Hobby Musings: Panini Preps for NFL Rookie Class – The 2022 NFL Draft is in the books, and a new rookie class will soon be hitting the hobby market in their pro uniforms. How this year’s class compares to previous years remains to be seen, but Panini is already getting ready to help meet collector demand. I had the chance to catch up with Rob Springs to get his thoughts on the draft and what’s next for the company.
KS: Rob, overall, how do you think the draft went for Panini?
RS: While it may have been a down class for QB’s, I think the first-round WR’s and the early RB’s like Breece Hall and Kenneth Walker III will really have a great chance to jump in and have extremely productive years. That said, I think Pickett, Corral, and Ridder all have a solid chance to start. Malik is a great guy to spec on and tuck away for next year, as he will most likely take over in 2023.
KS: How does the draft class stack up compared to the past few years?
RS: Again, because you didn’t have a chunk of QB’s taken in the top 10/first round, it’s going to be initially viewed as a lesser class. But again, there are a lot of skill position players drafted that I think will perform early. And some of these defensive guys have some personality and went to the right teams to be collectable like Sauce Gardner and Kyle Hamilton.
KS: Which player’s stock do you think rose the most based on where he was drafted?
RS: I mean, I think the only choice here is Travon Walker. Everyone thought Aidan would be the hands down #1 choice – even right up until about a week before the draft. Crazy!
KS: How does Kenny Pickett ending up with the Steelers, and being the only first-round QB selected, affect his trading card stock heading into the season?
RS: I think Kenny ended up in an ideal situation for himself and for his hobby values. It’s been talked about on TV that he has less of a transition than other players because he is not worried about getting relocated, getting acclimated to a new area and facility – he can simply focus on football. And there is nothing wrong with investing in a Pittsburgh QB. I believe he will start Week 1, and his values will be commensurate with that.
KS: Malik Willis’ fall in the draft has been well-documented. What has the slide done for his hobby stock that you’ve seen so far?
RS: Regardless, if he was a first-round pick to Detroit or a third-round pick to Tennessee – I’m not sure he would have started either way. Not comparing the players, but comparing the situation – I think it’s a lot like Patrick Mahomes to the Chiefs in 2017 and sitting behind Alex Smith for a year. I think smart collectors and investors will be aggressive on Malik because at the end of the day, he didn’t go to a team that is rebuilding. He went to the team that had the #1 seed in the AFC last season.
KS: Now that the draft is complete, who is your under-the-radar player that you could think could make a big hobby impact this year?
RS: I was really high on James Cook coming into the draft and I know there are other RB’s in Buffalo, but I just think that he might really emerge there and become a star. I also think Skyy Moore going to the Chiefs is going to be a really great situation for him. As far as some deep sleepers, I really like Kyle Phillips in Tennessee and Greg Dulcich in Denver.
KS: When can we expect to see the rookies in their NFL uniforms on Panini trading cards?
RS: Well, we still continue to work through production issues and as a result of all the catching up, we still have a few 2021 programs to be released. That said, Donruss Elite will still have several of the rookies in their first NFL photos, as usual.
KS: With Covid-19 restrictions easing across the country, how will that affect your trading card production and asset gathering this year?
RS: Again, a lot of items are still out of our control, like paper shortages and just getting caught up from all the supply chain and labor issues that hampered the trading card market over the past couple of years. We still believe that 2022 programs (that also run into 2023) will remain behind their normal release windows, but think the 2023 programs should be a little closer to what everyone is familiar with, pre Covid-19.
KS: Russell Wilson ended up with the Broncos earlier this year. What has the trade to Denver done for his trading card market?
RS: Well, because he was pretty strongly collected in Seattle, his value was never really discounted. However, once we get him in some Broncos images, they will sell at a higher level due to Russ being Russ and the Broncos having another strong collector base. And it’s not just Russ – even if you are a little down on this draft, the amount of huge players that changed teams is crazy – and will be another reason that 2022 NFL wax will be strong. Russ, Deshaun, Davante, Tyreek, A.J. Brown, Amari, Von, Khalil – tons of big names.
KS: This is actually the 10-year anniversary of Wilson being drafted. Looking back on it, did you ever imagine that Wilson and Ryan Tannehill would still be playing in the league while both Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are not?
RS: Absolutely not – but RGIII just ran a 4.4, so you never know if he will be back!