Buying and selling sports collectibles has been part of my life since I was a kid. While there are a number of ways that I use sports cards as a method of investing in athletes, my main dance is buying low on players I’m higher than consensus on. In this article, I will be discussing some of the players I targeted during this NFL offseason and my reasoning behind those purchases. I’ll also explore how my outlook may have changed on those players five games into this season, as well as the decision points I’ve anticipated for each player.
To be absolutely clear, the purpose of this article is to discuss how I view sports collectibles as an alternative way of investing in athletes while exploring my process on a number of individual players. In most cases, you could not get these players at the prices I was able to get them this offseason, so I am not trying to recommend any of them as current buys. For the sake of simplicity, when I buy any kind of volume in a player, it’s almost always in either Panini Prizm or Topps/Bowman Chrome when the latter is applicable. So, unless I mention another card specifically, my Panini Prizm inventory for that player is what I’m generally discussing.
If you’re interested in sports collectibles in any capacity, you should be following our Cody Main (@cmain7) and Gary Hartman (@ghartman314) while checking out their Establish the Collection podcast @CollectionETR on Twitter. If you’d like to discuss some of my strategies with me, I can be found @RyanReynoldsNFL on Twitter.
My NFL Offseason Targets
Sam Darnold: I’ve always viewed Darnold’s struggles as landing spot driven, which is why I started buying his cards towards the end of the regular season last year. At that point I was quite confident that Darnold’s situation would improve the next season, as the talent-syphon Adam Gase was going to be removed from power and the Jets were going to have a high enough draft pick to select a top-of-the-draft quarterback for their new coaching regime. If the Jets drafted another high-profile quarterback as expected, it would then be in their best interest to trade Darnold to a quarterback-needy team. I viewed Washington, Chicago, Carolina, Indianapolis, and Denver as the most likely destinations for Darnold. All of those potential landing spots would be major upgrades, though Washington, Denver, and Carolina were my best-case scenarios, as they each have young, talented skill groups with some premium defensive players.
Heading into the season, I wrote about Carolina in a number of optimistic ways, including a discussion about Matt Rhule being a Coach of the Year candidate I was going to specifically monitor because the Panthers had a very real chance of getting through the first half of the season with a 5-3 record. Additionally, I mentioned in the same awards column that I was making my Darnold bets this season through cards. Heading into the year, my plan was to hold all of my Darnold inventory until Week 4 in Dallas, with the expectation that the Panthers would be at least 2-1 heading into that matchup.
I sold slightly more than a third of my Darnold holdings the week leading into that contest with the Cowboys, as I thought there was a very real chance that Dallas would comfortably handle Carolina (which they largely did, despite the final score) and as I mentioned in last week’s waiver wire column, I was not crazy about the matchup with the Eagles the following week. In other words, I did not view the Panthers’ 3-0 start as a major surprise or a fluke, but I also thought it could be one of Darnold’s remaining peaks. The rest of my Darnold inventory I intend to hold with the expectation that Carolina is in the Wild Card conversation at least into the three-quarter pole of this season.
Lastly, I would have a preseason Sam Darnold Comeback Player of the Year ticket if Dak Prescott never suffered a serious injury last year. Since Dak did, I’ve been writing all offseason that he’s either going to have to get hurt again or win the MVP to not win the Comeback Player of the Year award this year. In many ways, my Darnold card purchases are an alternative way that I bet on Darnold being a viable contender on an award I thought he was unlikely to win due to the presence of Dak, as I was effectively buying Darnold with the expectation that he’d significantly improve with his new team.
Daniel Jones: I’ve never been a huge fan of Jones for a variety of reasons, but there is often margin available in collectibles when a struggling young quarterback is entering his second or third season as the unquestioned opening day starter for their team. That creates a scenario where you can (usually) grab a quick profit before the season begins, while having the option to hold if your optimism on that player increases. I think Tua Tagovailoa is a potential candidate for this next year.
That’s why I started to buy Jones while he was sidelined with an injury last season, with the hopes that the Giants would either sign Kenny Golladay this offseason or draft one of the headlining pass catchers in this upcoming draft, which would then generate some buzz about the Giants’ offense in the NFL’s largest media market. When the Giants signed Golladay, Jones saw a price bump (especially from where I had bought him), so I offloaded around 40% of my position on him at that time. In early August, I sold another 40% of my original Jones position due to a string of negative camp reports (not all of it specifically related to Jones) that I thought might lead to a preseason price dip. That, paired with the Giants’ very difficult first-half schedule, led me to purposely moving enough Jones so that I would already be profitable on him as a whole before any games that counted were played this year. The rest that I held at that point would essentially allow me to play with house money, so to speak.
I was not as impressed as many seemed to be with Jones’ Thursday Night Football performance against Washington, but how Jones played in New Orleans marked the first time that I had any real optimism about the possibility that he might have a chance of being on the Giants beyond his rookie deal. While Jones has had a few spike games before, that game against the Saints is the first NFL contest I’ve seen him play where he was the reason his team won. Before exiting early with a concussion against the Cowboys last Sunday, Jones had turned back into a pumpkin in Dallas.
Ultimately, while both Cody and Gary (who has some very high-end Jones cards) are more optimistic about Jones’ long-term future than I am, Jones has been better than I was expecting through the first five games this season. While we can’t say this right now due to injuries, the Giants have a legitimately strong skill group at full strength and after the next two home games against the Rams and Panthers, the Giants will then enjoy a stretch against some more beatable defenses. Week 8’s Monday Night visit to Kansas City is a pretty significant showcase game for anyone holding Daniel Jones cards.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire: I wasn’t a huge fan of this draft selection when it happened, but at the end of the day, I’m interested in buying low on skill-position players on elite offenses that were recently taken in the first round. Especially after a disappointing rookie campaign, which is what CEH mostly had last year. I did not buy a lot of CEH, but my intention was and still is to hold my CEH inventory at least until the playoffs of this year.
CeeDee Lamb: I consider every Lamb collectible that I’ve bought to this point as a long-term hold, as I expect Lamb to be in the conversation for the league’s best wide receiver before the end of his rookie deal. Lamb’s ability to showcase that high-end talent while playing for a major brand in the Dallas Cowboys, while being fed by a quarterback like Dak Prescott, has resulted in Lamb being my most substantial wide receiver target since Julio Jones and A.J. Green back in 2011. Since Lamb had a few down games before facing the Giants last week, some of his cards were cheaper than they were this offseason, so I have been buying more Lamb during this price drop. Lastly, I have a Dallas Super Bowl ticket at 30:1 odds, so if Dallas has a significant playoff run this season as I expect, that represents the first potential decision point for my Lamb inventory.
Terry McLaurin: When Washington signed Ryan Fitzpatrick, I began buying some McLaurin as a young, already impressive wide receiver that could realistically compete for the league lead in major receiving categories this year (he’s currently ninth in yards), as Fitzpatrick tends to have a favorite receiver that he funnels opportunities to. McLaurin also plays in a significant market, which isn’t a requirement but is always something that I view as a positive. My core strategy here was to sell most of my McLaurin position if he had a monster year with Fitzpatrick. If McLaurin fell short of that, I’m still invested in a promising young talent that has already shown that he can not only be productive, but that he’s more quarterback-proof than most wide receivers. Given the injury to Fitzpatrick, I now expect to hold McLaurin into next season.
T.J. Hockenson: I was higher than consensus on Hockenson this draft season to the point that he was my second-highest-exposure tight end in best ball this year. That’s the primary reason that I bought a handful of Hockenson rookie autos that were really quite cheap, as I thought this could very realistically be a breakout campaign for the Lions’ third-year tight end, as Detroit lacks anything resembling an alpha receiver. Hock is only the sixth tight end I have ever bought cards of (Jason Witten, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, David Njoku, Mark Andrews), so this is more of an untraditional play for me.
Derwin James: James is a freak athlete, playing in the Los Angeles market, for an ascending Chargers team that I had pegged as the fifth best in the AFC entering the season. So far, the Chargers look like a genuine contender in the AFC. Since James is coming off back-to-back seasons that were ended prematurely due to injury, I was able to get his collectibles outrageously cheap. We’re talking serial numbered Prizm parallels for $5 or less cheap. Everything that I bought of Derwin, I’m either holding for a deep Chargers playoff run or a high-profile season for the fourth-year safety.
Isaiah Simmons: I am a defense guy, so every offseason I buy at least one defensive rookie from that year’s draft class. Over the last decade, I have made killings on defenders like J.J. Watt, Luke Kuechly, Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, Jamal Adams, and T.J. Watt by purchasing each of those guys after offseason film review early in their careers (usually after their rookie year). This offseason I bought a lot of Simmons for very cheap, including a number of cards in the quality range of Red Wave Prizm rookie autographs numbered to 149. I loved Simmons as a college prospect, but one of the lessons I’ve learned over the years is that landing spot doesn’t only matter for quarterbacks.
When Simmons landed in Arizona, I had mixed emotions. On one hand, I’ve always been big on Kyler Murray and that alone makes the Cardinals a team that has a chance of being a factor. Arizona also improved their roster this offseason in a number of areas, specifically their front with the acquisition of J.J. Watt. Being on a relevant team gives a player more opportunities to produce in front of national audiences, which is especially important for defenders that many football fans may only be mildly aware of. On the other hand, I was hoping that Simmons would go to a team that would take advantage of his versatility by using him as a weapon; how the Steelers deployed Troy Polamalu would be a good example. I did not view Arizona as an ideal landing spot for Simmons from that angle, even though the Cardinals have not ignored Simmons’ versatility, as he’s played a significant amount of his reps as a slot corner while primarily serving as a linebacker for Arizona. My collectibles expectation for Simmons is more in line with what I was thinking when I bought Jamal Adams and Roquan Smith: I’m getting an elite talent that has a very real chance of developing into one of the best players at his position. In the case of Simmons, I couldn’t really ask for much more than his two forced fumbles, interception, and half a sack for the currently undefeated 5-0 Cardinals.
Who I’ve Bought in August and September
Trevon Diggs: I have a number of Dallas-themed wagers this season, and as I’ve mentioned on a few podcasts and in some articles, I was optimistic that the Cowboys’ defense could be better this year, especially if one of their young corners could take a leap. While I had Diggs specifically in mind as that corner, he has exceeded my expectations through the first five games. I bought two certified autographs of Diggs during the opening night game against the Buccaneers and another three the day before I wrote up Diggs as a then unlisted Defensive Player of the Year candidate in my bi-weekly awards column. From last February until that awards article, I’ve also bought a number of non-autographed Diggs rookies that I’ve already sold for 5-10 times more than I paid for them. I did the same thing with Xavien Howard in collectibles last year, as I bought a handful of his certified rookie autos once he landed on my DPOY radar. I will discuss Diggs further in my awards column again this week.
J.K. Dobbins: Since Dobbins’ season-ending ACL injury, I have bought around two dozen cards for roughly one third of what they were going for before his injury.
Khamzat Chimaev: The effort I spend on sports outside of football has fallen by the wayside over the last several years due to time constraints. But I am specifically interested in learning more about the UFC, as it is an international sport that has great potential for growth. It’s also a platform that can create icons, which is collectively why I absolutely wanted to figure out a way to put some money into Panini America’s first UFC releases this year. Enter our Cody Main, whose UFC knowledge is exponentially greater than mine. Leading into Khamzat’s next fight on October 30th, Cody and I will be writing a collaborative column where we’ll discuss our thought processes in buying Khamzat collectibles while breaking down a joint purchase we made of the UFC fighter.