Hobby Musings: Panini gearing up for new NFL draft class – This year’s NFL draft class had its fair share of surprises and drama, mostly centered around the quarterback class. One group keeping a sharp eye on the draft was Panini, who was providing trading card updates for the new players throughout the draft. Now that it’s concluded, it’s time for the rookie class to start debuting on NFL cardboard. To find out more about Panini’s plans for the upcoming rookie class, I had the chance to catch up with Nick Matijevich and Tracy Hackler. The following interview was conducted via email.
KS: Panini had a big on-site and social media presence at the draft. What all did you have to do while you were there?
NM: Our week actually started with the NFLPA Rookie Debut in Philadelphia on Tuesday, which introduces a wide variety of future pro players to the world of the NFL. Our marketing, acquisitions and sales team work with the players on everything ranging from photo shoots and autograph sessions, to case breaks and interviews. This is a great event put on by the NFLPA, of which we are proud to be a part as these players begin their professional careers. On Thursday, we had members of our marketing and acquisitions teams on site at the draft, where they obtain the draft jerseys, draft hats and autographs as the players are coming off the stage, in addition to doing brief interviews for us. Finally, we added a component to our draft plans this year, whereas we had marketing representatives on site for Patrick Mahomes II’s draft party in Tyler, TX. If you go back to review the video footage from Thursday night, you’ll see prominent Panini signage behind Patrick, as he found out he was being drafted by the Chiefs.
TH: From a robust activation on the ground in Philly and in Tyler, Texas at Patrick Mahomes’ Draft Party — to our NFL Draft Experience, casebreakers participating in the NFLPA Rookie Debut, acquisitions signings and photos being taken at the Debut, to having 14 NFL veterans welcoming the new Draft Picks to their teams, as well as getting the Draft Picks to tweet out their Panini Instant NFL Draft Card on Draft Night. Mahomes also participated in a special Panini America event with Philly-area Pop Warner athletes. You can find pics of that on our blog.
On draft night, we provided real-time reveals of all 32 first-round pics.
An example of some of the Tweets:
— Deshaun Watson (@deshaunwatson) April 28, 2017
— Mitchell Trubisky (@Mtrubisky10) April 28, 2017
KS: What are some of the bigger challenges you face from a trading card standpoint while you’re at the draft?
NM: The draft actually leads to a long weekend of hard work back at the office by our product development, photo, design, editorial and prepress departments. Literally as each pick is made, our rosters are updated in real time, which flags the rest of the building to begin working on updating the players in our systems, finding and cloning images, and beginning to build cards. With the tight turnaround on cards needed at the RPS for programs like Prestige, Elite, and Origins, work begins Thursday night, and doesn’t wrap up until late Sunday.
KS: You have featured the players of the 2017 rookie class already on collegiate releases. Which ones were generating most buzz prior to the draft?
NM: Prior to the draft, the big name skill players were definitely generating the most buzz on the secondary market, as 14 of the best-selling 15 players were on the offensive side of the ball. The lone exception was Jabrill Peppers, who came in at number 7, but the top 6 pre-draft were Deshaun Watson, Leonard Fournette, Mitchell Trubisky, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook and John Ross.
KS: Now that the draft is over, have you seen any change in the players generating buzz?
NM: The three guys who have seen a spike in interest post draft are Patrick Mahomes, Joe Mixon and Corey Davis, all of whom were in the top 15, but who have now passed some of the players that were previously in front of them.
KS: One position of intrigue is always the quarterbacks. Out of all of them, which one do you think will make the biggest card this season?
NM: This is a tough question to answer at this time, as it really comes down to opportunities on the field. I think any of the top eight QBs could make an impact this year, if given the chance to play, but in looking at the team situations around them, you have to think that Deshaun Watson or Mitchell Trubisky have the easiest path to regular playing time. A dark horse here could be Nathan Peterman, depending on what shakes out in Buffalo.
KS: From a hobby standpoint, which player do you think benefited most from where and when he was drafted?
NM: While I’m sure he hated the fall on draft night, Dalvin Cook found a great landing place in Minnesota. There is a solid core around him, and their offense obviously has a history of producing quality RB seasons. We’re expecting big things for Fournette in Jacksonville, as based on the offensive philosophies of Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone, we expect him to be fed the ball early and often. Additionally, Jacksonville added some help along the o-line during the draft, to address another weakness of their running game. Watson could be a great fit with the team around him in Houston, and while Trubisky to Chicago was somewhat of a surprise, if he gets the chance to play early, Chicago is obviously a great hobby town. I love the Titans’ pick of Corey Davis, as his highlight reel is unbelievable, and being paired up with Marcus Mariota, he has the potential for a tremendous season, assuming he can get healthy. I’ll be interested to see how Joe Mixon and Christian McCaffrey are utilized in Cincinnati and Carolina respectively, as they are both extremely explosive players that could make an early impact. Finally, a name to watch could be Samaje Perine, as the RB situation in Washington is somewhat unsettled, so he could be a later round pick who makes an impact early in his career.
KS: Are there any players you have seen take a hit because of where they were drafted?
NM: We haven’t seen an impact on anyone at this stage, but it will be interesting to see how Jabrill Peppers’ values do with him landing in Cleveland. Along the same lines, while Kizer fell some in the draft and also ended up in Cleveland, if given the opportunity, he could see some playing time early. Although he is still very raw, he has intriguing physical attributes that could allow him to thrive if he gets on the field. Davis Webb is one guy that had been generating decent buzz, but with Eli in front of him, I would expect interest to cool on him in the short term.
KS: It’s a bit early, but which rookie prospect do you think could be a sleeper in the hobby this season?
NM: It seems ridiculous that a top 5 pick could be a sleeper, but based on his early market, I think you’ll see a spike on the card values of Corey Davis once the games begin. As I mentioned earlier, I think Samaje Perine has the potential for a big season in Washington, assuming he sees the field early. Two other guys who fall into the same category are Marlon Mack and Jeremy McNichols. Frank Gore has held up unbelievably well through the years, but his tread is wearing thin at 34 years of age, and with Doug Martin suspended to begin the season, McNichols should have the chance to carve a role out for himself early in his career. Finally, Kareem Hunt is a name to watch in Kansas City. If Spencer Ware has a slow start to the season, Kareem has a skill set that could allow him to shine in the Chiefs’ offense.
NM: The NFLPA Rookie Premiere is one of the biggest events we put on each year. With 40 players attending, we obtain assets that we’ll use throughout our product calendar – autographs, jerseys, helmets, cleats, gloves and footballs – in addition to marketing items. The biggest advantage for us is that it allows us to start featuring the top rookies in their NFL uniforms beginning with Elite in late June, whereas we wouldn’t be able to start using that type of imagery until mid-October, if we had to wait for the preseason to obtain photography. We begin set-up on Tuesday, players start arriving on Wednesday, and the calendar is full for the week until the shoot day ends late on Saturday afternoon.
KS: Collectors tend to get excited at the chance to pick up new rookies and their cards. When can we expect to start seeing the 2017 draft class in their NFL uniforms on cardboard?
NM: The first program to feature these guys in uniform will be Donruss Elite, which hits in late June. For the non-RPS rookies, we’ll try to obtain mini-camp/OTA shots where we can, and that will be the case throughout the rest of our summer launches.
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