NFL Preview: AFC Edition

Philip Rivers of the Chargers

Contributor: John Dudley

School started this week for many here in Mississippi and the start of the school year means it is time to turn our thoughts to the gridiron. With preseason games starting on August 4th, it is not too early to get a handle on how the next season might affect the hobby.

For each team, I’ve highlighted one player to watch and included a hobby projection. Being in the preview could be a good or bad thing as I’ve chosen players who I think will have cards that go up and others I think will drop in value. Hobby value and team success are tied closer in football than just about any other team sport. As such, the hobby forecast is based on a mix of how I think the player and his team will do.

Like in the second-half baseball preview, I listed a card to watch for each player. This is not an endorsement or suggestion that these are a player’s best cards. Instead, they are meant to be illustrative of current pricing and will provide a way for me to rate how I did at mid-season and the end of the season. This week is the AFC’s turn and the NFC will get the spotlight soon.

AFC South

Houston Texans- Davis Mills has been one of my favorite guys to pick up cheap. The other guy in the 2021 QB class, he gets overlooked but had a decent enough rookie campaign. Over his last 5 games, he had a QB rating of 102.1 and averaged 7.4 yards per attempt. If he can do that over a full season, he’ll finish as a top 10 QB easily. The big question is who he will throw the ball to as the Texans have what might be the weakest WR corps in the NFL. Pricing and Projection: You can still find his Silver Prizm RC for $20-$25. As for a projection, it is positive even with the lack of weapons.

Indianapolis Colts- Jonathan Taylor broke into increasingly rare territory as a hobby-relevant RB last year. Of course, it took a Herculean effort to do so. Anything less and Taylor’s relevancy might disappear. Taylor was almost singlehandedly driving the Colts’ offense. If Matt Ryan has anything left in the tank, things might open up more for Taylor and he could put up big numbers with less wear and tear. Pricing and Projection: At only $60 to $75 for a Silver Prizm RC, collectors are still rightfully wary of RBs. I’m not optimistic about Ryan though which means that Taylor will have a heavy workload. The good news is that means he should put up stats, but it will take another MVP-caliber season from Taylor for the Colts to reach the playoffs. Projection negative.

Jacksonville Jaguars- Trevor Lawrence found himself tied to arguably the worst coaching performance in NFL history. There were precious few positives in Lawrence’s rookie season, but the return of Travis Etienne and a fresh start are strong reasons to view Lawrence favorably. Pricing and Projection: His prices are trending upwards with Silver Prizms going for $100-$150. The last one went for a stunning $200 though. Lawrence must improve but not if his prices continue to spike before the season. Projection negative.

Tennessee Titans- Austin Hooper was a nice pickup, but replacing A.J. Brown’s production will be Treylon Burks’ job. The first-rounder has a great situation with veteran QB Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry in charge of the offense. Pricing and Production: As a rookie, representative pricing is not available yet. Projection is very positive though.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills- Gabriel Davis had “that game” last year that highlighted his otherwise uneventful sophomore season. He bulked up in the offseason and the Bills should have a high-powered offense. The question is if he can reach hobby significance as the number two guy on a team whose QB also provides a ton of offense through his legs. Projection and Pricing: Davis should easily outpace last year’s numbers but will struggle to get hobby attention. With his 2020 Silver Prizm RC going for only $10, he is a low-risk proposition, but even so, he is more worth a flyer in fantasy than the hobby. Projection negative.

Miami Dolphins- The obvious choice here is major free agent acquisition Tyreek Hill. The speedster has growing chemistry with Tua and is one of the few non-QBs that can take over a game almost single-handedly. The perception in the hobby is that he benefitted greatly from playing with Mahomes which, along with the hobby’s bias against non-QBs, has kept his prices down. Projection and Pricing: Hill’s 2016 Optic RC in PSA 10 grade goes for $75 to $90 currently. Hill should be productive, but any drop moves him out of the top five WR and Tua is no Mahomes. Projection negative.

New England Patriots- Is Mac Jones New England’s savior or is he a backup who benefitted from friendly offensive scheming? The truth is somewhere in the middle, but that opinion isn’t as popular as the other two. Projection and Pricing: I am bullish on Jones as a star in the league, but I rate his Projection as negative as his pricing with Raw Silver Prizms going for $175 leaves little upside, but a lot of room to drop.

New York Jets- The J-E-T-S are the team I’m most intrigued by on offense. Much has been made of Zach Wilson recently, but Breece Hall could be the real hobby breakout star. He has the goods to be a true number one RB and should get plenty of work in what should be an explosive offense. Projection and Pricing: He is dependent on Wilson, but with rookie QBs unlikely to draw as much hobby attention this year as normal, Hall has a good chance to become the darling of this rookie class. He doesn’t have pro-uniform cards out yet to track. Regardless, I peg his projection as positive.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens- Mark Andrews had a breakout 2021 season and looks to add his name to the list of fan-favorite TEs. He had 153 targets last year and with Hollywood Brown gone, he could see even more. The only thing that could derail him is an unhappy Lamar Jackson. Projection and Pricing: Even if the worst-case scenario happens and Jackson holds out, Andrews was still very productive in games without Jackson last year. His Projection is very positive, especially with Silver Prizm Rookie Autos selling for only $40 to $65.

Cincinnati Bengals- Ja’Marr Chase is a star already after just one season. Some are ready to put him as a Top 3 WR. Projection and Pricing: Chase should have another big year. The only thing stopping him from being the easiest positive projection is his pricing. While his Silver Prizms are only $40-$75, the other rookie pass catchers from 2021 can all be had for much less. He is priced similarly to Justin Jefferson which seems fair so I’ll put Chase in the positive hobby projection column, but it is a close one.

Cleveland Browns- Nick Chubb is the best RB no one ever talks about. The Browns are mired in uncertainty, but the one certainty is that Chubb should get his 1000-1200 yards and 8-10 touchdowns. Projection and Pricing: Chubb is affordable with PSA 10s in the $40 to $60 range. I put Chubb in the negative column as I think his prices can fall during the season as he is unlikely to stand out and, I mean, it’s the Browns.

Pittsburgh Steelers- The Roethlisberger era is over, and T.J. Watt is now the face of the franchise for the time being. Defensive players are seeing a big upswing in hobby popularity and Watt is primed to keep the good times going. Projection and Pricing: The Steelers will need a big year from Watt and there’s every reason to think Watt will deliver. That said, Watt’s PSA 10 Prizm rookie goes for about $150 while Aaron Donald’s only about $125. Given the current treatment of defensive players in the hobby, there is just way too much downside without much upside. As such, Watt goes in the negative projection column.

AFC West

Denver Broncos- Russell Wilson is the most overlooked almost definite HOF QB around. He’s got a new team and rumors of his demise last season were very premature. Projection and Pricing: His pricing has taken a hit in the last month with a PSA 10 Topps Chrome selling for $240-$280 down about $75-$100 in a month. My projection is high on Wilson largely due to the recent dip in his prices.

Kansas City Chiefs- What will Patrick Mahomes look like without Tyreek Hill? Will his career look like Tom Brady’s or is he headed for the Russell Wilson zone? His yards per passing attempt dipped last year and without Hill to stretch the field should continue downward. Regardless, he is a top-five talent and perennial MVP contender. Projection and Pricing: Mahomes is currently priced like the second coming of Brady rather than Wilson, but the latter offers the more likely career path. Wilson and the Seahawks could not overcome the salary cap blues that plague winning teams. The Patriots avoided down years with friendly contracts and the ruthlessness of Belichick. I don’t have the same faith in the Chiefs yet so I put Mahomes in the negative projection column and expect his PSA 10 2017 Optic RC (trading at $800 to $900) to end up the season lower.

Las Vegas Raiders- I am excited about the Raiders offense, but it is Darren Waller I am most excited about. With Davante Adams drawing a lot of coverage attention expect big things from Waller. It is hard for non-QBs to get hobby attention with a slow start to a career and Waller has an uphill battle as he is already 29 years old. Projection and Pricing: His cards rarely sell, but a 2015 Silver Prizm goes for about $15. I am not sold on him as a long-term guy, but I expect a few major spikes during the season on weeks he ends up near the top of the overall fantasy leaderboard. My projection is slightly positive for his hobby value and majorly positive for fantasy and actual game value.

Los Angeles Chargers- Last, but certainly not least, we find an increasingly popular preseason Super Bowl pick. Opinions about Justin Herbert seem to split with half of the collectors thinking he is overvalued, and half undervalued. I fall in the undervalued camp and expect big things from Herbert this year. Even with Keenan Allen’s ludicrously high Madden rating, Herbert has a nice array of weapons. Projection and Pricing: It’s not just me who is big on Herbert, he is now the favorite to win the MVP this year. With his Silver Prizm RC hitting $3000!!!! In PSA 10 grade, it is worth considering how much room his cards have to grow. Even so, he should be in a battle with Mahomes and Allen for the top young QB. Projection positive, but cautiously so due to the already high starting prices.

Wrap Up

Overall, that’s eight positive and eight negative projections for the season. We’ll see if the NFC can garner a more optimistic outlook soon. Let me know in the comments which ones you agree and disagree with and what AFC players you are excited to watch in the upcoming season.

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