Contributor: John Dudley
You win championships with defense. That’s a mantra best left to the ‘80s, but it does not mean that collectors should continue to ignore the defensive side of the ball like they have since time immemorial. The 2022 football season is fast approaching, and collectors are rejoicing and scurrying about partaking in and planning all their pre-season festivities and preparations. Like most years, they (myself included) are steadfastly ignoring defensive players in these plans. Sure, they might pick up an Aaron Donald or two, but defensive players are typically avoided more than the guy in the office that just came back from a Covid quarantine.
While every year brings inevitable speculation about this being the year defensive players finally get their much-deserved respect in the hobby, really this does seem like the best shot defensive guys have to break through. Seriously, I mean it. This time it’s really going to happen. I think… Right? Let’s err on the side of optimism here.
2022 Outlook for Defensive Players
First, the 2022 rookie class leaves a lot to be desired in terms of star QB and skill-player potential. It’s not a zero, but it lags way behind recent years. This means that a lot of money that might have been earmarked for 2022 products will go elsewhere.
The NFL currently lacks a ready stable of veteran star players. Numerous star QBs are on their way out or have already retired. There are several young QBs, but it might take them a while to gain traction and get enough experience to thrive. This leaves the door wide open for one or two of the league’s bright young maulers to elevate their status to kings of the hobby.
The quickest way to do this is by producing easy-to-understand numbers at a record pace. For defensive players, this means sacks or interceptions. Forced fumbles or scoring are great too, but don’t happen frequently enough generally.
The other way players get popular is by winning. What defensive players need more than anything is for there to be a breakout star that leads their team to the Super Bowl and puts up record easy-to-understand stats. Finally, the zeitgeist might demand that now is the time to start collecting defensive players. It’s a sentiment I’ve certainly seen more of and one I endorse.
Top 10 Guys that Might See an Aaron Donald Style Jump
This is a quick list of 10 guys that might make the leap to hobby stardom this NFL season. There are easily a dozen others that could be on this list and the ones here are presented in random order.
Nick Bosa– Bosa showed he’s worthy of being included in the discussion of best defensive players last year. The grown-in-a-lab rusher is set to crush QBs this year and cause general mayhem. If he stays healthy, he should be in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. His PSA Prizm rookies are selling for about $40 although the latest auction hit $70 but that seems suspect.
Aaron Donald– Can he do it again? Why not? I’m not betting against Donald. If he can take the Rams on another deep playoff run, we’ll all be looking back to the days when we could get PSA 10 Donald Topps Chrome rookies for under $150 fondly.
J.J. Watt– I’m not expecting much from J.J. but would love to be surprised. He’s on this list because I think it is more likely that the powers-that-be start analyzing his place in history. Those three Defensive Player of the Year awards set him apart and could cause one of the coldest players in the hobby to heat up. Watt’s PSA 10 Topps Chrome rookies are selling for around $60 which seems a tad low.
T.J. Watt– This is the Watt brother that should put up big numbers. T.J. is in the prime of his career and now finds himself the face of the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers. He is already a star, but he is poised to become one of the very few superstars of the league if he can put up big stats and lead the Steelers to the playoffs. His PSA 10 Prizm rookies are trading for $120.
Aidan Hutchinson– Every list needs a rookie. Even scouts down on Hutchinson put him at 10+ sack potential. Throw in the home-grown Michigander angle and Hutchinson already might be on the top 10 Lions by hobby value already. Hutchinson doesn’t have many releases yet but judging by the few he does it looks like the hobby world isn’t big on him yet.
Von Miller– This list really could have been named after Miller as Donald is riding the same wave of popularity Miller first caught when he won his last Luper Bowl with the Broncos. Miller’s popularity waned much like J.J. Watt, but like Watt, collectors will at some point realize they were watching top-tier Hall of Famers. For the true ballers out there, try finding a 2011 Topps SP rookie for a decent price.
Cameron Jordan– Jordan is the least hobby-relevant guy on this list currently, but he can move up quickly if the Saints can get things going. He needs one big last hurrah either with a 6th straight Pro Bowl and a deep run in the playoffs. Most Jordan rookies can be had for under $10 despite his having 7 Pro Bowl appearances to go with his 100+ sacks.
Trevon Diggs– He may not be the Cowboy you were expecting to see on this list, but double-digit interceptions and a first-team All-Pro selection last year have Diggs set to become the next big thing in the secondary. Diggs’s Prizm rookie autos go for $30-$40 which isn’t bad actually for a secondary player.
Jalen Ramsey– Ramsey is the exception on this list as he will never put up big interception or sack numbers. What he has done is put up 8 straight Pro Bowl seasons to start his Hall of Fame career. True to form, collectors ignore defensive guys without gaudy numbers as most Ramsey rookie autos can be had for under $30.
Joey Bosa- The knock against Bosa is that he is not his brother and that he has a hard time standing out in a star-studded defensive team. Bosa needs one standout season while he continues to pile up the sacks. Bosa’s cards are very cheap with most rookies under $5.
The amazing thing to me is that I had a very hard time limiting myself to 10 players. There are easily 10 more that I think can and should have hobby value. That’s it. We’re finally doing it. It’s time to give defensive players their place in the warm hobby sunshine. Everyone’s with me, right? Let me know if you think this is finally the time that the hobby warms up to defensive players in the comments below.