here are two widely different scenarios for the upcoming season that could come true and not surprise me in the slightest.
Scenario one is the Browns win the AFC North with a record of 12-4 or better, Mayfield throws for over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns, and he finds himself in the MVP candidacy as the quarterback of one of the best teams.
Scenario two is Mayfield continues to be turnover prone, throws more interceptions than touchdowns, and rides the bench by week 8 of the regular season.
Which is most likely to happen? Probably number one, but either way, an investment in Mayfield is a high-risk, high-reward proposition.
Justin Herbert captured ROY honors after throwing for 4,336 yards and 31 touchdowns in 15 games. Equally impressive, the rookie looked poised in the pocket and only threw 10 interceptions. Going into 2021’s season, Herbert could lead a dangerous Chargers team to a division championship and have a Lamar Jackson-like MVP caliber second season.
Prescott has been in the league since 2016, and the Cowboys have never made too much of a post-season splash, but this year could change that (yes, I know—Cowboys fans say that every year). In 2020, Prescott thew for an incredible 1,856 and 9 touchdowns in a mere 5 games. That 6,000-yard pace is not sustainable throughout a season. However, Prescott has some lethal weapons around him on what could be the most dynamic offense in football.
|Player||PSA 10 Prizm Rookie|
This list features players that have shown lots of talent and could have an unexpectedly strong 2021 campaign and be one of the best at their position.
Ryan Tannehill had a sneaky-good 2020: 3,819 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. Of course, some of that stems from opposing defenses stacking the box to stop Derrick Henry, but Tannehill still looked great under center regardless. Add Julio Jones to a mix of pass-catchers that includes A.J. Brown, and it’s not far-fetched to consider Tannehill as a pro-bowler.
The last time we saw Burrow in pads, he was carted off the field during his rookie season. He hopes to return even more vital in 2021. This year he’ll have help from a familiar face: JaMarr Chase, a college teammate from LSU’s championship season. If the new Bengals teammates display chemistry that’s anything like what they flashed as Tigers, Burrow could have a breakout year.
Remember, Burrow threw the ball 404 times in just ten games in 2020, so he could realistically be flirting with 5,000 passing yards if he improves on his 2020 performance. The one caution is that Cincinnati didn’t fortify their offensive line as much as many fans hoped, and Burrow led the league in the number of sacks taken per game last year. If that does not change, Burrow could have another injury-plagued season.
The Wisconsin star rushed for 1,169 yards and 11 touchdowns in 15 games last season, adding 300 yards as a receiver. This season, Taylor looks to make another leap. Carson Wentz is now in town, and he could help stretch the field for the Colts running game. If that happens, Taylor could have a league-leading kind of season.
|Player||PSA 10 Prizm Rookie|
These young players could get the opportunity they need to become leading players on their teams.
The Washington Football Team was a surprise last year, winning the NFC East—which, to be fair, was disappointing across the board. However, Antonio Gibson was a large part of that success. The rookie running back only tallied 795 rushing yards on the year. However, the majority of them came in the back half of the season. If that momentum carries forward to 2021, Gibson will eclipse 1,000 yards and keep the team formerly known as the Redskins in contention.
Love is the biggest dice-roll of any name on this list for self-explanatory reasons. It’s easy to imagine a future where Love starts all season for the Packers, which have enough talent, playmakers, and coaching smarts to help him succeed. On the other hand, it’s equally feasible to imagine a future where Aaron Rodgers ends up returning and Love never sees the field. Either way, there’s a reason why Green Bay took Jordan Love in the first round last year, and this might be the year we see why.
Bradon Aiyuk turned a lot of heads during his 2020 rookie campaign. He’s an explosive threat that could find the endzone on any snap, and his playmaking earned the respect of defenses all year long. He only played 12 games last season but still had 748 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns despite a shaky quarterback situation. Whether Jimmy G or Trey Lance will throw a majority of Aiyuk’s passes, this season remains to be seen. Either way, the talent under center could significantly benefit the stat line of the young receiver.
|Player||PSA 10 Prizm Rookie|
|Brandon Aiyuk||$109 raw (comps not available for PSA 10)|
|Antonio Gibson||$125 (last month, probably lower now)|
There’s no such thing as a sure bet with sports card collecting. Injuries could derail any given season, and some don’t live up to the expectations around them. On top of that, frequently, the breakout players aren’t on anybody’s radar. Even the Cardlines staff!
That said, this list is packed with players in a great position heading into 2021, and if things work out, any one of them could see a lot of headlines.