Hobby Musings: 2018 NFL draft class packing excitement for card market – With the NFL draft in the books, collectors can officially look ahead to a new wave of rookie cardboard. Holding the NFL license, Panini will once again take on the challenge of meeting the demand for what is shaping up to be an incredible rookie class. For more on the rookie forecast and what it means for the NFL card market, I had the chance to catch up with Panini’s Nick Matijevich. The following interview was conducted via email.
KS: Nick, now that the draft is completed, what are you overall impressions of how it went from a trading card perspective?
NM: This draft could not have fallen much better for us, from a trading card perspective. With five QBs in the first round – four in the top 10 alone – as well as three RBs and two WRs being taken, the draft got off to a great start. By the end of night two, there had been another 14 skill players drafted. Keep in mind, that is without taking TEs and big name defensive players into consideration, and to boot, a lot of these rookies landed in great trading card markets.
KS: There have been some pretty impressive rookie classes in the NFL the past few seasons. How do you think 2018 will compare?
NM: As great as the last two classes have been, this class has the chance to be truly special. Baker Mayfield’s cards were already off to a tremendous start, and that was when most people didn’t think he was realistically in play to go #1 overall. In New York, Saquon Barkely could have the kind of impact that Ezekiel Elliott did in 2016, and he is actually a much bigger receiving threat out of the backfield, which opens up the possibility of more highlight plays.
Also landing in the Big Apple, Sam Darnold should be a driver for us all year, and it’ll be interesting to see when he gets his first start with only Josh McCown in front of him. Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson all have a chance to get some playing time as well, and while Lamar’s time on the field will likely be in sub-packages early on, he is so electric, that even a handful of periodic plays should keep people speculating on his long-term potential.
While the QBs are the biggest conversation point for the media, after Saquon, the next seven RBs off the board have the chance to step into key roles with their new teams from day one. Rashaad Penny, Sony Michel, Nick Chubb, Ronald Jones, Kerryon Johnson, Derrius Guice & Royce Freeman all landed in situations that should allow them to compete for the starting job on their teams immediately.
Finally, while this was seen as a “down” WR class, there were 10 guys taken in the first three rounds, and once again, most should have the chance to make an impact out of the gate with quite a few in strong markets. We’re most excited about D.J. Moore, Calvin Ridely, Christian Kirk, Anthony Miller & Michael Gallup, but guys like Courtland Sutton, Dante Pettis, James Washington and D.J. Chark could surprise as well.
KS: Five quarterbacks taken in the first round, including Baker Mayfield first overall. From a business standpoint, what does that mean for your strategy this coming card season?
NM: While having five QBs in the first round is obviously a fantastic thing for us, I don’t know that it changes our strategy for the upcoming trading card season. As a company, we focus on providing as much value as we can from box to box, and case to case, across the entirety of our runs. We’re blessed in that with a deeper class of QBs, “big-name” rookies will fall more frequently, but I don’t think you’ll see a wholesale shift in how we’re building products.
KS: Of all those quarterbacks, which one’s hobby stock got the biggest bump based on where he was drafted?
NM: Sam Darnold took a huge leap in perception, even by falling two spots from where he had been projected for months, as New York is obviously a much stronger national market than Cleveland. A close second is Josh Rosen, and while Arizona isn’t a hobby hot bed, there is some talent around him in the desert, coupled with the fact that he was considered by many to be the most pro ready QB in this class, so he could make some noise if he gets the opportunity to play early.
KS: Which one of them do you think will make the biggest hobby impact this season?
NM: I think that all five of the first-round QBs will have solid interest throughout the season, but for the reasons laid out above, I expect Rosen to put up the best stat line. However, from a secondary market perspective I expect Mayfield and Darnold to continue to drive the train, although everyone should watch out for Lamar Jackson, if John Harbaugh puts in some creative sub-packages for him early in the year.
KS: Former Penn State RB Saquon Barkley went second overall to the Giants. A big media market for the college star, how do you think landing in New York will affect his hobby stock?
NM: Based on the buzz from Saquon since the Combine, his hobby stock has been high for months. Him landing with the Giants pushed interest to another level. If he plays up to expectations this year, there is a good chance that he is out-selling all of the QBs by the end of the year.
KS: Outside of Barkley and the QBs, which player do you think got the biggest hobby bump because of the team he joined?
NM: Sony Michel landing in New England gives him an immediate fan base; now we’ll just have to wait to see how Belichick splits up the carries in that offense. Penny in Seattle, Guice in Washington and Freeman in Denver should also see a spike on the RB side. From the WR perspective, Anthony Miller and Michael Gallup are two guys who should see a big lift after coming out of relatively small colleges and landing in two of the best markets in the NFL.
KS: We know fans and collectors will be eager for cards of Barkley and all of the quarterbacks. Who are some other players that people should be keeping an eye on for cardboard?
NM: I think I’ve touched on most of the names above, but I truly believe that any of the skill guys drafted in the first three rounds this year have the chance to make an immediate impact on the field and in the hobby. The lone exception as far as an impact of the field this season would be Mason Rudolph, but with the chance to possibly be Big Ben’s successor, I think there will be good interest in him as well, and Kyle Lauletta could fall into a similar situation in New York. The one player that hasn’t signed any cards at this point in the hobby season that collectors should be most excited about is Lamar Jackson, and his first autographs will be available in Classics, as we confirmed a deal with him on draft day, just before the festivities got started.
KS: Looking ahead, when can we expect to the see the first cards and autographs of the new players in their NFL uniforms?
NM: The first cards to feature NFL draft info will be in Luminance, a new brand releasing in early June, while the first product to feature NFL photography and hard autograph cards will be Donruss Elite, which goes live in late June.
KS: I know it’s early on, but if there was one upcoming NFL card release that collectors should be excited for, what would be your pick?
NM: I think we’ve established some great brands since taking over the exclusive NFL license, on top of some of legacy programs, but the new brands we introduce each year are always the most exciting to me. We’ve re-worked Majestic for this year, and as a result, I think it will be much better received by collectors. In addition to Luminance, we’re also doing a new program in July: Elements. I think it is going to be a big hit, but we’ll see if it connects; it’s always difficult to predict how collectors will react, even if we’re very confident in what we’ve put together.
Hobby Musings: 2018 NFL draft class packing excitement for card market
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