Best Football Cards to Buy In 2023 From Brady to Mahomes

What if you bought a little piece of cardboard right now that could be worth millions later on?

Darry Port

Updated Jan 24, 2023

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Hey kids, here’s a little history lesson for ya. In 1888, Henry W. Beecher was the only football player in a set of 50 cards distributed in Old Judge and Gypsy Queen cigarette packs.

I bet you’re thinking, “So what?” Well, you see, that was the first ever American football card. And 133 years later, the demand for football cards is as strong as ever.

Try buying cards during the off-season when the prices are low.

Sports cards are more than just a hobby—they might be the investment you're searching for. Considering that sports cards are shown to hold their value over economic downturns, they could offer a fun and exciting way to protect against market volatility.

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Here’s another bit of trivia: the 2017 National Treasures NFL Shield Patrick Mahomes Autographed Rookie Card #161 sold for a jaw-dropping $4.3 million. But with the massive collection of football cards, picking your winners can be daunting.

What should you even be looking for? Here are some cards carefully selected based on demand, age, design appeal, and expected ROI. So helmets on, because we're about to snap on the best football card investments.

“White 80, White 80, set hut!”

What is the best brand of NFL football cards to buy?

Topps is probably the best-known brand in valuable baseball cards, but they lost their license to produce football cards a few years ago. This paved the way for Panini to become the largest and most popular brand in the sports card industry. As a result, Panini has been on a spending spree—buying up other sports brands left and right, like Donruss Playoff.

Panini has several NFL football card lines, including National Treasure, Prizm, Donruss Optic, and Select. The National Treasures cards are exceptionally popular with football card collectors. They're loaded with premium material, including patches and other memorabilia pieces.

A 2020 National Treasures card pack carries a total of 100 cards. A hobby box will provide you with four autograph cards, one base or parallel card, four relic cards, and a printing plate. The relics are National Treasures' standout memorabilia cards, which feature larger jersey patches than other brands and may include other game artifacts like football fragments.

A 2021 Panini National Treasures Mac Jones relic card featuring a jumbo jersey patch
Source: cardboardconnection.com

Panini's Prizm cards are somewhat similar to National Treasures cards in design and material, though they're flashier than the serious looking NT cards. These colorful, foil-finished cards also have a loaded lineup of vibrant refractors, autographs, and Rookie Premiere cards, which feature the top rookies from the NFL draft class. The 2022 Prizm set contains 270 cards, broken into packs of 12. The print runs of the 38 parallels range from 199 cards to ultra-rare singletons, but even the base cards tend to be valued and admired in the hobby.

Recently, Prizm cards have carried the highest number of football rookies. While many sets contain 200 cards with 100 rookies, Prizm sets tend to be larger. Their 2021 set held 440 cards and 110 were rookies. If you're trying to get more fresh blood into your collection, Prizm may be the best pack for you.

 

Best value: Select

If you're looking for the best value on Panini NFL football cards, then Select is your best bet. These cards are divided into four sections, each with a different design and rarity level. Concourse is the most common, followed by Premier Level, Club Level, and Field Level.

Select cards feature a lot of autos and parallels, along with other types of inserts. They're so popular because they have a very low price point for the quality and design you get, which helps them to sell out quickly. It's no surprise many football card collectors choose Panini as their go-to brand for collecting world-class NFL cards.

Best for budgeting: Donruss Optic

Donruss Optic is a budget line compared with Panini's other brands. While it is close to Prizm in design and desirability, its cards tend to cost way less. The Rated Rookie cards in this line appeal to many collectors because of their classic designs, and with fewer parallels than Prizm, it's easier to collect a full set.

Donruss Optic Holos, the refractor parallels of this line, can even be more valuable than Silver Prizm cards because they're rarer and have smaller print runs. While they trail behind National Treasures in terms of premium cards, Donruss Optic football cards are a great option for those on a tight budget who can't do without their fantasy football card collection.

Best football card packs to buy

Every year, football card brands come out with a handful of their best card sets. Whether you're on the lookout for a specific parallel or player, or you're hoping to build a varied collection, there are packs for every collector. Here are the best football card packs to buy in 2023.

1. 2022 Panini Absolute Football Card Pack

The 2022 Panini Absolute pack holds a wealth of potential in parallels and rare cards. The 200-card set is split evenly between veterans and rookies, and. Absolute includes some of Panini's most creative cards, like the Tools of the Trade cards that include multiple pieces of memorabilia, and Historical Duals, which feature two players in celebration of an impressive collaboration.

Each Panini Absolute hobby box includes three autographed cards and two memorabilia cards, so you can add some potentially valuable cards to your collection. The print runs of parallels in this set range from 100 cards to one-of-a-kind releases. Plus, you'll have a chance of pulling an ultra-rare Kaboom or Explosive insert card—colorful cartoon parallels that can go for tens of thousands.

2. 2020 Panini Mosaic Football Card Pack

The 2020 Panini Mosaic Card pack is by far one of the best football card packs to buy. Known to produce two of the best 2020 NFL QB players—Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert—this Mosaic release was one of the most anticipated sets in the football card collecting world. It continues to offer collecting value as Herbert and Burrow's rookie cards are still highly sought after. The set contains not only a base rookie of each but also a ton of beautiful parallels.

Panini's optichrome Mosaic designs were limited to their basketball cards prior to 2020, but this set debuted the design for their NFL cards. The base set contains 300 cards with a mix of rookies, top players, and long-standing legends. There's also a subset dedicated to the NFL Pro Bowl.


Cards from this set have sold for thousands of dollars on online auctions since its release. A Russell Wilson Black Gold Choice #181 sold for close to $8,000 in December 2020, and a Justin Herbert RC White Sparkle Prizm #204 brought in $11,100 in 2021.

3. 2020 Panini Prizm Football Card Pack

One of the most popular collectibles, the 2020 Panini Prizm Football Card Pack features 2020 Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert's rookie card.

The 2020 Prizm set introduced several rare insert cards to the already in-demand base cards. In addition to the Go Hard or Go Home, Lockdown, and All Out inserts, the 2020 Prizm collection includes elusive Stained Glass and Color Blast cards. These brightly colored cards are short prints with slim odds—they're in one in five and one in ten hobby boxes, respectively.

The set also features several parallels, like Silver and Snakeskin Prizms, up to 199 Blue Waves, and a one-of-a-kind Black Finite. Some of these rare parallels soared in value in just a couple of years. Joe Burrow's 2020 Gold Prizm RC #307, for instance, sold for $29,000 in January 2022. But the scarcity and appeal of these cards make them worth holding onto for higher values later on.

If you plan on investing in cards long-term, this pack is your best bet, as a significant ROI is expected. Consider investing in several Prizm hobby boxes to get a tremendous amount of cards. This will increase your chances of fishing out a Herbert or Burrow RC card.

4. 2017 Panini Prizm Football Card Pack

2017 Panini Prizm football card packs feature Patrick Mahomes's most popular RCs. Since the pack's first release, the QB's Super Bowl exploits have caused prices to rise rapidly. If you want to invest in a football card with a high expected ROI, then this is your best bet.

In 2021, a 2017 Panini Prizm Patrick Mahomes Red Power #269 card sold for $63,000. The PSA 10 card is one of only 49 released in the 2017 set.

There are plenty of cards to collect from this set besides Mahomes's. The base set includes 300 cards, with a rainbow of 17 Prizm parallels. In addition to those colorful parallels, there are two vibrant inserts: Stained Glass and Illumination. There's also a subset of Super Bowl MVP cards that celebrate players like Peyton Manning, Terry Bradshaw, and Marcus Allen.

5. 2017 Panini Donruss Optic Football Cello Fat Packs

Rated Rookie card pack, the 2017 Panini Donruss Optic Football set includes another Patrick Mahomes card with great potential. It has a great image of 2 PM, similar to the Donruss Optic Card (#327), which is easy to confuse between them. It carries a wide range of parallels and has excellent potential ROI.

Cello Fat Packs include 30 cards, a heftier haul than the usual 12-card packs. The Donruss Optic sets are chromium cards, so the parallels include Holo refractors with up to 299 print runs. These packs are a treasure trove of rookie cards, from the Rated Rookie Autos to super scarce Rookie Patch Autos. Mahomes is the star of this set, but rookie cards like Cooper Kupp's Gold Vinyl #179 have sold for more than $10,000.

Football cards vs. stocks

Which will perform better over 10 years?

Best football cards to buy in 2023

The best brand of football cards to invest in always includes players' names and team logo. Such a design guarantees authenticity. Cards with unique features—like short prints, autographs, parallels, and memorabilia—promise scarcity and increase the likelihood that you'll sell your card to interested collectors down the line.

People pay a lot for rare cards, but the biggest names are better buys than obscure players. Everyone loves an underdog, but they have to know who they're rooting for or adding to their collections. Since popular players are household names, their cards are relatively easy to sell.

1. 2021 Panini National Treasures Rookie Trevor Lawrence Patch Auto #156

Even before Trevor Lawrence led the Jacksonville Jaguars to playoffs-worthiness, he was making an impression among football card collectors. His collegiate performance made him the first overall pick of the 2021 NFL draft—and a collector must-have.

A 2021 Panini National Treasures Rookie Trevor Lawrence Patch Auto #156
Source: psacard.com

Any Lawrence rookie card is likely to be a valuable asset as the quarterback continues to reinvent the Jags and crush their competition. But the 2021 Panini National Treasures card is one of his most premium cards. Between the high-quality finish, autograph, jersey patch, and limited run of only 99, the card is definitely a treasure.

Prices range from $2,000 to $59,000, making this one of the best football cards to buy if you're looking for a rare and expensive addition to your collection.

2. 2020 Justin Herbert Panini Prizm RC #325

The Justin Herbert Panini Prizm RC #325 was one of the hottest cards of 2021, and it still holds serious potential. Justin Herbert's successful 2020 NFL season and Rookie of the Year status made him a player to watch in 2021, and he didn't disappoint. He had 5,014 passing yards and 38 passing touchdowns in 2021, and he made the playoffs with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2022.

Despite an injury early in the 2022 season, Herbert's consistently impressive gameplay increases the likelihood of the card's value going up, so you may want to get in on it as soon as possible.

Chart tracking BGS 9 2020 Justin Herbert Panini National Treasures #325 RPA [3/5] market capitalization trading on Collectable.

You can buy the Herbert Panini Prizm RC #325 from Collectable. All you have to do is create an account and buy fractional shares to invest in the card. When the card's price appreciates, the value of your shares goes up, too, and you can sell them on Collectable's secondary marketplace.

3. 2018 Panini Red Prizm #205 Josh Allen Buffalo Bills RC Rookie Card

With one of the strongest and most accurate arms in the NFL (according to the geeks at ESPN's Sports Science, at least), it's no wonder that Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen continues to rank high on the wishlists of football card collectors. After his 2020 breakout season of leading the Bills to their first division title since 1991, he repeated the feat for the following two seasons and locked in more records and recognition than we can tally up here.

Many of Allen's cards hold value in the hobby—at least 15 of them sold for over $6,500 between December 2022 and January 2023. The 2018 Panini Red Prizm #205 is a sweet spot rookie card because you might be able to find one at an affordable price and sell it for much more soon.

A 2018 Panini Red Prizm #205 featuring Josh Allen in his rookie year
Source: psacard.com

While PSA suggests a Gem Mint 10 version of this card is worth $900, eBay auctions in January 2023 saw the card selling for around $8,000. With Allen's continued prowess and fame, it's not hard to imagine that his rookie cards will be worth more in the near future. This could be a card that doesn't break your bank and makes bank down the road. 

4. 2022 Panini Mosaic Brock Purdy Rookie Card #367

The 2022 Panini Mosaic rookie card for Brock Purdy could be a sleeper hit for your collection. While Purdy started his NFL career as 2022's Mr. Irrelevant—the final pick of the year's draft—he gained credibility and praise after both the first and second QBs for the San Francisco 49ers were sidelined by injuries. The third-string quarterback racked up victories in all five of the regular season games he started, which rounded out the 49ers ten-game winning streak and steered them to a division title and playoff game.

But what might make Purdy's card worth the investment is his possible role as starting QB in the 2023 season. Considering that prices for Purdy's autographed cards increased from $30 to $500 after the 49ers made it to the playoffs, there could be a lot of enthusiasm and dollar signs if he takes the position as starting quarterback.

Brock Purdy's 2022 Panini Mosaic Rookie Card #367 in green
Source: sportscardinvestor.com

This could be the perfect time to snap up some Brock Purdy rookie cards before the prices skyrocket. His Panini Mosaic rookie card isn't hard to find, but the rainbow of parallels gives you a shot at scoring something rare and valuable. The Mosaic Green, for example, ranges in price from $159 to $400, while the Mosaic Base is more affordable at $40 to $51.

5. 2017 Patrick Mahomes II Panini Contenders Rookie Ticket #303

This pre-rookie card is one of the most valuable Patrick Mahomes cards since he burst onto the scene in 2018, making 5,097 passing yards and 50 touchdowns.

This card has garnered a $90,000 price tag in recent online auctions. With Mahomes expected to win at least one more Superbowl, this card could be a good investment. It features many elements, like Mahomes's autograph and the stylized game ticket, so it attracts a variety of collectors.

PSA price guide of 2017 Patrick Mahomes II Panini Contenders Autograph #303.
Source: psacard.com

Mahomes was the MVP of Super Bowl LIV in 2019, the youngest quarterback to be awarded that title. While fans of the game are watching to see what he'll do next, those in the hobby are looking for gems from his early years. This 2017 pre-rookie card might be a promising asset to hold if you can get your hands on it.

6. 2021 Kenny Pickett Panini Select XRC Prizm #405

The 2021 Panini Select set features several parallels for collectors to chase, including Tie-Dye, Autographed, Memorabilia, and one-off Black cards. One of the most exciting parallels is the XRC, or advance rookie card. These cards are released prior to the players' official rookie years. An average of three cards per case can jumpstart a collection on the coming year's rookie players. In 2021, Kenny Pickett was one of those anticipated rookies.

The 2021 Kenny Pickett Panini Select XRC Prizm #405 rookie card
Source: sportscardinvestor.com

The Pittsburgh Steelers' QB had something of a rocky start to his 2022 season, but his dramatic ending move of throwing game-winning touchdowns in the final minutes of later games won over spectators. While the Steelers did not make it to the playoffs, Pickett's work got them close.

That could mean that the value of Pickett's rookie cards will continue to grow alongside his reputation and skills. Prices for the Panini Select XRC Prizm #405 Kenny Pickett rookie card range from $275 to $2,000, which leaves plenty of room for growth.

7. 2000 Tom Brady SP Authentic Rookie Card #118

The 2000 Tom Brady SP Authentic Rookie Card #118 is an outlier among the best football cards to buy, and a great long-term hold. The younger quarterbacks on this list grew up watching and idolizing Brady, so it makes sense that his rookie cards are still highly valued.

In June 2021, another Tom Brady rookie card sold for a staggering $3.107 million at the Lelands Mid-Spring Classic Auction—the highest price for a football card at a public auction. The 2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Rookie Ticket #144 Tom Brady Rookie Autograph card was nicknamed "The Most Important Football Card in the World" and it came with a fitting price tag.

Chart tracking 2000 Tom Brady SP Authentic Rookie Card #118 [11/25] market capitalization trading on Collectable.

The SP Authentic Rookie Card may not be the most important one in the world, but it's sold for as much as $312,000 through Goldin Auctions in April 2021. There were only 1,250 of these cards printed, so be ready to hunt if you're hoping to score one of them.  

 

8. 2017 Patrick Mahomes National Treasures NFL Shield Autographed Rookie Card #163

Another significant investment is Patrick Mahomes's 2017 National Treasures NFL Shield autographed rookie card. This one-of-a-kind card is the most expensive football card sold to date. In July 2021, the card sold for a whopping $4.3 million on PWCC Marketplace.

Having won a Super Bowl and an MVP award at 25 years old, his performance is expected to soar. And with a record-breaking sale to add to his accomplishments, you can expect his rookie cards to skyrocket in value. You might not be able to purchase one of these autographed NFL Shield cards, but it might be worth adding some of Mahomes's other rookie cards to your collection.

 

Let’s huddle up

Investing in the best football cards to buy can score you a financial touchdown. But don’t forget that, at the end of the day, this ain’t a spectator sport. While quality picks have a decent shot at being winners, you should do your own research before you jump into the game.

One last tip: Try buying cards during the off-season when the prices are low. Even better, buy several cards to avoid being fixated on just one or getting caught up in a bidding war. And hey, it doesn’t hurt to diversify.

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