We’ll quickly emphasize that this is a pre-draft special, hence the inclusion of “undrafted” in the title.
The hype around rookies has continually gone up each year as collectors hope that this draft class is the one that produces the next G.O.A.T. We all tend to think that if we can snag a card early on, we’ll be able to get an incredible return on our investment. It’s great in theory, but, unfortunately, we can tend to miss on projections.. by a lot (cough, cough – Tom Brady).
With new products like Prizm Draft Picks and Leaf dropping their college uniform releases just before the draft, people are buzzing about picking up the new prospects. Today, we want to examine several aspects that should help you see the risk involved with paying top-dollar for these early-release rookies.
Reason 1: NCAA success doesn’t guarantee NFL success
As undrafted prospects, Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, and Drew Lock are all unproven. It’s not that they haven’t shown qualities that would cause people to think they could be successful, but rather that they haven’t played a game in the league yet.
To be clear, we’re not saying that NCAA success is something to be ignored. In order for a player to be taken in the first rounds of a draft, they clearly had to have success at the collegiate level. What we’re saying is that not everyone who thrives in college will translate to the NFL.
I can pick any number of former quarterbacks that has demonstrated this to be true, but Matt Leinart is the one we’ll look at. As a junior at USC, Leinart was awarded the top honor in football, the Heisman Trophy. In 2006, Leinart was drafted tenth overall by the Arizona Cardinals. We probably don’t need to say it, but his career didn’t unfold as most anticipated.
The reason that Leinart is an interesting example is because Matt Cassel was his backup at USC. Cassel never started a game as a quarterback during his time at USC, but went on to have more successful career in the NFL than Leinart in terms of longevity and statistics. Nobody is saying that Cassel is a legend, but we’re trying to solidify the idea that NFL success can’t solely be based on collegiate achievement.
Reason 2: A player’s value is impacted by the team that drafts him
This might be the most unrealized of the reasons that we offer. Where a player ends up significantly impacts the value associated with that player’s cards.
The New England Patriots are a prime example of how the drafting team can impact a player’s value. Consider Danny Etling, the team’s young, backup quarterback, whom they drafted this past year. Etling’s card values were similar to those of upper round picks solely because he might possibly (not likely) be the heir apparent to Tom Brady. This year, Rob Gronkowski retired in the offseason which has led to speculation that the team will take a TE in the first round. As a result, TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant cards are trending with high prices before the draft.
Sometimes it works the other way though. A bad situation can result in a poor opportunity and valuation for young players. To illustrate this side of things, Josh Rosen is a relevant example. The situation in Arizona was a train wreck before Rosen got there, and, unfortunately for him, he got thrown into the mix before anyone had anticipated. Their offense had been terrible, their line was depleted, and the coaching changes before and during the year certainly didn’t help. Rosen’s values quickly diminished as investors speculated he might not last in the league. (Check out our thoughts on why you should buy low on Rosen.)
Reason 3: Mock drafts are simply estimates of where players will end up
We added this one primarily for the sake of Kyler Murray. No one really knows what Arizona is going to do with the top pick in this year’s draft. The media has seemingly convinced everyone otherwise, suggesting that Murray to the Cardinals is all but official.
There’s a strong possibility that Murray to Arizona could happen, but what if it doesn’t? Would he end up at #4 with Oakland? #6 in New York? Would he drop further yet?
If you don’t think that something like this could ever happen, just travel back to 2013 and sit with the projected #2 overall pick for the opening night of the draft. Geno Smith waited and waited, but wasn’t called until 39th overall. We’re not anticipating this to happen with Murray, but we are saying he could drop from his projected top spot.
Reason 4: Patience pays off (for now)
As we mentioned before, card companies know that they can create a buzz for their products by releasing early because people want to be the first to get their hands on the rookies. Shortly after the draft, Panini will release the NFL version of their Prizm cards and will cause the values of the Prizm Draft Picks to decrease. If you wait just a couple weeks after that release, the buzz will be on to something new. Generally speaking, this is how the flows of buying and selling work assuming no major changes during that time.
Once the season begins, values will rise and fall based on their on-field output. That means that you have to be patient, but can’t wait too long. If you miss the right window of time, you may find yourself shelling out more than you would have when the product first came out.
Because of the uncertainty surrounding undrafted players, it is risky to pay top-dollar for these items. If you personally collect a player or don’t mind paying a little premium now because you confidently anticipate a strong career, then buying early might be a consideration. In most cases, we recommend waiting until the draft and after several products have hit the market.
Our advice: Wait
Discussion: When do you think the best time to invest in rookies is?
In our weekly Cards to Consider articles, we’ll offer our speculation of the card market by looking into various factors surrounding players from each sport. If you’d like these weekly articles to your inbox, we’d be happy to have you sign up and follow along!